“Each time the Mass is offered, the fruits of our Redemption are poured anew upon our souls. By uniting ourselves with the sacred rite of the Mass, and above all by receiving Holy Communion, we enter into the sacrifice of Christ. We mystically die with the divine Victim and rise again with Him to new life in God. We are freed from our sins, we are once again pleasing to God, and we receive grace to follow Him more generously in the life of charity and fraternal union which is the life of His Mystical Body.” — Thomas Merton, The Living Bread (1956)
Wow, even Thomas Merton believed the stuff, eh?
There has been conversation here and there this week about a recent Pew Research survey suggesting that barely a quarter of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Here’s a summary from the Pew site:
In addition to asking Catholics what they believe about the Eucharist, the new survey also included a question that tested whether Catholics know what the church teaches on the subject. Most Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are symbolic do not know that the church holds that transubstantiation occurs. Overall, 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the church. Still, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching.
The vast majority of those who believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ – 28% of all Catholics – do know that this is what the church teaches. A small share of Catholics (3%) profess to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist despite not knowing the church’s teaching on transubstantiation.
About six-in-ten (63%) of the most observant Catholics — those who attend Mass at least once a week — accept the church’s teaching about transubstantiation. Still, even among this most observant group of Catholics, roughly one-third (37%) don’t believe that the Communion bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ (including 23% who don’t know the church’s teaching and 14% who know the church’s teaching but don’t believe it). And among Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly, large majorities say they believe the bread and wine are symbolic and do not actually become the body and blood of Jesus.
I want to try to unpack this. And not be too wordy about it.
- To talk about what Catholics believe about the Church’s teaching on anything requires us to look honestly, at how many Catholics are taught, in any formal sense. I am not going to run and do research on this but we all know that most baptized Catholics receive no formal religious instruction. Period. Those that have received formal religious instruction probably had a couple of dozen parish religious ed classes a year up until First Communion or Confirmation.
- Most Catholic adults don’t study faith. A tiny, tiny number of people who attend Mass every week participate in formal religious education, and Catholicism just does not have the culture of laity-taking-responsibility-for-their-spiritual-formation that evangelical and historical mainline Protestantism has.
- Secondly, of course, there are many ways of teaching and communicating the faith. When it comes to the Eucharist, one of the most important is through the shape and experience of the act itself. So yes, as many are saying, informality in worship teaches something.
So: Most Catholics don’t go to Mass, most Catholics have received maybe a few dozen sessions of religious education in their life and most of the liturgies that Catholics do attend de-emphasize, via ritual and underlying assumptions, the unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
And we’re surprised that most Catholics don’t believe in transubstantiation?
Read more at Catholic World Report