WASHINGTON — Six weeks after a Pew Research study found that only one-third of Catholics in the U.S. believe that the bread and wine become at Mass the Body and Blood of Christ, bishops across the country are writing to the faithful in the hopes of educating them about this central tenet of the Catholic faith.
The study found that 31% of U.S. Catholics surveyed believe that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist, through a process called transubstantiation, become the Body and Blood of Christ — a fundamental teaching of the Catholic faith known as the Real Presence.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, has released his 2020 annual teaching document, “The Real Presence”, a year early in the hopes of a renewed witness to the Real Presence.
“I ... ask that this year and in coming years, at parish councils, religious houses, faculty meetings, chaplain meetings, RCIA and catechetical meetings, that our entire local Church look for ways to reinforce our teaching and witness regarding the Blessed Sacrament,” Bishop Jenky wrote Sept. 16.
“It is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church, revealed by the Holy Spirit and preserved from any possibility of error, that the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are truly and substantially present in the Most Holy Eucharist. This is not an opinion to be measured against any opinion poll but, rather, divine Revelation as expressed by the absolute authority of Scripture and Tradition.”
In his letter, Bishop Jenky encouraged Eucharistic devotions such as Benediction, processions, visits, Holy Hours and quiet times of personal prayer before the tabernacle.
“These Eucharistic devotions are obviously also intended to deepen our conscious recognition of the centrality of the Real Presence of Jesus within the liturgy of the Mass,” he wrote.
“Quiet Masses, sung Masses, solemn Masses, and especially the ordinary ritual Masses for weddings and funerals are certainly great opportunities to witness to our faith in the Eucharist as a pastoral gift to those who may have been poorly catechized or even have fallen away.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in Paragraph 1374 states: “In the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.’ ... It is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."
In the Pew Research study, 69% of Catholics surveyed reported their belief that the bread and wine used during the Eucharist “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” This mindset made up a majority in every age group surveyed.
“Most Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are symbolic do not know that the Church holds that transubstantiation occurs,” Pew reported.
“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.”
Interestingly, a small percentage of those surveyed— 3%— claimed to believe in the Real Presence despite not knowing that this is what the Church teaches.
Bishop Jenky pointed to what he sees as a “noticeable decline in our ritual reverence and recognition” in recent decades.
“Sometimes our churches may seem more like hotel lobbies than an awesome House of God,” he said.
Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon addressed his flock in August regarding the results of the survey.
“These results have to be a real wake-up call for all of us,” he wrote Aug. 30.
“To simply shrug our shoulders at such disturbing news and move on with business as usual is simply not an option. We must do everything in our power to reverse this trend. People will more easily grow lax in the practice of their faith, or drop out altogether, if they don’t understand and believe the mystery we celebrate in the Holy Eucharist and how that drives everything else we do in the ministry of the Church.”
Archbishop Sample challenged those in the archdiocese’s Catholic schools, parish religious-education programs, and adult faith-formation programs to put a greater emphasis on the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist.
He also paralleled Bishop Jenky’s assessment of an overall decline in reverence for the Eucharist over the years: “To put it bluntly, we have lost much of the reverence, awe and respect for the Holy Eucharist that we once had in the Church. How we celebrate the Holy Mass and treat the Blessed Sacrament are at the heart of this.”