A Simple Way to Spread Belief in the Real Presence of Christ

‘If we love Christ, who offers himself for us,’ said St. Josemaría Escrivá, ‘we will feel compelled to find a few minutes after Mass for an intimate personal thanksgiving.’

Antoni Piotrowski (1853-1924), “Modlitwa (Prayer)”
Antoni Piotrowski (1853-1924), “Modlitwa (Prayer)” (photo: Public Domain)

Well, the good news is that a recent study found that nearly 2/3 of American Catholics do believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is much more encouraging than the 2019 Pew statistic, but it still leaves many of us befuddled over the 1/3 who said they don’t believe. How can a Catholic not believe in the Eucharist? This is the source and summit of our Faith. What happened?

Of course, there could be many causes. But the other day, after Mass, I saw something that made me wonder: What if part of the fault lies with some of us in that 2/3 who do believe? 

It might sting a little to think of it, and I don’t mean to offend. But if you don’t mind, please allow me to set the stage.

It’s the moment of the consecration. The church is silent. The bells ring, signaling the moment the entire Mass rests on: the bread, and then the wine, become Christ himself. We’re filled with love and awe at his presence. Moments later, one by one, we file forward to receive him into our souls. Gratefully, we return to our pews for a few moments of silent prayer before the priest blesses us, Mass ends, and the recessional begins.

As soon as the first note starts, the doors to the rest of the world begin opening and closing continuously, giving passage to the many who rush away. Traffic noise infiltrates the sanctuary at varying levels, depending on the degree to which the doors are open at any given moment. The recessional continues, and by the time it’s finished, the church is half-empty. Soon the sanctuary is filled with loud conversation about barbecue restaurants and soccer and politics, punctuated every few minutes with rolling laughter and an occasional “OMG.” 

Three people are kneeling in their pews. They’re praying, but it’s not easy to hear the Lord or keep recollection.

All the while, Jesus waits in the tabernacle. He’s just as present as he was at the consecration, and only minutes before, he gave everything about himself to each of us in the Mass.

What message does this send about the importance of what (whom) we have just received and who is still present in the tabernacle? What does it say about the gravity and effect of what just happened? Shouldn’t we be speechless? 

If someone had given us a million dollars, would we leave — or change the subject — so quickly? And haven’t we each received infinitely more?

Let’s play that scenario out another way. This time, we’ll start just before Mass begins:

Before reaching the church that day, each person takes some time to collect his or her thoughts, remember some sins he or she has committed (which this liturgy will atone for), and decide which intentions to offer. As they near the door, they stop to make sure their phones are powered down completely, because vibrating phones can still disrupt prayer.

Before the bell signals the entrance, the emphasis for each person in the pews is on preparation for the reception of the Lord.

The Mass is reverent. A few children talk, and babies cry, but parents quietly shush or console them or lovingly take them to the portico until they settle.

The moment of Communion is much as described before — still, silent and holy — and each one receives Our Lord with a grateful heart. 

But this time, our story ends differently.

Because this time, after the final blessing, everyone stays. When the last note of the recessional fades, each Massgoer takes time to kneel and offer a prayer the saints held dear: an after-Mass thanksgiving. The church or chapel remains filled with fervent, silent gratitude for the infinitely magnificent gift each person has just received. It’s a time of giving back to the Lord — not because it’s a formal obligation, but because we want to. We’re overwhelmed by his goodness and the privilege of being in his presence, and we want to stay, rest in that goodness, and thank Him. 

As St. Josemaría Escrivá said, “If we love Christ, who offers himself for us, we will feel compelled to find a few minutes after Mass for an intimate personal thanksgiving, which will prolong in the silence of our hearts that other thanksgiving which is the Eucharist.”

One catalyst for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’ conversion was seeing a woman praying in church when it wasn’t time for Mass. That woman’s faith said, “There’s something very special here.” At a typical Sunday Mass, those who truly believe might number 200, 400 or 600 people or more. If seeing just one faithful Catholic pray in church voluntarily could help someone move away from atheism and toward sainthood, how might a person be affected by seeing all those hundreds on their knees, freely giving God their time to thank him for the gift of the Holy Eucharist they had just received? 

What would that say about the Real Presence? And how long would it take for that other one-third to start to believe?

It may be tempting sometimes to think there’s nothing we can do about the weakening of faith in our world. But we always have our witness, and if it’s aligned to Christ, it’s a powerful force for good.

Lily Mills is a mother, former teacher and member of the Militia of the Immaculata. She writes from Texas.

The opening day of the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is seen in the Vatican Synod Hall on Oct. 3, 2018.

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