June 5, 2015


Catholics unaware of Church teaching about Communion

As the Church celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi on this Sunday, June 7, it has to come to grips with a problem it has with far too many Catholics. That is, according to surveys taken by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), fewer than two-thirds of Catholics believe that the bread and wine used for Communion really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

How is that possible? It’s one of the central dogmas of the Church.

In an article in the May 18 issue of America magazine, Mark M. Gray, a senior research associate at CARA, gave a surprising answer: “It is because many are unaware that this is what the Church teaches!”

He went on to write, “Only 46 percent of Catholics are aware of what the Church teaches about the real presence and agree with that teaching. An additional 17 percent agree, but do not know this is what the Church teaches. A third do not agree with the teaching, but are unaware of the teaching. Finally, only 4 percent of Catholics know what the Church teaches about the real presence and do not believe it.”

But how can they not know that the Church teaches that, when the priest in the person of Christ says, “This is my body” and, “This is my blood,” the bread and wine become the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus?

Gray indicated that part of the problem is in the declining numbers of those who are receiving religious education. The number of children and teenagers enrolled in parish-based religious education has declined 24 percent during the past 15 years. “Currently,” he wrote, “fewer than one in 10 Catholic parents has a child enrolled in a Catholic school, and about one in five has a child in parish-based religious education.”

But those are the current figures. Obviously, many of the parents haven’t learned what the Church teaches either. That might explain why so many Catholics seem to receive Communion so nonchalantly. They really don’t believe that they’re receiving the body and blood of Jesus.

We can understand that to a certain extent. The bread and wine look and taste like bread and wine; there is no physical change. Someone has to explain that it’s the substance of the bread and wine that changes.

This is what the Church teaches: “By the consecration of the bread and wine, there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1376).

We admit that this is a hard teaching. Our senses tell us that this is a small piece of unleavened bread and a cup of wine. We must have faith that the substance has been changed, and that faith must come from our acceptance of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

It was a hard teaching from the beginning. When Jesus told the crowds, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:54-55), many of his disciples left him. He made no effort to call them back, or say that he didn’t mean it.

And, at the Last Supper, when he changed the bread and wine into his body and blood and told the Apostles to “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19), he didn’t say that it was a sign of his body and blood. He said, “This is my body and blood.”

Historically, belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has divided Christians, especially in British history. In 1673, for example, the Protestant Test Act barred from public office Catholics who would not deny the doctrine of transubstantiation. Some English Catholics suffered death rather than deny the doctrine.

However, the problem the Church is experiencing today isn’t that Catholics are denying the doctrine of transubstantiation. It’s that many Catholics don’t even know what the Church teaches.

—John F. Fink

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