A few weeks ago, the spiritual essay I receive in my email inbox each morning asked this question: “While at Mass, do you gaze with reverent awe when the priest holds up the consecrated host?”
Immediately, I answered somewhat defensively, “Of course I do!” (There was no one present in the room at the time. But I still shouted out my answer just in case the sender of the email had some doubts about my faith.)
That question really struck a nerve with me. Over the years I’ve written often about the Eucharist, including a short book titled, “Is the Real Presence Really Real?”
I’ve also given many talks on the subject for various parishes and religious groups in the area. The message is not very complicated: based on Scripture and especially the words of Jesus Himself, the Church has taught from the very beginning that the bread and wine of Communion are miraculously transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ. It’s not a nice ritual, nor a mere symbol. It is the flesh and blood of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states this, and declares that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.
I wrote about this subject a couple of years ago when a bombshell survey discovered that seven out of 10 Catholics in the U.S. do not believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Wow, talk about a catechetical failure! (Catechetical is just a fancy word that means “teaching.” I’m not trying to show off my capacious and occasionally ostentatious vocabulary. I ain’t that smart.)
The subject of politicians who claim to be devout Catholics while supporting anti-Catholic policies certainly is important. The bishops have a tricky and tough responsibility with this issue. However, that’s not the point here. A clear and firm teaching document about the Eucharist is desperately needed, not just for politicians, but for the tens of millions of lay Catholics in the 70% group who answered the survey by saying the Eucharist is just a symbol.
I freely admit, The Church’s teaching about the Eucharist is shocking. If the body and blood of Jesus are really, supernaturally present, then it is the greatest miracle since the Resurrection. Our Evangelical Protestant friends are always talking about having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Well, consuming the real body and blood of Jesus at Mass puts us closer to Him than anything on earth. It is truly the source and summit of the Christian life.
But on the other hand, if the Church is mistaken about the Real Presence, and if it was originally meant to be just a symbol, then Catholics are committing the worst sin of all: idolatry.
Idolatry is defined as worshipping anything other than God. Those of us Catholics in the 30% group do indeed worship the Eucharist because we believe it is Jesus in the flesh. If we’re wrong, if it’s just some bread and wine, then we’re no different than those folks in the Bible who worshipped the golden calf.