Tuesday, December 5, 2023

New Survey on the Eucharist Is More Encouraging

You might remember a Pew Research study a few years ago that shockingly claimed that less than one-third of Catholics in the U.S. believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. This meant fully two-thirds of all Americans who identify as Catholic do not accept one of the Church’s most important doctrines: that the bread and wine are truly transformed at Mass into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Christ. This doctrine has been proclaimed by faithful Christians since the first century. It goes all the way back to John, chapter 6, and 1 Corinthians, chapter 11.

That Pew study has been cited quite often as proof that the Church is, to use an old expression, going to hell in a handbasket. I cited that study multiple times in these Merry Catholic essays, essays that weren’t exactly merry, considering the sad findings of the survey.

Well, a new study has just been published, which shows that things are not quite so dire. Georgetown University’s Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted a new survey, and the results challenge the methodology of the 2019 Pew study.

The CARA study shows that almost two-thirds of adult Catholics in the U.S. believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Wow, that is quite a difference, and much more encouraging than the previous survey.

The people at CARA claim that the questions in the original Pew Research study were not phrased very well, which led to the surprisingly low percentage. For example, in the Pew study, this question was asked: “Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion?”

Then there were options that could be chosen regarding the bread and wine:
  1. Actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
  2. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
  3. No answer.
The problem is, even though the Church has always taught that the bread and wine are truly transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, the Church also has taught that the Eucharist is both “substance and symbol.”
The Pew study only counted people who picked option #1 as accepting the Church’s historic teaching. However, someone who actually believes in the Real Presence may have remembered Sr. Mary Margaret mentioning in 9th grade theology class decades ago that the Eucharist is substance and symbol, and picked option #2.

The people at CARA think the wording of the Pew survey caused the percentage to be too low. Their new survey question was much more direct: “Just to clarify, do you personally believe that after Consecration during a Catholic Mass, that Jesus Christ is truly present under the appearance of bread and wine upon the altar?”  

This yes-or-no question revealed that 64% of U.S. Catholics said, “Yes.” 

So, slightly less than two-thirds is way better than slightly less than one-third. On the other hand, it still means there are millions of people in this country who call themselves faithful Catholics who do not accept the core doctrine that the Church has defined as the “source and summit of the Christian life.”

The idea of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was not invented by some medieval pope a thousand years after Jesus walked the earth. It was taught by Jesus Himself, written about by St. Paul, and preached by Christian missionaries from the very beginning. 

There’s a good reason the Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life.” It is truly Jesus in the flesh. And even though two-thirds of Catholics believe this, which is much better than only one-third, there are still so many people who are missing out.
Therefore, we still have a lot of work to do, and the clergy can’t do it alone. We all have to pitch in and remind our friends and loved ones about the doctrine of the Eucharist. The first thing we should do is go back and re-read the gospel of John, chapter 6, and St. Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth, chapter 11.

The Eucharist is a doctrine worth talking about. After all, it’s the closest we can get to Jesus while still here on earth.

(For more info on this topic, click here.)

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