Three Ways to Restore Faith in the Real Presence

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

Once again, the latest Pew Research study has found continued erosion in belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist among Catholics and it has kicked off another round of hand-wringing among the faithful. We’ve been blaming poor catechesis for decades, and nothing’s changed. Maybe we need to take a look at some new ideas.

According to the poll, nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they believe the bread and wine used in Communion are “symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” This majority was found in every age group surveyed.

Twenty-two percent outright reject the Church’s teaching on transubstantiation.

On the other hand, one-third of Catholics (31%) say they believe that during the Consecration, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.

Bishop Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles admitted that the poll results made him angry.

“This should be a wake-up call to all of us in the Church—priests, bishops, religious, laypeople, catechists, parents, everyone—that we need to pick up our game when it comes to communicating even the most basic doctrines of the Church,” Barron wrote on his blog Aug. 6.

While catechesis is certainly needed, we can’t stop there. Today’s faithful are living in a secular world that scorns the supernatural (except the New Age variety). Belief in the  Eucharist relies on enough faith to accept the fact that what happens during the Consecration is just as much a miracle and a mystery as are the miraculous healings needed for the canonization of saints. It’s easy to believe that the sick can become well because we can see this miracle, but in the Eucharist, the host and wine still look the same, testing our faith even more. So how do we help our brothers and sisters develop the faith they need to believe?

1. Teach Prayer

We need to start by meeting them where they’re at. Let’s face it, belief in the Eucharist has been a tough sell since the time of Christ and it remains so for many Christians today who are “cultural Catholics” and are not exercising their faith in the usual ways. Not only are they neglecting the sacraments, they aren’t praying either! There is no personal connection with God in their lives. It’s just something they do on Sundays, if that.

As a third order Carmelite who teaches prayer at the parish level, this is one the most pressing problems in the Church right now – Catholics do not know how to pray. Their idea of Catholic prayer is confined to vocal prayer. They are not taught, and therefore, do not understand, the rich mystical tradition of our Church that can be adapted and taught to beginners in a way that whets their appetite for more. Instead, they are taught New Age gimmicks like labyrinths and mandalas or Eastern prayer techniques such as Centering Prayer and mindfulness meditation. If these prayer forms were so beneficial to leading people to God, why haven’t they led them to the God who is present in the Eucharist?

2. Make the Eucharist More Available

This leads me to the second way that we can help to restore faith in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord. Enable the faithful to encounter the Eucharist outside of Mass, in a personal and private way.

Having coordinated perpetual adoration chapels for nearly 20 years, I can attest to the fact that sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, alone, is one of the most powerful ways to enable people to truly experience the truth in what we teach. Sitting in front of Him, one-on-one, is where people get to know Him. They just need to sit and experience Him as He quietly ministers to them. It doesn’t take long (the average is about three visits) to realize that something happens there. They come in tied up in a knot and they leave feeling like a new person. Not long after this they begin to realize that this something is actually a Someone – and His name is Jesus Christ.

Every church should have at least one day a week devoted to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and remain open long enough for working men and women to be able to access the church. Too many parishes close their weekly adoration at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. It’s bad enough that busy working people are only given one day a week to access the Eucharist, but then to confine the hours to only those people who are home during the day, just doesn’t work.

Open up your churches, dust off those monstrances and place the Lord on the throne of His altar. As I discovered after setting up two perpetual adoration chapels in parishes where people thought it could never happen – if you build it, they will come.

3. Restore reverence in Church.

During a homily in 2017, the late bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, Bp. Robert Morlino, said he believes one of the reasons why people have lost faith in the Real Presence is because of lax liturgies and the relaxation of rules concerning reception of the Eucharist.

“There are liturgies that are less than reverent, especially in the way that Communion is received,” Morlino said. “It’s hard to believe that some people actually believe that that’s the Body of Christ the way they handle it. You’d think it was an M&M.”

As any Extraordinary Minister of Communion will tell you, the way people receive communion can be shocking at times. There is the one-handed grab, the gum-chewer, and the socialite who returns to his or her pew while smiling and waving at friends rather than paying attention to the body and blood of the Savior of the World who they have just imbibed.

People don’t genuflect, they don’t bless themselves with holy water, they talk and laugh before and after mass. If we want people to believe that Jesus is truly present in the tabernacle, we must believe it enough to enforce rules of conduct that show the proper respect to God.

Even the faithful recognize that this lack of reverence is a problem. Commenting on Bishop Barron’s Tweet about the Pew Poll, Gianna commented: “Quit treating the Holy Mass as a Protestant happy clappy meeting and people might realize the Holiness of the true presence of our Lord and fall to their knees to be fed His precious Body blood soul and divinity!”

Yes, we have a problem with faith in the Real Presence, but it’s one that can be overcome by all of us – the laity with the clergy. Although these suggestions might seem simplistic, having worked with typical parish folk for many years now, I can say that tackling these issues might not solve the problem, but bringing people closer to God and setting higher standards of conduct in church certainly can’t hurt.

Let’s work together to give our unbelieving brothers and sisters exactly what it is they’re looking for – a personal connection with God in the Eucharist, and beyond.

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