One of the most troubling things I read all summer was the finding of a Pew Research Study released August 5 that only 31 percent, or one-third of current, self-identifying Catholics believe that the bread and wine consecrated at Mass BECOME AND ARE the Body and Blood of Christ.
This belief, described and known since the Middle Ages as “transubstantiation” in Catholic doctrine, has been and remains a core conviction of the Catholic faith since the Lord Jesus first spoke the words “This is my Body ... this is my Blood” at the Last Supper (Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). “Do this in memory of me.”
Sixty-nine percent of Catholics surveyed, by contrast, believe the consecrated bread and wine only to be “symbols” of the Lord Jesus’ Body and Blood.
Where did this error regarding such a fundamental tenet of our Catholic faith come from?
The Pew Survey reveals that the Church’s teaching and belief in the Eucharist is stronger among those who attend Mass weekly, especially older Catholics, but even within these groups, confusion and error exist to a troubling degree.
There is abundant evidence – derived from the Scriptures, the writings of the earliest Fathers of the Church, the pronouncements of Church Councils and leaders throughout the Church’s long history, as well as the firm and constant belief of the Church’s faithful – to support this most important and central conviction of our Catholic faith. The Eucharist is the “Real Presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ, whether on the altar at Mass, in Holy Communion or reserved as the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. For the Catholic, this “mystery of faith” is unambiguous and not subject to doubt. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church “Lumen Gentium, 11,” states with the deepest and most profound conviction, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life ... For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch (CCC, 1324).”
How bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ at the priest’s words of consecration at Mass is a mystery of faith to be sure but a mystery that responds to the Lord Jesus’ own command, “Do this in memory of Me.” Mysteries defy scientific explanations – that is why they are called “mysteries” – requiring either the belief of faith or disbelief. In his magnificent Eucharistic hymn, “Tantum Ergo,” one of the Catholic Church’s greatest teachers, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), reflected “what our senses fail to fathom, let us grasp through faith’s consent.” And, so, the Catholic Church has “grasped” from its very beginning and continues to do so to the present moment and beyond.
“This is my Body. This is my Blood. Do this in memory of me.”
“May the Heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen (Divine Praises).”
If the faithful of the Catholic Church get this core belief wrong, what else could they hope to get right?