I WAS saddened, although not shocked, when I read that a Pew Research Centre survey found that 69 per cent of (self-identifying) Catholics in the United States do not believe in transubstantiation.
The numbers are better among Catholics that go to Mass once a week but, even among that group, 37 per cent do not believe in transubstantiation.
I read about this survey at the same time that a number of young people in our parishes were receiving their first Communion.
This led me to wonder how many of those, in the years to follow, will believe as the Church requires them to on this topic?
How many of them will be regular attendees at Confession, ensuring they are in a state of grace before receiving?
Perhaps more importantly, what can we do to ensure that future generations are more faithful in this respect?
What does the Church teach about the Eucharist?
The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian life”.
This is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium.
Catholics need only to consult their Bibles to find evidence of bread and wine literally being the body and blood of Christ.
John 6:22-66 makes this clear – “… eat my flesh and drink my blood …”
Further, at (60) – “When many of his disciples heard it they said ‘this teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’”.
At (66) – “Because of this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him”.
What are we to make of this? That a purely symbolic teaching was difficult to hear?
That many people left because they didn’t like the symbolism Jesus was espousing?
That hardly makes sense – no, here we have a teaching that is difficult because it is literal.
Nearly 2000 years later and it apparently remains difficult, even amongst the members of the Church that Christ himself instituted.
Why is it an issue?
Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles archdiocese, perhaps put it best – he said some were bound to react.
“Oh, well, who cares? As long as they’re committed to the poor or committed to social justice. Isn’t that important?”
Bishop Barron called that “a reduction of religion to morality, which is repugnant to Catholicism”.
Indeed – if Catholicism is merely a collection of people trying to be nice or focusing on “social justice”, there are plenty of secular groups that fit that bill.
These are secular groups that don’t ask you to change your lifestyle or sacrifice things that seem important to you or challenge any deeply held beliefs.
No secular organisation has, as part of its literature: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you”.
If the Eucharist loses its meaning, the entire Church goes with it.
What can be done about this?
It is said that we live in a post-Christian world.
It is perhaps more accurate to say, in the Australian context, that we live in a “never-Catholic” world.
Whether it was Protestantism at Australia’s founding, or secularism now, Australia has never had a deeply-rooted Catholic culture in the way that an Ireland or a Poland has had.
The Church in Australia cannot rely on underlying social norms to transmit the specificities of Catholic belief.
What has become clear is that we cannot rely on Catholic families or Catholic schools to transmit the belief in the Eucharist.
Homilies are to be a reflection on the Gospel reading, of course, but we cannot ignore erroneous beliefs – homilies need to start affirming the belief in the Eucharist.
Not every week, of course, but certainly on a consistent basis.
Further, the line for Confession is short but the line for Communion is long – a discussion of the Eucharist cannot be had without discussion of the necessity of being in a state of grace to receive the Lord.
If one truly believes that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, who dares to receive it other than in a state of grace?
Finally, there is a desperate need for more Adoration in parishes. We would not sit for an hour in front of a wafer of bread. But we sit in the presence of the Lord – an outward sign of devotion that demonstrates that there is more to Catholic life than consuming a wafer every week.
Much has been lost, but there is much to gain. It begins, and ends, with the Eucharist.
Ben Hutchinson is a Brisbane lawyer studying post graduate theology at ACU Banyo