Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Why All Catholics Should Believe

 

A recent Pew study showed that two-thirds of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in communion. I was dismayed at this not because I am a champion of this teaching but because I believe that people of faith should wholeheartedly believe what their faith teaches. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Here is a little back story. At the last supper in the upper room, Jesus held forth the bread and wine and said, “This is my body, this is my blood. Eat in remembrance of me.” Most Christians (with the exception of Quakers and the Salvation Army) believe that this meal is to be reenacted in our worship today.

While there is debate over little stuff (how often, wine vs. grape juice, etc.), the substantive controversy has to do with the metaphysical aspect of this reenactment.

Evangelicals, Baptists, and Fundamentalists follow the view of Huldrych Zwingli. They emphasize Jesus’ statement, “This do in remembrance of me,” and sees the rite as nothing more than a memorial of Christ’s Person and work. It is similar to the Passover Seder that remembers God’s power redemptive work towards Israel.

At the other end, the Catholics take Jesus’ statement most literally. “This is my body” and “This is my blood” means just that. This argument is strengthened in the disturbing John 6 dialog where Jesus speaks of Himself as the “bread of life” and tells people to “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” As the crowd pulled away, Jesus doubled down on the uncompromising language.

This is why Catholics believe that the communion wafer actually changes substances. During the ritual, the elements still look like bread and wine but, in reality, they are not bread and wine. The substance is transferred into the actual body and blood of Christ. Thus, this teaching is called transubstantiation which brings forth the Real Presence.

Martin Luther pulled away from this far end of the spectrum. He believed in a sort of Real Presence but he did not believe that the bread stopped being bread. He taught that Christ’s presence is in, with, and under the bread but not actually it. John Calvin pulled away further, thinking Christ’s presence was there, but in a spiritual not physical sense. And Zwingli was the least literal on this point.

Regardless of the debate, here my thesis stands: All Catholics should believe in the Real Presence that their church as the church is dogmatic. I say that not because I am a champion of that view, but because culture is served best when people of faith are “all in” holding forth the very distinctives that define their faith tradition in the first place. Culture at large is driven by ever-shifting popularity of ideas. People of faith believe what is true for all time.

I’m not saying that religious people should believe the improbable – anyone in such a faith tradition should seek out another community. Nevertheless, most in the Catholic church who say they don’t believe in the Real Presence probably rejected it because it sounds odd, is the stuff of superstitious Catholic grandmothers, or they never took the time to read a Catholic book and learn.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of Catholic books, podcasts, and apologists who can handily make the case that the things they believe are plausible – that is, if you make the assumptions and approach the church has always made their conclusions make sense. At the very least, they’re not idiots. If you are not willing to make the kind of assumptions Catholic theologians and thinkers have historically made for thousands of years, you may be in the wrong church but don’t leave on a whim and without much thought.

In short, what is the point of a revealed faith if you are not all in? If you don’t think that God’s revelation and the traditions of the best thinkers of Western Civilization have more insight than your musings, why not simply play golf on Sunday? If you’d rather eat at the smörgåsbord of spiritual ideas, then become one of those boring self-referential “I’m not religious, only spiritual” kind of people who are a dime a dozen and use the Sabbath for one of those self-affirming nature walks?

But if you have the radical idea of being a Christian or a Jew, then be one.

If you’re an Evangelical Christian, study your Bible deeply and speak the gospel to all who come your way.

If you’re Reformed Christian, study deeply the Puritans and the Reformers and pursue a faithful, holy, sanctified life.

If you are a Jew, then believe that God has called you as a distinct people and has given you His Law and ways to be a blessing to the world (and if your Rabbi is more interested in Black Lives Matters and other liberal causes, find another shul).

And if you’re Catholic, go to Mass regularly, embrace the sacraments, and let His Presence change your life.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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There are 26 comments.

  1. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    If it helps any, Joseph Campbell was so transfixed over how a congregation in a Catholic Church went into an altered state after receiving their communion wafers that he converted to Catholicism. He had studied dozens and dozens of various religious sects, and yet he chose Catholicism because of adherence to this wide spread belief.

    It is sad to read your report that Catholics no longer necessarily feel the need to embrace one of the founding principles of their faith.

    • #1
    • August 26, 2019, at 5:56 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  2. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    This study seems to show something that I’ve suspected previously: that a lot of people who self-identify as Catholic aren’t really Catholic.

    If you look at the poll numbers (here), among weekly attenders, 63% of weekly attenders believe the Catholic doctrine, and another 23% are unsure of the doctrine. Only 14% know, but reject, Catholic teaching on transubstantiation.

    • #2
    • August 26, 2019, at 6:23 PM PST
    • 11 likes
  3. Henry Castaigne Member

    I don’t quite understand this post. Shouldn’t you believe in what you believe in because it is true? 

    • #3
    • August 26, 2019, at 6:54 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    DavidBSable:

    If you’re an Evangelical Christian, study your Bible deeply and speak the gospel to all who come your way.

    If you’re Reformed Christian, study deeply the Puritans and the Reformers and pursue a faithful, holy, sanctified life.

    If you are a Jew then believe that God has called you as a distinct people and has given you His Law and ways to be a blessing to the world (and if your Rabbi is more interested in Black Lives Matters and other liberal causes, find another shul).

    And if you’re Catholic, go to Mass regularly, embrace the sacraments, and let His Presence change your life.

    This is good advice. Our country needs more people to be outwardly religious. A humble and religious people make good neighbors and communities. Show your faith to spread the faith!

    • #4
    • August 26, 2019, at 7:07 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  5. Aaron Miller Member

    A responsibility of Catholic priests and bishops is to defend the divine presence in the Eucharist from sacrilege, deliberate or accidental. 

    If so many Catholics have been miseducated or neglected in theological instruction, then priests should make it crystal clear during every Mass that no one may receive the Eucharist without such belief. They cannot let Christ’s body be taken like common bread while waiting or vainly hoping for a later education. 

    This is exactly why Protestants and pagans are welcome at Mass but not welcome to receive the body and blood at the altar. It is why Catholics’ own children cannot receive the Eucharist before a process of instruction. 

    So serious is Catholic insistence on transubstantiation that a consecrated Host dropped in mud or vomited up must still be consumed. Priests and good Christians have risked death to protect consecrated Hosts in events of church fire or terrorism. 

    Anyway, I agree that anyone claiming a faith should understand that faith and be willing to defend it. I can respect serious and honest thinking even when I disagree with one’s conclusions. 

    • #5
    • August 26, 2019, at 7:53 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  6. TheRightNurse Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    This study seems to show something that I’ve suspected previously: that a lot of people who self-identify as Catholic aren’t really Catholic.

    If you look at the poll numbers (here), among weekly attenders, 63% of weekly attenders believe the Catholic doctrine, and another 23% are unsure of the doctrine. Only 14% know, but reject, Catholic teaching on transubstantiation.

    Much like Italy, there’s a large portion of this country that is Culturally Catholic.

    • #6
    • August 26, 2019, at 8:34 PM PST
    • 1 like
  7. DavidBSable Coolidge
    DavidBSable Post author

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    I don’t quite understand this post. Shouldn’t you believe in what you believe in because it is true?

    I am saying if you don’t believe the primary teachings of your religion is true, don’t be in it. But if you say you ascribe to a faith tradition, you should really believe its major claims.

    • #7
    • August 27, 2019, at 2:18 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. Henry Castaigne Member

    DavidBSable (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    I don’t quite understand this post. Shouldn’t you believe in what you believe in because it is true?

    I am saying if you don’t believe the primary teachings of your religion is true, don’t be in it. But if you say you ascribe to a faith tradition, you should really believe its major claims.

    The same with Jews and Muslims. It’s rather irksome to me that people say they are a thing that requires faith but they have no faith at all. 

    • #8
    • August 27, 2019, at 3:30 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    I don’t quite understand this post. Shouldn’t you believe in what you believe in because it is true?

    I think that David’s point is that if you don’t believe in a central Catholic doctrine, you ought not to self-identify as Catholic, as Catholicism is defined as agreement with a certain set of beliefs.

    • #9
    • August 27, 2019, at 6:06 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    DavidBSable: In short, what is the point of a revealed faith if you are not all in? If you don’t think that God’s revelation and the traditions of the best thinkers of Western Civilization has more insight than your musings, why not simply play golf on Sunday? If you’d rather eat at the smörgåsbord of spiritual ideas, then become one of those boring self-referential “I’m not religious, only spiritual” kind of people who are a dime a dozen and use the Sabbath for one of those self-affirming nature walks?

    Christianity has little or no impact on society today because most of us are self-evident hypocrites and view the local church as little more than a social club.

    • #10
    • August 27, 2019, at 7:40 AM PST
    • 1 like
  11. Juliana Member

    The Real Presence

    https://magiscenter.com/the-eucharistic-miracle-overseen-by-archbishop-bergoglio-now-pope-francis/

    • #11
    • August 27, 2019, at 7:45 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. SkipSul Moderator

    DavidBSable: Evangelicals, Baptists and Fundamentalists follow the view of Huldrych Zwingli. They emphasizes Jesus’ statement, “This do in remembrance of me,” and sees the rite as nothing more than a memorial of Christ’s Person and work. It is similar to the Passover Seder that remembers God’s power redemptive work towards Israel.

    The term “remembrance” is the controversial point. We tend to use it strictly to mean “to remember something that occurred in the past”, but that’s not what it means in its context. The more correct (but more difficult to phrase) meaning is “to recreate and re-participate in an eternal event” – this is true both in the Eucharist and the Passover Seder. Both are meant not merely to commemorate an event fixed in the past, but to draw their participants into the original event and make them spiritually present for it, for the original event is of such everlasting importance and transcendence that it stands apart from time.

    • #12
    • August 27, 2019, at 10:49 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  13. SkipSul Moderator

    DavidBSable:

    This is why Catholics believe that the communion wafer actually changes substances. During the ritual, the elements still look like bread and wine but in reality they are not bread and wine. The substance is transferred into the actual body and blood of Christ. Thus, this teaching is called transubstantiation which brings forth the Real Presence.

    Martin Luther pulled away from this far end of the spectrum. He believed in a sort of Real Presence but he did not believe that the bread stopped being bread. He taught that Christ’s presence is in, with, and under the bread but not actually it. John Calvin pulled away further thinking Christ’s presence was there but in a spiritual, not physical sense. And Zwingli was the least literal on this point.

    The Eastern Orthodox have a somewhat different interpretation. The bread and wine are the literal body and blood of Christ without changing their apparent form, but they do not explain it further. The doctrine of Transubstantiation is seen as trying to explain the unexplainable.

    • #13
    • August 27, 2019, at 10:52 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  14. Western Chauvinist Member

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    A responsibility of Catholic priests and bishops is to defend the divine presence in the Eucharist from sacrilege, deliberate or accidental. 

    Laymen, too. It’s why people who commit to an hour (or more) of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration are called “guardians.” 

    The sad thing about the Pew poll is the numbers have actually improved, although they’re still disturbingly low.

    • #14
    • August 27, 2019, at 2:10 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  15. Eridemus Coolidge

    Somehow this reminds me of the topic about Democrats who keep voting for the party out of “identity” more than deep thinking about the direction it is going, and whether they really agree with the state that might result (Except with Democrats unfortunately they will carry the non-believers (in socialism) with them). One case is adhering to its history, one is shredding it. At least churches leave outsiders pretty much unforced into their ways.

    The question remains of what happens to the organizations themselves when semi-attached keep the statistics swollen without a match in actual adherence. It probably doesn’t hinge on one issue, but are they ripe for a new alternative to appear that will satisfy them enough to leave their familiar identity? Will their leaders decide to stretch or pull back enough to hold them or just bet instead that the discrepancy can be shrugged off? Myself, I don’t believe it is that easy to lead people where they don’t want to go, at least once they sense something afflicts them personally or reaches too far and deep.

    • #15
    • August 27, 2019, at 2:33 PM PST
    • Like
  16. Bob Wainwright Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    DavidBSable:

    This is why Catholics believe that the communion wafer actually changes substances. During the ritual, the elements still look like bread and wine but in reality they are not bread and wine. The substance is transferred into the actual body and blood of Christ. Thus, this teaching is called transubstantiation which brings forth the Real Presence.

    Martin Luther pulled away from this far end of the spectrum. He believed in a sort of Real Presence but he did not believe that the bread stopped being bread. He taught that Christ’s presence is in, with, and under the bread but not actually it. John Calvin pulled away further thinking Christ’s presence was there but in a spiritual, not physical sense. And Zwingli was the least literal on this point.

    The Eastern Orthodox have a somewhat different interpretation. The bread and wine are the literal body and blood of Christ without changing their apparent form, but they do not explain it further. The doctrine of Transubstantiation is seen as trying to explain the unexplainable.

     The Catholic transubstantiation doctrine makes it sound as if the change in substance is a physical change which is somehow hidden from view, so that the physical aspect of the change is real but invisible. In other words there’s really flesh and blood there now but you can’t see it. The problem is that a physical change or event is by definition a change or event which can be detected physically. To say that it’s physical but not physically detectable is a contradiction.

    I think the actual language in the catechism is “real” not “physical.” But that distinction, where the physical reality of the event is downplayed in favor of something else that is nevertheless “real,” seems to point toward a more symbolic interpretation. 

    • #16
    • August 27, 2019, at 2:59 PM PST
    • Like
  17. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    o serious is Catholic insistence on transubstantiation that a consecrated Host dropped in mud or vomited up must still be consumed.

    This is not true. From the notes on the training of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion:

    If the Eucharistic bread or some particle of it falls, it should be picked up reverently by the minister. The consecrated bread may be consumed or completely dissolved in water before being poured down the sacrarium.

    Of course, you must know what the sacrarium is.

     

    Full disclosure: I am an “EM” and Sacristan in my home parish.

     

    • #17
    • August 27, 2019, at 3:29 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  18. KentForrester Coolidge

    David, I’ve always been a bit confused about orthodox Catholics’ belief in transubstantiation. 

    As I understand it, the extreme position (it is extreme, isn’t it?) is that the bread becomes the actual flesh of Christ, the wine becomes His actual blood.

    In fact, that seems to be what transubstantiation means. 

    That’s not true, of course. The atoms of the bread remain atoms of bread, the atoms of wine remain atoms of wine. This can be tested scientifically (or perhaps it has been tested)

    Can you help me out?

    • #18
    • August 27, 2019, at 4:23 PM PST
    • Like
  19. Ed G. Member

    I think of myself as a committed and certainly a practicing Catholic. It’s not just a social club for me, although parish life can be a satisfying part of my religious practice.

    I would count myself as technically unsure about transsubstantiation. That’s probably not as heretical as it sounds. I believe in everything we recite each week at mass when we recite the Nicene Creed. Nothing in that mentions transsubstantiation. If I believe all of those things to be true (and I do) then I also believe that Real Presence is not only possible in the Eucharist but likely. However, it’s not something I can know unless that Real Presence shows itself in some way, because otherwise I can’t detect a real change. So to me it is a rational proposition (and one to be hoped for) given that I already accept the rest of the Nicene Creed and the gospels. I believe that the Eucharist is not merely symbolic, but on the other hand I don’t believe I’m actually drinking blood that looks and tastes like wine. Like anything else about God and Jesus it’s a mystery to me – one that I don’t think important to resolve especially since I don’t think it can be resolved in a scientific sense. 

    • #19
    • August 27, 2019, at 5:14 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  20. Western Chauvinist Member

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    I believe that the Eucharist is not merely symbolic, but on the other hand I don’t believe I’m actually drinking blood that looks and tastes like wine. Like anything else about God and Jesus it’s a mystery to me – one that I don’t think important to resolve especially since I don’t think it can be resolved in a scientific sense. 

    I resolve the mystery by (listening to Catholic Answers) believing what Jesus says — “This is my body. This is my blood.” He doesn’t say, “this is a symbol of my body,” or, “this represents my body.” The substance is the metaphysical presence of Christ, although the “accidents” of bread and wine remain. If you look at the Eucharist under a microscope, you’ll see the accidents, but the Real Presence is there. God creates reality when He speaks.

    Believing in the Real Presence is an act of faith — trusting Jesus means what he says. That’s good enough for me. 

    • #20
    • August 27, 2019, at 5:32 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  21. Ed G. Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    I believe that the Eucharist is not merely symbolic, but on the other hand I don’t believe I’m actually drinking blood that looks and tastes like wine. Like anything else about God and Jesus it’s a mystery to me – one that I don’t think important to resolve especially since I don’t think it can be resolved in a scientific sense.

    I resolve the mystery by (listening to Catholic Answers) believing what Jesus says — “This is my body. This is my blood.” He doesn’t say, “this is a symbol of my body,” or, “this represents my body.” The substance is the metaphysical presence of Christ, although the “accidents” of bread and wine remain. If you look at the Eucharist under a microscope, you’ll see the accidents, but the Real Presence is there. God creates reality when He speaks.

    Believing in the Real Presence is an act of faith — trusting Jesus means what he says. That’s good enough for me.

    I agree with all of that. In looking this up, it seems though that believing in Real Presence is distinct from Transubstantiation. The Catholic Church teaches that the physical substance changes even though the form doesn’t and even though the change can’t be detected, to the point that none of the substance is bread and wine anymore. To me, in practical terms, there’s not a lot of difference between transubstantiation and real presence or Consubstantiation. Also, to me, the distinctions about the physical and metaphysical mechanics of the Eucharist aren’t important to my faith – the important part to me is that that host is physically Jesus regardless of the metaphysical and physical mechanics which even the Church admits we can’t detect and which I believe we can never know. It’s not a symbol of Jesus, not merely Jesus in spirit, but the physical presence of Jesus. I might not pass muster with the Inquisition, but that probably keeps my Catholic membership card in pretty good standing.

    • #21
    • August 27, 2019, at 5:55 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  22. Aaron Miller Member

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    o serious is Catholic insistence on transubstantiation that a consecrated Host dropped in mud or vomited up must still be consumed.

    This is not true. From the notes on the training of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion:

    If the Eucharistic bread or some particle of it falls, it should be picked up reverently by the minister. The consecrated bread may be consumed or completely dissolved in water before being poured down the sacrarium.

    Of course, you must know what the sacrarium is.

     

    Full disclosure: I am an “EM” and Sacristan in my home parish.

     

    The sacrarium, like extraordinary eucharistic ministers, is used more commonly than originally intended. As I understand it, dissolving a consecrated Host and, via the sacrarium, effectively burying our Lord’s body in holy ground is an option reserved for extreme circumstances and at least discouraged by the Church for disposal of excess or broken Hosts. 

    The sacrarium is, in other words, not an equal option but rather a last resort. Communion is intended for communion, not for burial. 

    • #22
    • August 27, 2019, at 10:54 PM PST
    • 1 like
  23. DavidBSable Coolidge
    DavidBSable Post author

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    David, I’ve always been a bit confused about orthodox Catholics’ belief in transubstantiation.

    As I understand it, the extreme position (it is extreme, isn’t it?) is that the bread becomes the actual flesh of Christ, the wine becomes His actual blood.

    In fact, that seems to be what transubstantiation means.

    That’s not true, of course. The atoms of the bread remain atoms of bread, the atoms of wine remain atoms of wine. This can be tested scientifically (or perhaps it has been tested)

    Can you help me out?

    @kentforrester The short answer is no. Writing this article appealed to me because I wrote it as someone on the outside looking in, not one defending my own tradition. What I presented, I learned from listening to smart people like Brandon and Bishop Barrons on Word on Fire and other sources but as the comments showed, there were ideas and distinctions I didn’t understand fully. (One doesn’t know what he doesn’t know until he starts writing about it!)

    One topic that came up in the feed that fascinated me was realizing that the Real Presence and Transubstantiation are not the same thing. The Real Presence is just that – Christ in the elements. Transubstantiation is an attempt to explain how it is happening. Orthodox Christians don’t feel the need for that explanation and that idea appeals to me – something mysterious is happening but I don’t know exactly how. Kind of like I know the fireman is saving me from the burning building even though I don’t understand how the hydraulic lifts on his truck works.

    But to your question, I would try groups like Word on Fire or Coming Home. I am sure that Scott Hahn (a Catholic apologists) would have a book dealing with the mass and specifically the Eucharist.

    -Dave

    • #23
    • August 28, 2019, at 2:52 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  24. Western Chauvinist Member

    Tim Staples is writing a book called, “Behold the Lamb” about the Eucharist as a follow on to his title, “Behold Your Mother” about the Marian doctrines. He’s a convert too (like Scott Hahn) and my favorite apologist at Catholic Answers. I’m keeping an eye out for it.

    • #24
    • August 28, 2019, at 4:18 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  25. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    o serious is Catholic insistence on transubstantiation that a consecrated Host dropped in mud or vomited up must still be consumed.

    This is not true. From the notes on the training of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion:

    If the Eucharistic bread or some particle of it falls, it should be picked up reverently by the minister. The consecrated bread may be consumed or completely dissolved in water before being poured down the sacrarium.

    Of course, you must know what the sacrarium is.

     

    Full disclosure: I am an “EM” and Sacristan in my home parish.

     

    The sacrarium, like extraordinary eucharistic ministers, is used more commonly than originally intended. As I understand it, dissolving a consecrated Host and, via the sacrarium, effectively burying our Lord’s body in holy ground is an option reserved for extreme circumstances and at least discouraged by the Church for disposal of excess or broken Hosts.

    [ My bold ] No, the sacrarium very deliberately drains above ground, not underground, specifically to not be comparable to burial.

    The sacrarium is, in other words, not an equal option but rather a last resort. Communion is intended for communion, not for burial.

    I did not say it was an equal option, though the USCCB’s text isn’t as clear as it should be. The sacrarium is not approved for excess or broken hosts. It is a last resort. It is for hosts whose physical aspect has been tainted by contact with something that is not good for our physical body. Mud, saliva, vomit, poison, whatever. Not that Christ himself is tainted, but the host can no longer be consumed by a communicant without also consuming something bad.

    In my parish, the sacrarium is only regularly used for the water in which stained altar linens have been soaked. I don’t agree with your statement that sacrariums are more commonly used than originally intended. At least, I haven’t seen any sign of it.

    • #25
    • August 28, 2019, at 8:46 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  26. Aaron Miller Member

    Thanks for the correction. As implied, I’ve read stories of sacrariums being used to dispose of Hosts not consumed during Mass.

    Anything, religious or not, that can be used will be abused by the foolish.

    • #26
    • August 28, 2019, at 3:55 PM PST
    • Like