Explainer: Why the Eucharist is confusing for many Catholics (and survey researchers)
In The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, a letter from O’Connor to a recipient identified only as “A” recounts the story of a dinner party O’Connor attended in 1955:
Well, toward morning the conversation had turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the “most portable” person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, “Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.”
A fundamental difference in the centuries since the Protestant Reformation between the teachings and practice of the Catholic Church and that of most Protestant denominations has centered on what one believes happens at the celebration of the Eucharist. Unlike (most of) their Protestant brethren, Catholics profess that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine on the altar really and truly become the body and blood of Christ. In addition to pointing toward the reality of Christ (in the sense of a symbol), they are also themselves a source of sanctifying grace (a sacrament) because Christ is really and truly (not merely symbolically) present in them.
Flannery O'Connor on the Eucharist: "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."
But do Catholics really and truly believe that? A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that “most self-described Catholics don’t believe this core teaching. In fact, nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69 percent) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion ‘are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.’” In other words, “just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31 percent) say they believe that ‘during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.’”
That result might dismay Flannery O’Connor, and it also leads to a fair amount of consternation among catechists, pastors and people in the pews because it suggests an institutional and pastoral failure to communicate a core doctrine of the faith to several generations of Catholics. It also led to some alarmed and some gleeful headlines and online clickbait (no, we won’t link to any of them here): “Most U.S. Catholics Reject the Idea That Eucharist is the Literal Body of Christ”; “Poll: 7 in 10 US Catholics Don't Believe in Real Presence”; “Majority of Catholics believe the wine and bread are simply symbolic.”
Not new, and maybe not that accurate
But this is not new. In a 1994 article in The New York Times, religion correspondent Peter Steinfels reported the following: “Yet when a representative sample of American Catholics were asked which statement came closest to ‘what you believe takes place at mass,’ only 1 out of 3 chose ‘the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s body and blood’.” In other words, the percentage of U.S. Catholics who expressed a belief in the Eucharist that entirely lines up with the Catholic Church’s teaching on transubstantiation has not changed at all in a quarter of a century.
Even apart from the clickbait headlines suggesting Catholic belief in the Eucharist has recently collapsed, there are other problems with this survey and the way it has been reported. For example, 43 percent of the respondents in the Pew survey both believed that the Eucharist is a symbol and thought that is what the church teaches. In other words, while only 1 out of 3 Catholics gets the theology right, another 4 out of 10 understand themselves to believe what (they think) the church teaches. Far from “rejecting” belief in the Real Presence, many of these Catholics would likely affirm it, if their understanding of church teaching were clarified or if the question were more exact.
One reason to expect that many of the “disbelievers” Pew found might really be believers is that other recent surveys with differently worded questions got very different results. As Mark Gray of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate explains, a study in 2011 found that 46 percent of Catholics understood the church’s teaching and believed in the Real Presence, and another 17 percent believed in it without understanding the teaching. (This agrees with data from CARA surveys in 2001 and 2008, which found that around 6 in 10 Catholics believed Jesus was really present in the Eucharist.) What might explain the difference?
The surveys that found higher agreement used the terms “really becomes” or “really present,” whereas Pew used “actually becomes.” And when describing the “symbol” option, they were a bit clearer about what that meant too—the 2011 survey described that option as the bread and wine being “only symbols,” and in the 2001 and 2008 surveys, the option was the “bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.” When language more familiar to Catholics is used and the surveys are clearer about what is being denied by the “symbol” answer, belief in the Eucharist is nearly double what Pew found.
While only 1 out of 3 Catholics gets Catholic teaching on the Eucharist right, in a recent survey, another 4 out of 10 understand themselves to believe what (they think) the church teaches.
Confusion of terms
Another issue is that the terms often used in church teaching can be confusing because they have multiple meanings. For example, The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “[i]n the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.’ This presence is called ‘real’—by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.” In other words, the Catholic Church believes that the bread and wine do really become the body and blood of Christ, but that does not mean the characteristics that make them bread and wine for us are no longer there in a real way.
Another problem is a philosophical one. The Catholic Church traditionally expressed its understanding of the Eucharist using the terms of Thomistic theology, itself derived from the philosophical ideas of Plato and Aristotle. In this framework, every created thing has both a “substance” (its true reality) and “accidents,” those characteristics that we actually perceive, such as its physical appearance.
In that sense, at the consecration the “substance” of the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ, while the “accidents” remain those of bread and wine—which is why we experience them physically as being unchanged. This distinction between substance and accidents, however, is a feature of technical language about metaphysics, not everyday description. And even as technical language, “substance” and “accidents” are no longer in widespread use among philosophers and theologians outside of Thomistic circles (except, perhaps, in reference to the Eucharist).
When the words “really” and “actually” are used, as they were in these surveys, without drawing attention to technical metaphysical distinctions, contemporary people probably jump to something like “empirically” as their meaning. But the difference between “really” and “empirically” is exactly what the doctrine of transubstantiation draws our attention to.
That is why some Catholic theologians in the second half of the 20th century, while affirming the church’s teaching on the real presence, tried to come up with new ways to describe the Eucharist that used language closer to contemporary philosophical and theological understandings of reality. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., advanced a theory of “transignification,” while Karl Rahner, S.J., suggested “transfinalization,” but these approaches found little traction when up against the weight of centuries of Thomistic language used to describe the Eucharist.
The Catholic Church traditionally expressed its understanding of the Eucharist using the terms of Thomistic theology, itself derived from the philosophical ideas of Plato and Aristotle.
The reality may be that for most Catholics approaching the Eucharist, a theologically accurate description of what “actually just happened” on the altar is less important than faith in the sacrament, a sense of sharing in the community, an experience of thanksgiving—which is the literal meaning of the word “eucharistos” in Hellenistic Greek—or a prayerful experience of communion with the divine. The theology of the Eucharist is a bit like what the Catholic Church’s greatest thinkers have said every time someone has tried to define the doctrine of the Trinity: It is a mystery.
The Australian systematic theologian Gerald O’Collins, S.J., gave a fairly commonsense answer to America in 2015 to the question of how to understand the Eucharist: “As the greatest of the sacraments and the central act of worship in the life of the church,” he said, “the Eucharist can never be neatly summed up.”
More America resources:
- “A Eucharistic Church,” by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.
- “What one man’s honest, uncensored response to the Eucharist taught me about faith,” by Danielle Vaclavik
- “What Christ in the Eucharist teaches us about time and eternity,” by the Rev. Terrance W. Klein
- “Practicing Eucharist,” by Valerie Schultz
- “Flannery O'Connor and Walter Ciszek on the Eucharist,” by James Martin, S.J.
- “Catholics, Lutherans and the Eucharist: There’s a lot to share,” by Timothy P. O’Malley
Now, if we can only ask Catholics why anyone should be a Catholic? The "Real Presence" is one reason but what is the rationale why someone or indeed everyone should be a Catholic? It exists but I don't see it expressed anywhere on this site by any of the authors.
I was taught about "transubstantiation" before my First Communion and in nearly every year of my 16 years of Catholic education. Has it not been taught in recent years? As for the explanation, we forget it is God who said this and controls this. In other words it requires faith that Christ is God!
Faith or loyalty?
Faith that Christ is God!
The interesting thing is why would anyone ask such a question?
You misunderstand: loyalty to the Chrich or Faith which is free to raise questions about what is taught.
First, don't bring up the attempts to replace/re-explain Transubstantiation if you're not also going to bring up the fact that these attempts were firmly smacked down by Paul VI in his Encyclical Mysterium Fidei.
Second, the reason that Catholics don't know what the Eucharist is a complete failure in Catechesis and Liturgy at the parish level. In my seven years of Catechesis, I was taught by someone with an education in theology for precisely One Year. When I was in 3rd grade. The average volunteers barely knows the faith themselves. While I am grateful for their time and patience, you can't give what you don't have. Our liturgies by and large have become some bland and banal that no one has any reason to think the Eucharist is more than a nice symbol. When hymns like the Tantum Ergo or All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence are replaced with Gather Us In and On Eagles Wings, or even One Bread, One Body, you no longer get the sense that the Eucharist and its Confection is truly special. As well, priests who rip through Eucharist Prayer II at lightening speed are no better than the priests Pre-V2 who ripped through the Latin, muttering at astonishing speeds.
The congregation sing louder to more traditional, even Latin hymns than to religious songs.
I went to a seminar given by a middle aged Jesuit educator who described Eucharist as real presence, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And Jesus said, "feed on me". He said he took this to be literal and that we should actually chew the Eucharist, drink His blood as Jesus' body and blood. Believe and act on your "Amen!"--"So be it!" Have Jesus become mixed with your cells, your blood and marrow, let Jesus become your body and soul. He said, it sounds barbaric and canabalistic but how else are we to take Jesus' words? I thought that was pretty powerful stuff. No problem with real presence after hearing that teaching.
The problem comes for me when erstwhile bishops and priests try to exclude people from Eucharist because someone is not worthy to receive Jesus Christ. The same Jesus who welcomed sinners to dine with him and listen to him and be healed and converted even before going to confession, Really?, Yes, really!!! Do these bishops and priests really believe what they are doing? Or are they taking their Sacred Toy to themselves for "their use" rather than for what Jesus would have intended for all of us--a balm and blessing for our daily and weekly sinful lives.
If only Jesus Christ could learn from the editors of 'America Magazine' since they presume to know better than He does regarding proper catechesis! They write: “the Eucharist can never be neatly summed up." Let's immediately turn to Jesus Christ's own neat summary of the Eucharist: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (John 6:53). This neat catechetical formula was apparently enough to lead Paul (formerly Saul) [[and the Catholic Church for 2,000 years]] to understand the reality of the Eucharist: "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy state will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:27).
Clearly no chemical analysis would show the consecrated host to be human flesh. So then in exactly what sense is it the body of Christ? The average Catholic in the pews, such as I, does not do very well with medieval Thomistic philosophy. Oh well, as the nuns used to say, "It's a mystery. And if we understood it, it wouldn't be a mystery, now would it?"
I believe the next survey for Pew Research will deal with how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Finally, somebody get it. A lot of Catholics know what the Church teaches. They just don't believe it.
i agree...we do know what the church teaches. we also know that the '''church''' over the centuries has taught many things for the sole purpose of enhancing and protecting the clerical state and the importance of the 'institutional church.' . the choice of 'celibacy'- made centuries ago- is another non sequitor. as to what i believe: i believe that Jesus walks among us all. the bread and wine are in fact 'food for the journey...'' special..but food nevertheless. i often think about the last supper when the topic of eucharist comes up.. Jesus walks into a room..... food spread out in celebration. the room is filled with men...women...children who love the lord and each other. and in spite of this and his choice to 'die for these people,' he chooses a ''piece of bread'' to be his 'body and blood' ad aeternam. no....we are his ''body/ bread'' when we feed the hungry; we are his ''blood/ strength' when we help those who cannot help themselves. the 'bread and wine' stands as a 'support' and a remembrance of who Jesus invited us to be. nothing else makes any sense......and is somewhat of an insult to the Jesus of the day.
Andrew, and many other Catholics, needs to familiarize themselves with the many Eucharistic miracles that have occurred, with an abundance of supporting scientific analysis. Of course it is a matter of faith, but it is a faith that has transcended many doubts.
A modern explanation is needed: I think that to a lot of people (both Catholic and not) the response to the statement, "you are eating the flesh of Jesus Christ and are also drinking his blood", would be "eewwww".
As psychiatrists and clinical psychologists will attest, all of us are acting out on the basis of what we believe to be true at best or think we can get away with at worst. The pedophile scandal and the response of the church are evidence that the clerics really don’t believe what they teach. Consequently, if by their actions they demonstrate that they don’t believe what they preach, then why should anyone believe anything they teach? The situation is both that simple and that disastrous.
I think most Catholics believe it is truly Christ present in the Eucharist. They just don't know how to explain it. I read one survey where many Catholic said said it was "under" the bread or in the bread. Just watch them going to Communion and they clearly know Who they are receiving
As the article notes, there is a big difference between respondents to the Pew survey who 1) know what exactly the Church teaches, and 2) who believe it . The first is a problem of education and the second of faith. There is also confusion as to what the question means. The key error in my view is to determine the denominator purely by self-identification. Many call themselves Catholic but mean it very loosely, and don't practice, don't know or don't believe. This is why arguments to alter Church doctrine based on polls about "most Catholics believe" are so wrong-headed. It is also why the sensus fidelium requires unanimity.
SF should not require unanimity any more than a Vatican Council.
Michael - that is how it was defined in Lumen Gentium in Vatican II. See CCC 92 and note the "universal consent"
"The whole body of the faithful. . . cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals." See also Lumen Gentium 12: "the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals."
When on considers all of the atrocities committed against people who did not believe in transubstantiation in the last two thousand years, perhaps catholics are better left to believe whatever seems plausible. I believed a lot of things when I was I kid that I don't believe anymore.
The bread and the wine become consubstantial with the Father.
Which they also were before the consecration at the mass.
The thing is this: if Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is "consubstantial" with the First Person, then He, as well as the Father, is the Creator. Creation has not abated in the physical universe, and the "Creator" is still creating wine out of grapes and bread out of wheat--through human agency. It, too, is a miracle. In fact the whole created universe is a miracle. No Christian or Jew or Muslim doubts that "creation" is ongoing, no?
However, the physical creation of the universe--be it the creation by the "Creator" of man, or the "evolution of species" or whatever--takes place and took place in slow motion over centuries.
The "transubstantiation" of the bread and wine at mass, however, takes place so quickly that we cannot see it, and it only becomes effectual once Jesus Christ becomes a part of us physically (as well, hopefully, as spiritually). That's what "transubstantiation" means: WE become the "substance" of Christ on earth, if we truly wish to become it (and that's what receiving the sacrament in the right "state of grace" means--and it's ALL that it means, i.e. ANYBODY, whether baptized in the Catholic Church or not, who truly WISHES to become "consubstantiated" (Lutheran phrase) with Jesus Christ--and "blown out" as raw ego (Buddhist phrase) is ALREADY a member of the "Body of Christ." That's why there should be no "closed communion." "Closed communion" is almost a sacrilege against the True Faith that Jesus established!
As an aside, I only began to truly and deeply appreciate the doctrine of the Real Presence, when I was able to compare the Eucharist with the "prasad" that Hindus are given to eat in their temples, and told that it really and truly is the body of their god, whether it be Vishnu (Krishna) or Shiva. Many Hindus believe that because they believe the whole universe is a sacrament--that is, the "body" of their god, as well. Hindu pantheism is also an "incarnational" religion. Whenever Catholicism ceases to be an "incarnational" religion, it partakes of the Gnosticism of Protestant belief, and Flannery O'Connor is right: "To hell with it!" (And knowing her as well as I think I do, I'm convinced that she honestly believed that the Protestantism of her native South was a "hellish" religion; she gave no sign during her life of being an "ecumenical" soul!)
Somehow as soon as I heard about the Pew study I knew America would be explaining it away as no big deal.
But then the status of the Eucharist has certainly declined in recent decades hasn't it? In the old days people didn't partake of the Eucharist unless they felt sure they had confessed all their serious sins. But today many priests aren't even willing to deny non-believers the Eucharist for fear of seeming too strict or confrontational. Reformers thought democratizing aspects of the faith and making them more accessible would make them more popular, but instead it seems to have robbed them of their power.
Thus, a modest proposal: In the Middle Ages many Catholics did not partake of the Eucharist, instead simply taking "panis benedictus," leavened bread that was blessed by a priest. The panis benedictus had spiritual power- like holy water- but was not believed to have undergone transubstantiation. Perhaps the church should bring back panis benedictus for the laity, reserving the Eucharist for the most faithful and for the sick. If people don't believe in the Eucharist anyway, what could be their objection to merely receiving blessed bread instead?
The philosophical understanding of the Eucharist is an important part of the tradition, but for me the revelation of transubstantiation was experiential. I was four years old. I remember the striking change in my Grandma’s demeanor as she came back from Communion. Before I had a word for it, I could feel the presence in her. I’m not sure how to teach this to people who don’t have such a holy person in their life.
This resonates. When I too did not have a word for it or a clue what the Blessed Sacrament is, I saw my mother and aunt sink to their knees in awed presence as the monstrance came near in procession on Sundays during "Forty Hours Devotion". Their demeanor spoke volumes. I was five, strewing rose petals with the other first graders. And thanks be to God for the nuns whose appreciation for the Eucharist and whose piety were palpable and infectious. Sadly, in more recent times, some who generously offer their time and talent to religious instruction in the parishes may not have been educated or graced for the task. I pray that some of us "Grandmas" may be the spark that ignites faith in the younger generation, for whom we are fervently praying.
I agree with you, but I've seen the same serene look on the faces of devout Hindus, after they've received their "prasad."
The sin is promoting the idea that Eucharist can only take place at the magical hands of some ordained quasi-celibate male.
As a simple Catholic senior citizen having taught catechism for many years, my own faith or as I like to put it, my own take is my own experience when receiving the eucharist. Firstly, I've never had a problem with transubstantiation as simply a substance that's transformed by the grace of God through the action of the priest. But, more deeply moving yet is my experience of Jesus' words repeated by the priest as Jesus himself speaking directly to us, inviting us from the time of the last supper to our very moment in time. Take this and eat, THIS IS MY BODY and take this and drink, THIS IS MY BLOOD. And then his "do this in memory of me" is do this for me, my gift to you so that we may be one. Personally, for me it's a real and profound experience of love Jesus shares with us every time.
Perception is reality, some say.
This is a recent colloquy I have had with baptized Catholic millennials .
Them. Do you really believe that the hands of a pedophile priest raping a child on Saturday night are divinely capable to transubstantiate on Sunday Morning.
Me. I don’t know.
Them. So you agree that the functionality of Holy Orders is conditional on the purity of the vessel ( the priest ) whose hands are consecrated?
Me . I think that is probably right.
Them. So if I am pure can I transubstantiate?
Me. No . Your Bishop did not ordain you.. And he is forbidden to do so because you are a woman.
Them. So if I was a male and the Bishop consecrated my hands but I was really a pedophile who became a priest because I wanted preferred access to innocent children , I might be able to transubstantiate.
Me. I can’t answer that.
Them. When Christ said “ if you eat my flesh, etc. “ do you think that Christ might have intended that whoever was going to transmit the bread and wine could be someone other than the thousands of men who have become priests to commit crimes?
Me. I’m lost.
Dennis, you have left me stuck on the horns of a dilemma. I can't answer these questions either. Your dialogues suggest that no criminally evil person can perform good works, which I am sure is debatable. For example, you could have another dialogue about a drowning man being offered a life jacket by a pedophile--should he take it or not? Or perhaps Christ never intended there to be a professional class of people= priests= who had the unique right to transubstantiate bread and wine but really intended this to be an act of transformation that any believer could perform. If you, a layman, said the eucharistic prayers before offering me bread and wine, why should I doubt that they have been transubstantiated? If Christ (the divine) became human so that humans could become divine, then surely many human actions can have a divine quality and purpose? I seriously think that the INSTITUTIONALIZATION of the Catholic Church is an obstacle to belief, and that divine humanity ought to play a much larger role in the practice of faith and the sacraments. But I still can't answer your dilemma!
Your first answer should have been "Yes." The sinfulness of the minister does not change the effectiveness of the sacrament. Otherwise people would not be married, people would not be truly baptized into Christ, and sins would not be forgiven.
In my 16 years of Catholic education the last being at a Jesuit University I have asked this question often and continued asking but never has anyone, religious or laymen, attempted to answer. At what point are all the hosts consecrated? I believe that during Mass, using the words given by Christ Himself, the priest does change the host into the Body and Blood. But even though I receive one of the many hosts I have no reason to view it as anything other than a symbol. But it doesn’t keep me from the Eucharist. (Just in case.)
''''breaking bread''' together in 'communion' with friends...parishioners....workers etc is almost alway a good thing.......... the history that surround the etiquette of 'receiving communion'' is a history of 'control.
i.e. up until 50 years ago, we would be committing a mortal sin if we took communion and hadn't fasted since midnight. (how is that for control!!!.) human beings tend to believe that 'restrictions' enhance something's value. ie sexual abstinance- when it was/ is just a common sense solution to ''preventing'' the birth of children who do not have a 'family setting' to protect them/ support them. in that instance, it was society that protected these children.......but never happily.
Unquestionably true as it is that the Eucharist is no mere symbol, neither is it real Eucharist -Christ's salvific presence- except as actively symbolized in bread and wine.
The question at first is Consubstantiation v. Transubstantiation. It would be sacrilegious to test the host for protein or carb count, although you could use a breathalyzer on a priest to see if alcohol is present in the blood of Christ. I am not risking it, because the appearance of the wine in Communion will still cause me to relapse.
This raises the question of Adoration. Is it iconic/idolatry or real? We cannot know, only believe because the test is reception.
Jesus said my flesh is real food. He did not say the bread is real flesh.
The chief question is faith v. magic. It is the same as faith in God v. loyalty to the group and whether papal infallibility and Dogma are true by agreement or dependent (doctrinal relativism) or really true through some miraculous Gnosticism. It ranks up there with whether morals are for us in this life or God in the next; between compassion and disobedience; living God v. Divine Ogre insisting on rigor; Sheep and goats v. pluck out your eye (and whether Jesus was serious or satirical). Will prostitutes enter Heaven before the CDF? Is Mass a common meal or worshipful sacrifice in a dead language (historical accuracy would favor Greek or Aramaic)? It is whether we can't ordain women or simply won't.
The question is not about polling at all. It is about Theology. Are questions of Church discipline and doctrine nest explained by theology or sociology and culture?
Here is where I had my moment of faith when I heard this Gospel while serving Mass. Jesus is gentle and humble of heart, his yoke easy and his burden light.
On the second, I sat in on a doctrinal course on Cultural Theory offered by Aaron Wildavsky- one of its founders, with Mary Douglass. Purity and Danger should be required reading in Seminary. It raises the question of which came first: real theological disputes or branding for group identity? Faith or power?
"..The chief question is faith v. magic."
No, it's not; the "real question" is whether you or anyone else believes in the supernatural. Most modern folk do not, and cannot; our "religion" is science, and because of our obsessive devotion to science, we are unable to believe in anything except that which is confirmed by our very unreliable five senses.
First, I love Flannery’s response! Second, I find it troublesome and most sad that her gut sentiment doesn’t reflect the average Catholic’s attitude towards the Eucharist. Of course we need to remember Jesus’ words “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”. (Jn. 6:65) So Eucharistic faith is a grace and it cannot be forced.
But it can be nurtured. How? In all the traditional ways: first, by parents teaching and example; second, by fundamental catechesis; third, by an insistence on an attitude of reverence in the reception of the sacrament. Ever Catholic should have felt a horror in President Trump’s flippant response in referring to the Eucharist as “taking the cracker”!
All seven sacraments integrate the fundamental dimensions of our lives into the Paschal Mystery. It's what they have in common, that is sometimes missed when we contemplate them separately. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is part of this dynamic, but it's unfortunate if our appreciation of the Sacrament ends with explaining transubstantiation. Thru the Eucharist, the basic human experience of sharing a meal to create or strengthen friendship, family and community, transforms us into friends in Christ, family in Christ and community in Christ, that is to say, "Church", the living body of Christ. I suppose you could say that not only are the bread and wine transubstantiated. So are we!
I think there *are* Catholics who understand the theology but who just do not believe in transubstantiation. I'm one of them. The quotes from the gospels are interesting, but we don't know that what Jesus said then (unless someone eats my flesh and drinks my blood ...) means that he envisioned the church's ritual of celibate priests overseeing the transformation of hosts and wine into bits of Jesus. Jesus' early followers didn't believe this and didn't practice this.
How in the world would we know what Jesus' early followers believed or practiced?
We have mentions in the NT and by church fathers of communal "agape" meals shared by members of the early church - there were no priests who turned the bread and wine into Jesus but people gathered for a meal together to remember what Jesus had done.
Thank you to the authors for stimulating my reflection on just how deeply I believe in the Eucharist and how much it means to me. As for the survey results — the older I get the more I understand that many of those I considered “my tribe” hold views radically different from mine (l’m sure they’ll come around in time).
Eucharist has been many things to many people over the centuries. All these explanations seem to me to be good ways to reflect on the mystery. Hooker respected the opinions of others back when. What appeals to me post Vatican II is seeing the Eucharist as food which units us and feeds us so we can do God’s will. And be members of the Mystical Body. You really feel this at small home Eucharist. A more democratic model versus a great Renaissance, monarchical business. More like Jesus sitting down with us sinners or people like the discouraged disciples who fled Jerusalem and only recognized Jesus in the Emmaus travelers dinner. And Jesus suppered with sinners didn’t he?
Well, yes, re smaller gatherings, but certainly in the image of Jesus reclining with the 5,000 to share a meal there is a prefigurement of larger celebrations, à la Mass in St. Peter's Square. Why put limits on Jesus?
Thanks to the authors for several excellent elucidations in this article, particularly dating the Flannery O'Connor quote and putting it in context. My puzzle has been that the eucharist in the NT seems to be a verb form εὐχαριστήσας, not an adjective or a noun. We hear about The Eucharist or Eucharistic Adoration, not about giving thanks. What we hear tends to be thing-y, not the action of breaking, sharing, and giving thanks. In my view, the Mass at the altar table trumps the monstrance in a Adoration Chapel. "Dominus vobiscum" is real, true, the Lord Emmanuel.
Thank you for an excellent article and the responses have been very educational for me. The response about actually 'chewing' the host and drinking the wine - has spurred me to taking wine the next time I am at Mass. A priest once said to me in Confession that if I was in a state of mortal sin (and he considered my sin of 'impure' action a mortal one - I did not) it would be a sacrilege to receive Holy Communion without first going to Confession. I didn't think that was correct especially as I have received differing responses to this question. But, in light of the Eucharist being 'the Real Presence' - I wonder if that priest was correct, after all?
When I say Amen to the priest's "Body of Christ" I say Amen to whatever Jesus meant when he said, "This is my Body." His words come to us through several languages, several cultures, and a philosophical system or two. So I can't tell you precisely what Jesus meant with his words. I simply bow before them.
I also bow before other "real presence" words of his: "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me."
In this, as in many doctrinal matters, I've come to prefer the approach of "...and now we see through a glass darkly...". Who knows what precisely Christ meant or what is the best way to explain it.