A quick review of the agenda of the now-completed meeting of Catholic bishops in our nation exposes the very problem that troubles so many of us every day. While there are many things in our nation that deserve the bishops’ attention—including Catholic Relief Services and dialogues on culture—one thing remains paramount. And that is, of course, the ongoing problem that most Catholics reject the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist.
In preparation for the bishops’ meeting, the Pillar conducted a survey that summarized the challenges the bishops should have faced this week. It pointed out that
less than half of Catholics go to Mass every week, and even of those who do, only about half say that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Among younger Catholics, that belief is even less common.
Even among Catholics who do believe in the real presence, many do not believe that if they are in a state of serious sin they should consider not receiving the Eucharist until they have been absolved of their sins.
These latest findings confirm what Santa Fe, New Mexico’s, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan wrote more than 26 years ago:
We must not allow the simplification of the rites of the Mass, such as the reception of Holy Communion in the hand or while standing, to breed an informality that erodes our belief in the Real Presence. We must be careful to genuflect reverently when entering the church where the Blessed Sacrament is kept; or, at least to make a deep bow of respect. We have let sloppy language lead to a disrespect of the Eucharist. I call on all Catholics in our archdiocese to stop referring to Holy Communion as the “bread” or the “wine” rather than as “the Body of Christ” and the “the Blood of Christ.”
Sheehan called upon the Catholics in his archdiocese to become familiar with basic Catholic teachings regarding the Eucharist. But today, 26 years later, failure to teach these truths from pulpits across this nation has created at least one generation of totally uncatechized people who receive the body and blood of Christ in anything but reverent ways.
Why can’t the bishops address this challenge since the Eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of our faith?
Perhaps our bishops should take their lead from Jesus Christ Himself who preached to the Jews in Capernaum regarding His body and blood. The Jews were questioning His teachings, and He replied to them:
In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. . . . This is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.
Christ did not mince words. He did not call for dialogue when He encountered opposition; He steadfastly taught truth without apology.
If the bishops truly seek a path forward that will help them teach the truth to the unbelieving, perhaps they should take a page from the life of St. Charles Borromeo who “encouraged priests, deacons, and religious to believe in the strength of prayer and penance, transforming their life into a true path of sanctity. ‘Souls,’ he often repeated, ‘are won on one’s knees’ and ‘pastors must be servants of God and fathers to their people.’”
The media and politicians are striving to erase Christ. The bishops for whom we pray are the wall of defense against this hatred of truth. They are the men who, by their personal example, can teach and preach Christ regardless of polls and politics.
Disbelief on the part of some does not erase Christ.