Over on the Nineteen Sixty-Four CARA blog, Mark M. Gray presents evidence of the failure of religious education - literally half of adult Catholics in the American Catholics in Transition survey are unaware that that Church teaches Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Just look at the graphic:
Gray makes the point that actual "Knowlegeable Doubters" are very few, but that half of adults don't even know the Church teaches about Real Presence.... yet this is quite simply the most important of all Church teachings about the Eucharist! He points out what the statistics mean: "Now we know that lack of belief in the Real Presence is more a problem of religious education than of doubt."
What's the problem? Why has catechesis failed with literally half our people? What are we doing wrong? Well, let's think about it.
When do we normally catechize people about the Real Presence? When they are seven years old, preparing for First Eucharist. Yet, at that age, are people even ready for the concept that Jesus Christ, body and blood, is really fully present in that bread and wine? We can tell them, but it may or may not make sense. Real Presence is not only an advanced concept, it is simply MYSTERY... and something demanding of lifelong reflection.
After that, most adult Catholics do not receive any sacramental catechesis at all - except for the occasional parent meetings for sacrament preparation for their children. (OK, pastors and directors of religious education - now do you see why good catechesis at those meetings is crucial?) In rare cases, adults may hear a little sacramental catechesis about the Real Presence in the homilies at Mass... but I suspect these moments are the exception rather than the rule.
So, what can parishes do to change this?
- We can stop taking for granted that people "get" this just because they are Catholic.
- Priests can preach about Real Presence - without assuming everyone already knows what is meant.
- The catechesis provided to adults on the Eucharist must be part of all "captive moments" - it should be part of marriage and baptism preparation and parent meetings for child sacrament preparation. Why? Because all other sacraments flow from and are in relationship to the Eucharist.
- Religious educators can provide more opportunities for adult catechesis on the Eucharist - either through offerings for adults only or intergenerational gatherings.
- Parishes can start Eucharist study and prayer groups. We have Bible study groups for the Word - but so do other Christians who do not regard the Eucharist as a sacrament or the "source and summit". There are good books/videos out there for such groups. (More on that in a later post)
- And yes - Adoration. Parishes that do not do it at all should start.
The information from this survey is a call to action. If we want to help people know Catholic faith in a way that engages them deeply and keeps them from looking elsewhere, we have to start helping them to develop a Eucharistic understanding and a Eucharistic spirituality - now!