Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Call for Adult Catechesis on the Real Presence: Statistics Show Half of Catholics Do Not Know!

Now I am truly convinced we need better and more sacramental catechesis for Catholics of all ages.

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.

Most catechetical texts have a chapter on the Eucharist in succeeding years - if children go through continuous age-appropriate catechesis - which is becoming less and less the norm for families. At any rate, there is a brief review of the concept in the upper grades, during the time teens are preparing for Confirmation.  Yet, does a 12-year-old have the ability to "get" the concept/mystery of Real Presence?  Apparently only about half the time.

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!


  1. It is more than an uncatechized thing. It's modern culture.

    Mystery is no longer a doorway to the supernatural; is is a problem waiting to be solved.

    Sacraments become transitions into another phase of life. People no longer see their symbols as transformative, a way of encountering the Divine.

    The ordered prayers of the liturgy should be written/said in such a way that they invite the assembled into that kind of experience.

    It does not seen to work on most occasions.

  2. Well, Frank, that would certainly help, but since the prayers are unlikely to be revised again in our lifetime, it would be helpful if the preaching - and the catechesis focused on helping us understand them sometimes. I could see pastors writing their bulletin columns on the Collect and/or Prayer After Communion, or providing the texts and using them for prayer at meetings so that people could spend some time on their meaning.

  3. I think the Eucharistic Prayer and the rest are terrific. I think this bit especially gets right at the truth of the Eucharist:

    "In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by
    the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine
    majesty, so that all of us who through this participation at the altar receive the most
    holy Body and Blood of your Son may be filled with every grace and heavenly

    But yeah Frank is right about the modern disinclination to simply accept a Sacrament for what it is: a Mysterion, as the Greeks say.

    Years ago my wife & I taught RCIA. We made it a priority to show how deep and substantial was the Biblical foundation for the literal miracle of the Eucharist; and I still do that in 6th-grade. In a lot of ways the whole Bible points to Jesus; and all the miracles point to the Eucharist.

  4. Another problem connected to this is that many parishes do not want orthodox, real Catholic catechists. I know this personally.

  5. Every pastoral staff makes judgments on who is best suited to be a catechist - and they should. One characteristic parishes should look for, according to the Vatican "Guide for Catechists" is openness - to God, the Church, and the world. All three are important. Catechists who have an appropriate spirituality that is based on prayer and the Eucharist, who understand Church teaching and who can present it in relation to the culture of the learners should always be welcome.

    1. Hey Joyce, do you ever ask people out of the blue to be a catechist because they strike you as good material?

    2. I am not a DRE any more (I work in the diocesan office), but when I was, yes. A person with a good reputation, with an obviously active faith can sometimes be a good choice - they at least have a good base on which to build.

  6. Sobering statistics! I guess you're right, they're only getting it half the time!

    Wholeheartedly agree with your third bullet. We have to take advantage of those captive moments.