The latest Pew study shockingly states that only 31 per cent of Catholics in the United States believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.” Out of the 69 per cent of Catholics surveyed who believe that the bread and wine are mere “symbols,” only 22 per cent of those understand that they are dissenting from the Church’s actual teaching. The rest are accidental Zwinglians.
It sometimes surprises students how little dispute over the Eucharist there was in the early Church. Certainly one could see how Donatism or Pelagianism or Nestorianism might touch upon Eucharistic understanding, but there were no serious disputes until the ninth century — when the aptly named Ratramnus taught Charles the Bald that the elements of bread and wine should not be regarded as “verily” Christ’s body and blood, but as “figures” which spiritually communicated the reality to us. Yet this never rose to the level of a grand ecclesial dispute.
What the Pew study shows is something like an echo of this protestant history, yet very much downstream from another set of reforms: a series of unnecessary and para-conciliar liturgical reforms that were implemented by Catholic priests in the United States to better accord with their view of what it meant to be “open to the modern world.”
Many have said that the Pew study reflects a catechetical failure. I fear the opposite: it reflects a certain kind of catechetical success. It is the result of an unwritten catechesis that American Catholics have been slowly learning. Through a deracinated, spiritualistic, and emotivistic treatment of the Eucharist, many Catholics have learned their faith from a generation of pastors who stripped the altars, razed the bastions of reverence around the Lord in the sacrament, and who generally treated the Most Holy Eucharist itself as something to be passed out like a leaflet rather than received in awe, as people prostrate before the fire of divinity. Far too many have received this kind of unwritten catechesis.
It’s past time that our pastors preach what St. Cyril of Alexandria taught. Namely that the Eucharist is divine fire. Mistreat it, and it will burn you. The whole “razing of the bastions” theme has played itself out to disastrous effect in the Church. The bastions turned out to be things like altar rails, and liturgical actions which conform us to the reality of the Eucharist. The Pew study proves that it’s time to put the bastions back.
Full story at Catholic Herald.