Dwindling Belief in the Real Presence

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Lesson Overview

A recent Pew Research Center survey, published in July of 2019, reported that 70% of Catholics in the U.S. do not believe that Our Lord is truly, physically present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The survey covered a large range of questions on religious knowledge, in various categories, and did not particularly target Roman Catholics. These findings expose an alarming number of U.S. Catholics who are ignorant regarding the most treasured, sacred, and defining mystery of the faith they themselves profess: that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ is truly given to us as food—under the appearance of bread and wine—in the most Holy Eucharist.

Whatever the causes of these results, the fact that so many Catholics are ignorant of what the Eucharist actually is reveals an ugly crisis of faith in the Church today. If the majority of Catholics don’t believe in the most fundamental truth of our Catholic Faith—the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist—what other teachings of the Faith do they not know, understand incorrectly, or simply choose not to believe? An important first step in reclaiming an authentic Catholic Faith is to clarify just what we believe about the Eucharist and why it is the “source and summit” (Lumen Gentium 11) of our Christian life.

This month’s Teaching the Faith with Current Events explores what the Church proclaims about her most precious Sacrament, why the Eucharist should be preeminent in our lives and in our devotions, how we can truly participate in Christ’s Sacrifice at Mass, and what it means to carry our Faith out into the world with gratitude and joy.

In this lesson your students will:

  • Learn what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
  • Read and analyze selections from Pope St. Paul VI’s 1965 Encyclical on the Eucharist, Mysterium Fidei, in which he proclaims that the Eucharist “should be the focal point and goal of all other forms of devotion” (64).
  • Evaluate what it means to participate actively in the celebration of the Eucharist.
  • Assess why so few U.S. Catholics believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as shown by the recent Pew Research survey of July, 2019.
  • Discuss the ways that we can show reverence towards God in the Eucharist, and be witnesses of Christ in the world.

Lesson Materials



  1. Begin by asking students to imagine a scenario such as the following:
    A high-school student wants to go to a social event but his parents won’t let him go because his grades
    have been too low lately. Angry, he decides he will just sneak out after his parents have gone to bed. He
    takes his mother's car without her permission, and ends up crashing it. He is fine, but the car has
    hundreds of dollars in damage. When his parents find out, they say he will have to pay for the repairs.
  2. Now ask for a show of hands – which of the following responses from the son would be acceptable to make up for what has happened?
    Option 1: He works extra hours all through the summer so he can pay for the repairs. He also does extra chores around the house to try to make up for the trust he lost.
    Option 2: He draws a picture of the money he will make this summer and hands it to his parents. When his parents look at him quizzically, he explains it is a symbol and they should find it satisfactory.
  3. Debrief for a few moments on why option (2) is obviously not satisfactory. For a sacrifice to truly bring peace where there has been hurt, it has to be a real sacrifice. In other words, it has to involve at least some degree of suffering. In this case, it takes the form of working extra-long hours with no pay, and doing extra chores. What good would a symbol of sacrifice be in this situation? Can it bring about true reconciliation or peace?
  4. Explain that it has been in the news lately how a majority of Catholics badly misunderstand the Eucharist, thinking it to be not a sacrifice but a symbol. But what good would a symbol be for reconciling us to God? (With older students, you might note how famous Catholic author Flannery O’Connor said of the Eucharist, “If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it!”)
  5. Transition now to the readings for the activity, following the instructions below.

Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1336, 1367, 1368, & 1378

  1. First, have your students read Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1336, 1367, 1368, & 1378. Then have them complete the focus and reflection questions.
  2. When your students have completed the focus and reflection questions, review and discuss the correct answers.

Pope St. Paul VI: Mysterium Fidei, Paragraphs 1 & 64

  1. Have your students read Pope St. Paul VI: Mysterium Fidei, Paragraphs 1 & 64. Then have them complete the focus and reflection questions.
  2. When your students have completed the focus and reflection questions, review and discuss the correct answers.

Dwindling Belief in the Real Presence among U.S. Catholics

  1. Have your students read the articles, “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ,” from the Pew Research Center, and “Survey on Catholic Belief in the Eucharist Prompts Calls for Better Catechesis,’” from the National Catholic Register.
  2. Then, arrange your students into groups of three or four. Have them discuss what they read about the Eucharist from the Catechism and compare it with what they read in the articles using the discussion questions from Dwindling Belief in the Real Presence among U.S. Catholics.
  3. When each group has finished discussing, call on groups to share with the class some key points from their conversation.

Answer Key

Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1336, 1367, 1368, & 1378

  1. Since the beginning the Eucharist has always been associated with scandal and division. Even Christ’s own Disciples, who were closest to Him, could not accept it when He told them that to gain eternal life they would have to eat His flesh. Throughout history, men and women have echoed that first response to Christ’s gift of the Eucharist: "This is a hard saying; who can listen
    to it?" Accept reasoned answers.
  2. The Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary and the Sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice. On Calvary, Christ offered Himself on the Cross, and at every Mass He offers Himself on the altar through the ministry of the priest, in an un-bloody manner. This means that the Eucharist is mysteriously a continuation of Christ’s work of salvation on Calvary, and so for us it
    is truly propitiatory—which means conciliating, or peace-making. On the altar, just as on the Cross, Christ makes peace between God and us!
  3. Christ’s sacrifice makes it possible for us and for all generations to be united with His offering. Just as God became incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ, and in doing so allowed us to share in His life by imitation of His perfect example, so in the Eucharist does the sacrifice of Christ become our sacrifice, as members of His Body, which we can offer to God on our own personal little crosses. Our view of suffering and life as a whole is changed forever, because now we can unite our sufferings—whatever they may be—to His suffering, and we can follow Him with our whole lives. All life is renewed by His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, perpetuated in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
  4. We genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, and carry ourselves with reverence and devotion in Church, speaking and acting in a respectful manner. We are attentive and reverent during Holy Mass. We respond with faith during the liturgy, believing what we say in the Creed, the Gloria, etc. Accept reasoned answers.

Pope St. Paul VI: Mysterium Fidei, Paragraphs 1 & 64

  1. In the Eucharist Christ pledges to us His immense love . He died for us, which He tells us is the ultimate and greatest sign of love. The Eucharist is the greatest gift of all, and the most treasured mystery of the Church. For this reason it must be guarded, protected, adored, and participated in with “undivided faith and the utmost devotion” (Mysterium Fidei 1) by the whole Church. Accept reasoned answers.
  2. He says it is of the highest importance that we participate actively, with undivided faith and the utmost devotion. This is echoed in the Catechism, which teaches that the Church, as the Body of Christ, participates in the offering of Christ who is her head. The Catechism says “The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value” (1368), and “In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord” (1378). Accept reasoned answers.
  3. Accept reasoned answers. Recalling what we read in the paragraphs from the Catechism, we can see that active participation is something deeper than what we are physically doing during Mass—be that giving the responses or assisting the priest in his most sacred office. For most of us, participation primarily means prayerfully uniting our sufferings to the Sacrifice of Christ, recalling how we have hurt Jesus in our own lives, offering Him our sorrows, joys, pains, and work, being mindful and attentive during the movements of the liturgy, and adoring Jesus in the most Holy Eucharist. That is quite a lot to occupy us! It strengthens us to live for God above all else, and to be united to each other in love (charity).
  4. Accept reasoned answers.
  5. He calls us to reject “all false and pernicious opinions” about the Faith (Mysterium Fidei 64). Accept reasoned answers. Some examples: The opinion that the Eucharist is not the true Body and Blood of Christ, the opinion that the end justifies the means, the opinion that salvation is found in Scripture alone, etc.
  6. The Holy Eucharist should be “the focal point and goal of all other forms of devotion” (Mysterium Fidei 64). This means all other devotions (Rosary, processions, pilgrimages, etc) should revolve around the Eucharist, and that they should nurture and increase our love for Jesus Christ! Accept reasoned answers.

Dwindling Belief in the Real Presence among U.S. Catholics

  1. The doctrine of Transubstantiation, that is, the Church’s teaching that the bread and wine at Mass actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Accept reasoned answers.
  2. If the Sacrament is only a symbol, then it cannot be a true sacrifice (CCC 1367, 1368), and therefore cannot be propitiatory (peace-making). Saying the Eucharist is only symbolic also goes against the evidence of Sacred Scripture, and the very teaching of Our Lord: “Jesus said to them, ‘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’” (Jn. 6:53). Furthermore, if it were only symbolic, then the Eucharist would not be a Mystery (Sacrament) at all—only a simple sign, doing nothing more than pointing us somewhere else. As such it could not have been the center and source of the devotions of the Church for over 2,000 years!
  3. Accept reasoned answers. The teaching of the Church and the way she acts in the world are inseparable. They like are two sides of the same coin. Our faith informs our actions, and actually requires us to act in the world. As disciples of Christ, we are all called to go out into the world and carry His light to others, just as He came into the world for us. As the central and most treasured mystery of the Church, the Eucharist is the source of all of the works, teachings, and missions of Church in the world. As Pope St. Paul VI said, “it is the font of life that cleanses us and strengthens us to live not for ourselves but for God and to be united to each other by the closest ties of love” (Mysterium Fidei 1).
  4. Better catechesis and teaching about the Faith, and speaking openly about the mysteries of the Faith as often as possible. Accept reasoned answers.
  5. Accept reasoned answers.
  6. Accept reasoned answers. He most likely means both, for sincere devotion and acts of reverence strengthen both our own spiritual condition, drawing us closer to Christ, and build up those in our community by setting a good example (though setting an example should not be our primary intention)

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