An alarming new study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and NORC from July 11, 2022 – August 2, 2022, found that 49% of Catholics believe that Christ Jesus is truly Present under the guise of Bread and Wine. While this study seems to be an improvement upon the 2019 Pew Research Center survey, which found that only 31% of U.S. Catholics profess belief in the Real Presence, this remains an untenable position for the central and most unique teaching of the Catholic Faith.
This national survey, which reached 1,031 self-identified adult Catholics via web, telephone, and live interviews, comes in the midst of the Catholic Church in the United States pressing forward with a National Eucharistic Revival that officially launched on Corpus Christi Sunday in 2022 and will climax at the National Eucharist Congress in Indianapolis, Indiana in July of 2024. This survey also follows continued efforts by Pope Francis to press forward with weakening the standards by which those living in grave sin might receive the Holy Eucharist.
Here are some highlights of the CARA and NORC study (See Full Study Here):
Which of the following statements best describes your understanding of the Catholic Church’s teaching about what happens to the gifts of bread and wine once consecrated at Mass?
The Eucharist is a central doctrine of the Catholic Church, but many adult Catholics are unclear about what it means. According to a survey, only 49% of Catholics correctly understand that the Church teaches that Jesus Christ is Really Present in the consecrated bread and wine, while 51% of Catholics mistakenly think that they are just symbols that recall the Last Supper.
The data shows that there is a gap between the official teaching of the Catholic Church on the Eucharist and the understanding of many adult Catholics. The Eucharist is the sacrament that celebrates the presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine that are consecrated during Mass. The Church teaches that this is not a mere symbol, but a real change of substance, called transubstantiation. However, only about half of the Catholics surveyed know this doctrine, and less than half of them agree with it. The majority of those who do not believe in the Real Presence are not rejecting the doctrine deliberately, but rather, they are unaware of it or have a different view of the Eucharist. Only a small fraction of the respondents know and disagree with the doctrine, while another small fraction believe in it but do not know that it is the official teaching of the Church.
When asked to explain in their own words what they believe happens to the gifts of bread and wine after Consecration during Mass
Only 38% of respondents are aware of and agree with the Church’s teaching that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. This is known as the Real Presence. On the other hand, 48% of respondents do not know this teaching and have a different understanding of the Eucharist, such as seeing it as a symbol or something else. Therefore, most of those who do not believe in the Real Presence are not consciously rejecting the Church’s doctrine, but rather are ignorant of it. Only 9% of respondents know the Church’s teaching but disagree with it. Another 5% of respondents believe in the Real Presence but do not realize that this is what the Church teaches.
OTHER MAJOR FINDINGS
17% of adult Catholics attend Mass at least once a week. Prior to the pandemic, 24% of Catholics attended Mass weekly in 2019.
Many Catholics do not seem to understand or appreciate the core teachings of their faith, especially regarding the Eucharist and the Mass. The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ and that the Mass is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). However, if Catholics do not believe or value these truths, they may not feel compelled to participate in the Mass or to worship Christ in the Eucharist. This is a serious problem that shows that the Church has failed to communicate effectively her identity, her mission, and her gift to the world. The Church (the moon) is supposed to reflect the light of Christ (the sun), but instead, she is eclipsed by other things that people find more attractive or satisfying.
93% of adult Catholics have received their First Communion and 86% were Confirmed.
The Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. They are meant to be received together as a way of becoming a full member of the Church. In the early Church, and still in the Eastern Rite, this is how it was done. But in the Western Rite, due to some historical reasons that are not relevant anymore, the order of the sacraments was changed. Now, many people receive Penance and Reconciliation before Confirmation, and some receive Eucharist without being confirmed. This is not ideal because Confirmation completes Baptism and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Respondents are most likely to say Baptism is a meaningful sacrament to them (71% “very” meaningful and 17% “somewhat” meaningful). The next most meaningful are marriage (69% “very” meaningful and 16% “somewhat” meaningful) and then Eucharist/Holy Communion (66% “very” meaningful and 19% “somewhat” meaningful).
49% of adult Catholics always receive Communion when attending Mass, and 18% do so frequently or usually. Eighteen percent seldom receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass. Fifteen percent never receive Communion at Mass.
The charts above show that the proportion of Catholics who always take part in the Holy Eucharist at Mass is similar to the proportion of Catholics who accept the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist, but there is a significant gap between frequent participation and weekly attendance. Only 19% of Catholics go to Mass every week, but 49% receive communion. This issue should be more emphasized than their responses to how much they value the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: 45% said “very,” 27% “somewhat,” 16% “only a little,” and 12% “not at all.”
The interpretation of the data is that there is a disconnect between the beliefs and practices of many Catholics regarding the Holy Eucharist and the Mass. It seems that many Catholics do not fully understand or appreciate the importance of attending Mass regularly and receiving communion worthily. It also suggests that many Catholics do not see a strong connection between the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, or do not feel the need to confess their sins before receiving communion.
When asked, “How important is it to you to have gone to Confession before receiving the Eucharist?”
When asked, “How often, if ever, do you participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession?”
The data from the CARA and NORC study reveals a concerning trend among Catholics regarding the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Less than a quarter of the respondents are fulfilling the Church’s requirement of going to confession at least once a year. More than half of them rarely or never go to confession. This also affects their participation in the Eucharist, as 41% of those who seldom or never confess abstain from receiving Communion when they attend Mass. Furthermore, 42% of the respondents indicated that confession before Communion is somewhat or very important to them. This suggests a gap between their beliefs and their practices.
According to the data, many Catholics do not adhere to the Church’s teachings on confession and Communion. This may suggest a lack of knowledge, interest, or availability of these sacraments. The bishops have a responsibility to provide frequent opportunities for confession and encourage the faithful to participate, as CCC 1465 states, “Priests must urge the faithful to come to the sacrament of Penance and must make themselves ready to celebrate this sacrament each time Christians reasonably request it.” It may also indicate a personal or cultural reluctance to admit one’s sins. The data also shows that some Catholics appreciate confession before Communion but do not practice it. This may indicate a feeling of guilt, fear, or apathy towards these sacraments.
This is a Big Problem
We should not take any solace or any victory lap in the appearance of improvement from the Pew Research Study in 2017. There should not be one Catholic who does not know why they should be Catholic or what makes the Catholic liturgy the most unique thing and place in the universe. The disconnect between how we value and understand the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist is unacceptable and harmful to souls.
There is a litany of things we can do to improve this scandal, beginning with returning to the proper ordering of the Sacrament of Initiation to returning to the tradition of receiving the Holy Eucharist kneeling and on the tongue (external reverence promotes a proper internal disposition and vice versa) to every Catholic Church offering and promoting daily Confession and 24-hour Eucharist Adoration, but we have to begin with a mea culpa and make reparations to God for this sin against Him. We have failed God and each other! Every Catholic, Priest, and Bishop must admit that today. Then we can move forward.