Recently the Pew Research Center released a study with alarming implications. It showed that some 7 out of 10 American Catholics who attend Mass regularly do not believe the Church’s teachings about the Eucharist, transubstantiation and the Real Presence. Hence, our catechesis, preaching and, most importantly, the manner of our sacred liturgical worship over the last few decades have been, for the most part, a failure. As the phrase goes: “You had one job!” That is, hand on what you have received (cf 1 Corinthians 15). The blame must be laid – for blame there must be – on the shoulders of our shepherds since the 1960s.
Demographics are shifting. Senior Catholics are closer to the end than the beginning. The “Nones” will stop even pretending to honour the faith of their forebears. In between, swathes of pew-sitters see the Eucharist as “the white thing they put in my hand to make me feel good about myself before we sing a song”.
Because of widespread and growing lack of belief in the Eucharist, which is the “source and summit” of our Catholic identity, parishes and dioceses now face an existential crisis. We are at a fork in the road. The situation is so grim that the Jesuit Fr Thomas Reese, once removed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his unacceptable notions as editor of America magazine (according to the National Catholic Reporter), wrote for Religion News Service in the wake of the Pew study, that “the Mass is not about adoring Jesus or even praying to Jesus”.
I responded by posting on my blog a link to an old piece: “How to explain the Eucharist to a three-year-old?”, substituting “a Jesuit”. The well-known expert on canon law Ed Peters, father of six, quipped: “There’s a lot of over-thinking going on here.”
When challenged, Peters riposted his explanation to his three-year-old: “That’s Jesus.”
“Yes. Where’s your other shoe?”
We don’t need more committees (please, Lord, no more committees) to come up with even more programmes, DVDs, pamphlets or videos. We need straight-forward preaching with palpable conviction about the basics of the faith.
We must move away from Communion in the hand, and from standing to kneeling. Phase out excessive employment of lay ministers of Communion. Foster and invest in beauty of vestments and truly sacred music. Return, with catechesis, to celebration of the Mass with everyone oriented towards the liturgical East. Testify concretely, in our rites, that we believe.