The Pew Research Center recently released a poll that has gotten serious attention from the Catholic Church in America. It reported on Catholics’ beliefs about the Eucharist, and the results are very disturbing. According to this poll, 69 percent of American Catholics believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol of Jesus, not His actual Body and Blood. And the results for young people are even worse. Among those polled under the age of 40, only 26 percent believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
No matter what the margin of error is, these numbers should be a wake-up call to every Catholic, and for those with a teaching role – parents, teachers, and catechists – they are a clear call to action. Something must be done to change this disturbing lack of faith, but what? I certainly can’t claim to have all the answers, but following are some ideas that we can begin implementing now, to at least help those in our care to truly believe.
If we want our young people to believe in the truth about the Eucharist, they must be taught it. Catechesis is essential. There is no denying that the Church in the United States went through a sustained period of very weak catechesis. Thankfully, most of the materials we have now are much better than they were 30 years ago, but many of our catechists did not receive the education they deserved. So, the first thing we may need to do is teach the teachers. That’s okay.
And if we are teaching children directly, we must do it seriously. Of course children need to have things made understandable at their level, but they do not need them dumbed down. They can understand the difference between a change of substance and a change of appearance.
Use examples. For instance, if a person gets a haircut, their appearance has changed, even though there is no difference in that person’s substance. But when someone learns something new, there is a substantial change in them; they have grown intellectually, but we can see no change by looking at them. Those are only weak examples, but they may begin to make the concepts more concrete.
Use the Baltimore Catechism as one of your resources. It gives students facts to remember and correct language to use. Teach the term Transubstantiation. That is a big word, but children who are making their First Holy Communion should know it and what it means. Their understanding may be simple, but the knowledge will be there, to deepen as they grow.
As children grow into adolescence, they tend to become more skeptical. When they are young, teach them the truth, and they will absorb it. As they get older, they may begin to question it. A valuable teaching tool is Eucharistic miracles.
We shouldn’t have to depend on miracles for our faith, but God, in His goodness, has given us some to help strengthen our faith, so take advantage of them. There are books about Eucharistic miracles that students will be fascinated by.
Teach them about the miracle at Lanciano, Italy, when the appearance of the Eucharist changed along with the substance. In this age, when we tend to worship physical science, this miracle has even more power for young minds. In the 20th century, 13oo years after the miracle occurred, when the Eucharistic species was tested, science showed the host to be human heart tissue from a living Heart! And the Blood was human blood that had not degraded over the centuries, even though human blood normally begins losing its proteins within an hour if it is not refrigerated. This can not help but impress people, young and old, and give credibility to what they have been taught about the Eucharist.
photo credit: JakobLazarus CC
To inspire a widespread return to faith in the Eucharist among our youth will require more than just catechesis; it will also require devotion and the formation of pious habits. Our actions inform our beliefs. Loving and devoted behaviors solidify loving and devoted hearts.
We must demonstrate and expect reverence toward the Eucharist. When a child approaches the tabernacle, or passes in front of it, they should be taught to face it and to genuflect. This is a unique act of reverence, and it is difficult for a child in the habit of genuflecting before the tabernacle not to come to the conclusion that there is something very special about it. And, of course, we must teach them what that is – why they must genuflect, before whom we show such reverence.
The next essential practice is Eucharistic adoration. One thing we must remember is that we can not make anyone believe; it is not within our power to make anyone love Jesus. This is the work of the Holy Spirit; we are just His instruments. By bringing our children into the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we allow Him to work on their souls. Spending time in the Eucharistic presence of Christ is a way for children to know, on a deep level, who He is, and to connect with Him, heart to Heart.
The feast of Corpus Christi provides an excellent opportunity for us to inspire faith in the Eucharist. This feast day, dedicated to the Body and Blood of Christ, should be an important one to us. We must make it a point to go to Mass and explain to our children why it is so special. There will likely be a Eucharistic procession nearby, and this is a beautiful way for children to see the wonder and power of the Eucharist. We follow the Blessed Sacrament, as people might join the procession of a king, because we are in the procession of a King. The “Lessons” section on CatholicBrain has some good materials about Corpus Christi that can be helpful tools for teaching our children.
We must also teach our children certain practices surrounding the Eucharist at Mass so they become habit. For example, we must teach them that they are to fast for an hour before receiving the Eucharist. This is a very small fast, but we do not do such a thing before consuming anything else. It is a small reminder that the Eucharist is not regular food; it is special.
Children can also be reminded to examine their conscience before Mass. Why? Because if they have committed a mortal sin, they can not receive the Eucharist before going to Confession. This again is a concrete lesson that we will be receiving Jesus, and we must be in a state of grace before doing so; otherwise we commit a sacrilege. We do not want to encourage scrupulosity, but if a child does discern that he or she should not receive, we must honor that, and take them to Confession as soon as possible. If we take such things seriously, so will they.
This brings us to the last point in this section – example. We must set the example with regard to these practices. If children see us doing these things – displaying reverence, going to Adoration, fasting, examining our conscience – then they will have credibility. “Do as I say, not as I do,” simply will not work here. If we, whom they respect, make our faith in the Eucharist visible, the children who look up to us will take it seriously.
We must not forget this step to the solution. Prayer is incredibly powerful. If we want the Church to return to faith in the Eucharist, we must pray for it. We should pray for the people of God as a whole, and we should pray for those we love specifically. If we have been entrusted with the care of young people – as teachers, catechists, or parents – we must be praying for them, by name.
The Eucharist is one of the greatest treasures that God has given His Church. It is Jesus Himself. If our fellow Catholics have, in large numbers forgotten this, it is up to all of us to remind them.