Social media (the tiny corner I frequent, at any rate: Twitter & some blogs) has been discussing a stupid poll (1) showing most Catholics don’t believe in the the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Well. Not to put too fine a point on it, most Catholics couldn’t pick a monstrance out of a lineup of migratory waterfowl, so I’m not real surprised here. Subtle teachings like ‘show up for Sunday Mass’ and ‘no sex outside of marriage’ seem to truly baffle your average Catholic, in my experience. Don’t let your view of the knowledge level of the faithful get skewed by hanging out with the people who actually attend Mass with you; most of the people saying they’re Catholic in this poll probably couldn’t name three dogmas of the Church to save their lives. If they even know what a dogma is. (2)
Since everybody’s got their opinion on the cause and solution to this problem, I will not offer mine so much as simply quickly review how such a stupendous and stupefying claim was communicated to the faithful over the years. Spoiler: the Church used to be wise enough not to confront the searcher or believer with a mere Wall of Words. The meaning of the word transubstantiation is not difficult to grasp, but the Reality being described by the word is truly ineffable. It would be wise to appeal to more than just the verbal intellect when trying to communicate something as profound ad the Real Presence. Consider:
This is the view you get when you walk in the main doors of Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. The art and architecture conspire to create beauty, mystery and focus. Nobody needs catechesis to understand something important is happening here, and where it is happening.
Walking down the center aisle, you get to the high altar:
There’s that Jesus fellow, front and center. Everything works together to tell you something important is here, something beautiful and mysterious.
The church in which the Blessed Sacrament is to be confected, consumed and reserved is the building in most traditional Catholic towns; in the larger towns and cities, there may be many churches, but generally, there is a main church – and no one can miss it. And in each, the art and architecture work together to draw attention to the main altar, which is what the building is built around, as it were.
And on and on. Churches were constructed, from the very earliest days, to not just hold a congregation, but to give glory to God – and to help the people understand, through beauty, that something of infinite value was here. Nor were beautiful churches limited to major cities. Here is a church from a village in Southern Poland:
If you’ve traveled to the older cities in the US much, you may have seen beautiful churches, often built by poor immigrants, all over the place. Up until maybe the 1950s, local Catholics building beautiful churches were the rule.
But this is just the start. A high mass sung in a great church is the greatest single work of art mankind has ever achieved.
Music, incense, pageantry, ritual, and the resulting solemnity all work with the building and artwork to convey one thing: this, here, is infinitely important. That’s how the Church for centuries treated the Real Presence; that’s how people came to know it and believe it. The teachings will always ring fantastical and hollow if the Church itself does not act as if it is true.
Now, if we just get the extraordinary ministers to approach the tabernacle with more reverence than if they were fetching a cup of sugar from a kitchen cabinet, that would be a start.
- Pretty much all polls are stupid; Pew polls doubly so, with their air of objectivity and Science! I imagine the Pew pollsters, if confronted with their obvious biases, would either give you a deer in the headlights stare, or, if really feeling it, a Snidely Whiplash mustache twirl and cackle. Or not. Maybe I should rephrase this: anyone who takes such polls as these at face value is stupid.
- As mentioned here, I’ve spent a good bit of time with the products of our local ‘Catholic’ prep schools – and, yea, well, um, not so much Catholic. OTOH, hanging out with the homeschooled Catholic crowd gives me a little hope. Leven, and all.