The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met in November 2021 to discuss the issue of Eucharist coherence. A major motivating factor was a 2019 Pew survey showing that 69 percent of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. In response, the bishops wrote a document called “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” echoing perennial Catholic beliefs.
The bishops also came up with a $28 million solution to this problem: a National Eucharistic Congress in 2024 which culminates a multi-year “Eucharist Revival” set to launch this coming summer on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 19th. Bishop Andrew Cozzens, chair of the bishops’ evangelization committee, stated that the program aims to “start a fire” of devotion to the Eucharist with a particular focus on the local level— dioceses, parishes, and families.
I have no doubt that the bishops’ hearts are in the right place, but this response seems drearily similar to the approach to catechesis employed by the Church for the past 60 years. It could be argued that this approach was partly responsible for the very problem they are trying to correct. Since the 1970s, church attendance has dropped, and many Catholics have stopped believing in core Catholic truths.
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Many who do attend Mass do so with little reverence. Often the Mass is presented as theater and not a “sacrificial rite.” The musical legacy of the ’70s is uninspiring. Tee shirts, jeans, sneakers, and flip-flops are ubiquitous. Almost universal reception of Communion is the norm even though a 2011 Guttmacher report found that 87 percent of Catholics use artificial birth control, a mortal sin. Most sermons seem designed to placate rather than challenge. Is it any wonder that belief in the Eucharist has waned?
The same Pew survey showed that less than 5 percent of Catholics of any group did not know or were unsure about the Church teaching on transubstantiation. It would seem, then, that knowledge of the faith is not a central problem. This would explain why we have groups like “Catholics for Choice” who, despite scientific evidence on the beginnings of life, and clear Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life, simply ignore it. Or the many Catholic defenders of the LGBT agenda who know the Church teaching on sodomy but reject it.
This is where I think the bishops can save some time and money. Church history tells us what changes people’s “hearts and minds:” virtually all successful evangelization is the result of persons who model the faith. The most powerful model of all is martyrdom. A quick glance at the early Church should provide sufficient evidence. No one would have listened to the apostles if they held conferences, sent out pamphlets, and held “glory and praise” meetings but weren’t willing to die for their beliefs. It was their courage that captured people’s attention.
So how can the bishops save $28 million? Instead of promotional meetings and an expensive conference, they should outline a series of recommendations for dioceses to follow.
- They should refuse the Eucharist to persons who, after private consultation, continue to publicly support abortion.
- They should promote reverence during the Mass, including: appropriate dress, reverent Communion reception, avoiding receiving in mortal sin, silent periods of contemplation, and sacred music. An easy way to do this would be to promote the Traditional Latin Mass, which elicits reverence, devotion, and contemplation by design. It is also currently one of the few places where most of the participants believe in the Real Presence.
- They should demand that groups opposed to Church teaching should not present themselves as “Catholic.”
Although these are simple steps, they likely would set off a firestorm of protest from inside and outside the Church. It would even elicit rebukes from some bishops who will say that they are “weaponizing” the Eucharist. It may garner a reprimand from Rome.
It is likely that all of these unpleasant things will occur. But history tells us that something powerful will also occur. Everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, will understand viscerally that the bishops are firm in their belief and are willing to accept the white-martyrdom that goes along with it. It would carry the weight of the USCCB, so individual bishops who are already speaking out boldly would not be isolated.
This is something that no meeting, pamphlet, or conference will inspire. This would model the courage it takes to be a Catholic and say unashamedly to the world that “Jesus Christ is Lord. He is present bodily in the Eucharist, and He is our King.”
[Photo Credit: Unsplash]