Holy Communion: What Do Catholics Believe?

When ex-Catholics answered a Pew poll two years ago about why they stopped going to church, 41% cited “religious institutions, practices, or people,” for example, they just didn’t like their church, or found it hypocritical. That kind of thing could happen at any church, of course.  But the more interesting figure is the 12% who said that they no longer believed in God, and an additional 6% who said simply “they grew up” or “started thinking for themselves.” This leads us to the Eucharist or as it is also called, Holy Communion and the central Catholic teaching in transubstantiation (that the bread and/or wine actually becomes the flesh and blood of Jesus) and the Real Presence (that Jesus is actually present in the bread after the priest’s sacramental words have been spoken).

Let’s face it:  for anyone who was not raised in this belief, it’s a tall order.   So do Catholics really believe this or what? It turns out that not all do.  Another Pew Forum study from 2010 found that 37% of Catholics rejected the doctrine that Christ is actually present in the communion wafer that they ingest every mass. A more recent study showed that fully half of American Catholics did not even know that was one of the Church’s teachings.   One Catholic blogger, quite rightly, finds this astonishing because Catholic children in the second grade everywhere in America are supposedly taught this important information before their first communion. Why then is this piece missing from the Catholic consciousness?

Perhaps the answer to this conundrum is that the average second grader would be repelled by the idea of actually eating someone’s flesh and drinking their blood, even though it looks like a wafer made from wheat,  especially if that someone were Jesus, who loved little children and healed so many of the sick.   You’ve got to admit that as metaphysical notions go, it’s pretty strange, even repulsive.   I would think it’s very likely that the priests are not hammering home the eating Jesus part in their prep classes, and by soft-pedalling the “This is my body,” they are drifting into the Protestant realms of the ritual as symbol.

The Eucharist is the cornerstone sacrament of the Catholic Church but these numbers show some movement away from this–….well,  the word “medievalism” comes to mind. The Cathars in southern France were on the right track with this back in the 13th century when they tossed this sacrament overboard, but Pope Innocent III and his “crusaders” (with St. Dominic staunchly supporting them) had them wiped out, man, woman, and child.   And so the teachings continue, that Jesus, every molecule of Him, is in each wafer, each drop of communal wine.  But you can’t help thinking that if Innocent and been less Catholic and more humane, the Church would be teaching something much different today.



3 thoughts on “Holy Communion: What Do Catholics Believe?

  1. Hi Dale,

    Your post is right in that many people in the Catholic Church (who attend and/or self-identify as Catholic) do not know, understand, or believe in the Real Presence, but those who obstinately refuse such belief are really not Catholics any more than Martin Luther. It is a fundamental part of the Faith.

    Your post is off-base in the claim about the scope and reaction of the preparation of children for Holy Communion as well as in its history of the Albigensian Crusade. The point was not to kill all the Cathars, and St. Dominic was certainly not a crusader.

    Do you know much about the Cathars – and how they would starve their own to death? Perhaps eating the food Our Lord gave us the night before He was to suffer would have been better. Yes, it is a “tall order” – but that is dealt with in John 6, isn’t it… “Will you leave me too?”

    • Thanks for your note. About St. Dominic–I amended my post somewhat–perhaps he was not a crusader, but he was an “intimate friend” of the leader of the crusade–Simon de Montfort and was with him during some of his battles (massacres) according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. He was also made First Inquisitor as the Inquisition kicked into high gear at this time with all the horrible things it did in the name of orthodoxy.
      As for knowledge of the Cathars–none of us know anything except through the documents of the Catholics who persecuted them and who destroyed all their own writings. The “starving their own” that you’re referring to is something that they were accused of by their enemies, but may very well have been a way to hasten death for those who were already dying, to end their suffering and was the choice of the person dying.

      • Inquisitions are good things. They help us find the truth of what a person is publicly committed to teaching, and whether that lines up with the truth of faith and morals. If you are talking about King Ferdinand hijacking the Inquisition’s activities in Spain regarding the crypto-Jews, well, it was just that: a hijacking, which the pope objected to – not unlike the extremes the Albigensian crusade, which were also objected to by the Holy Father, though he was not able to bring it under control after a certain point.

        But the Albigensians were definitely AWFUL. They insulted the God of Creation by calling that creation evil. It is a rehashing of Manichaeism.

        I don’t know why you are so suspicious of Catholic histories of them (why would they have been persecuted except for certain errors?), nor am I certain why you are so confident there are no sources beyond the Catholic Church’s. The Consolamentum was the unique sacrament of t he Albigensians… It is what their entire system was based around. And it is murder, even if “consensual,” just like euthanasia today.

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