Believe in Real Presence

Question: Some time ago a priest in our diocese was asked what he thought about a study that showed that many Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. The priest said that if Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence, they are not Catholic any more. Please comment. 

Name and city withheld, Tennessee

Answer: I believe the report you mention was prepared by the Gallup organization, which is pretty reliable. However, many Catholic commentators questioned it at the time on the grounds that the questions were a little confusing and much too technical. My own opinion is that the great majority of church-going Catholics do believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I can honestly say that I have rarely encountered a church-going Catholic who questioned this doctrine. I think belief in the Real Presence is firmly embedded in the Catholic consciousness.

Verification of this truth may be found, I think very reliably, in talking to children who are making their first Communion. On that occasion in my parish, I talk in my homily about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. I hold up a big host and ask them, “What is this?” They all answer, “bread.” Then I ask them what happens to the bread after the consecration of the Mass and who is present there and they say, “Jesus” or “Christ” or the “Body of Christ.” I have also checked this matter with teenagers, and they generally answer the questions in the same way. Now do they fully understand the technical language of transubstantiation, substance and accidents? Probably not. But I would be very hesitant to say that at a basic level Catholics do not believe that Christ is really present under the forms of bread and wine.

Is a Catholic who does not believe in the Real Presence no longer a Catholic? No, of course not. Once a baptized Catholic, always a Catholic. The Church is equally concerned about non-practicing Catholics as it is about practicing ones. If some Catholics have stopped going to Church, then the Church needs to reach out to them, bring them to a more informed faith and encourage them so that they might return to eucharistic worship. 

Silence before Mass

Question: I attend a parish where 10-15 minutes before Mass the musicians tune up their instruments, practice their music and talk loudly among themselves. I find it impossible to maintain an attitude of prayer. Should there not be a time of quiet before Mass?

Name withheld, Salt Lake City, Utah

Answer: I couldn’t agree with you more. I tell the musicians in our parish that they can practice up to 15 minutes before Mass, but that then there should be silence with a quiet and meditative organ prelude. Besides disturbing the peace, lots of practicing before Mass gives the impression that the musicians are not well prepared and have not been practicing during the week.

Silence before the liturgy and during appropriate places within the liturgy is really important. The Mass should proceed at a nice, slow pace with various periods of quiet. Silence makes many people nervous, but if it is explained, they accept and appreciate it. Pope Benedict XVI has really been promoting silence at various times during the liturgy. In an age of unprecedented noise, liturgical silence is of the greatest importance.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.