WASHINGTON (CNS) – Toni Guagenti of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was raised in a traditional Catholic family and educated in the teachings of the church, but as an adult she sees the consecrated host as a symbol of Jesus and not the real presence of Christ.
It seems that Guagenti’s understanding of the Eucharist is the same for the majority of American Catholics, and church leaders are trying to figure out what to do about it.
A 2019 Pew Research Center study showed that 69% of all self-identified American Catholics said they believed the bread and wine used at Mass were not Jesus, but rather “symbols of the body.” and the blood of Jesus Christ ”. The remaining 31% said they believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Although the study has been criticized by several Catholic scholars, it has caught the attention of American bishops, who will discuss what they see as a catechetical crisis at their next fall general meeting in Baltimore in November.
“I think it shows a lack of catechesis in at least two generations now of people,” said Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown, PA. “Also, when we look at the number of people who are not practicing their faith, who have left the church and have truly become a non-denominational person in all respects, I think that would be really emblematic of why the number is so high. “
Guagenti grew up as one of eight children in a home in Lima, Ohio, where his parents were actively involved in their ward and in the religious education of their children.
“We were filling a bench,” she said, referring to the life of the Guagenti family church, “so that was really part of my family, my extended family, my cousins. It has been woven into the fabric of our family.
Before receiving her First Communion, Guagenti said, she received detailed instructions on teaching the church on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and said the education continued for the remainder of his childhood.
This instruction would have included the church’s doctrine of transubstantiation in which the bread and wine changed their substance from what they basically are – by the instrument of the ordained minister’s words of consecration – to total presence. and real of Jesus Christ, that is, his body and blood.
“We were taught quite strictly what the Eucharist meant,” Guagenti said, meaning she learned that “it is the body of Christ. It is very sacred. You must feel that you deserve to be. to be able to take this pure peace of the Lord within you. ”
Although Guagenti believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist throughout his childhood and adolescence, his acceptance of transubstantiation changed in adulthood.
“It’s like Santa Claus, okay we kinda know he doesn’t exist, but you still believe in the spirit of giving,” she said. “It is virtually impossible for me that millions of churches around the world have the real body of Christ. The bread is sanctified, it is consecrated by those who live the word, breathe the word, teach the word of Christ. It’s good enough for me.
This vision of the Eucharist has alarmed many American bishops because the belief in the real presence of Christ in the consecrated host is a central teaching of the Church.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles – a high-level church leader who is the founder of the Catholic evangelistic organization Word on Fire and host of an award-winning documentary on the Catholic Faith aired on the stations PBS – didn’t mince words about the Pew study.
“It’s hard to describe how angry I feel,” he said on his website right after the study was published, saying he blamed himself, his brother bishops, d other priests, catechists and parents, really any other person responsible for the propagation of the faith.
He was among the first church leaders to call it a crisis in catechesis.
“This should be a wake-up call to all of us in the church,” Bishop Barron said. “We need to pick up our game when it comes to communicating even the most basic doctrines. “
The study prompted American bishops to plan a three-year Eucharistic revival to help deal with what they see as a catechetical crisis and perhaps one of the many reasons why so many churches have less fewer members in their congregation each year.
It is also one of the driving forces behind the document proposed by the American bishops on the “Mystery of the Eucharist in the life of the Church”, although some bishops would like the document to make clear that Catholic politicians who support abortion should be denied communion. .
“I think the biggest problem is that we have lost what Saint John Paul II called Eucharistic awe and awe,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia.
“How often do we take the most precious gifts for granted? Bishop Burbidge asked. “Members of our own family, we take for granted the gift of life itself, the gift of health, and I think it happened with the gift of the Eucharist, that it’s just something that we have lost that wonder and fear. Without this wonder and fear, the belief or participation will not be sustained. “
Guagenti no longer attends mass regularly and has said that when she attends a wedding or funeral she does not show up for communion.
“I think it’s just because I don’t devote time to church and I feel like the Lord and God deserve that respect when you’re around,” she said. “So I don’t want to downplay the sacrifices he made for us.”
John Grabowski, associate professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America, found Guagenti’s respect for the Eucharist striking, given his lack of belief in the real presence.
“But it’s probably not isolated,” Grabowski said. “People who grew up in Catholic families, in Catholic education, who have Catholic habits of mind and practice, even if they do not have a strong and personal faith at some point in their life, these habits are still there at some level and still in some way directing the way they operate and navigate.
He hopes that the three-year Eucharistic revival of American bishops will take root in parishes and small groups of people across the country.
“I hope we can move the needle significantly so that more than a third of Catholics in the United States recognize the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” said Grabowski.
“I hope we can sort of do it all as a church and really take charge of this catechetical crisis and give people a better understanding of this mystery,” he said, “which is again supposed to be the very source and summit of our Christian life and the very source and summit of the Church Every crisis is an opportunity.