September 23, 2021 (Edward J. Barr) – Of course not. The body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ offers divine grace and is not failing Catholics. It is Catholics who are failing the Eucharist. We see the confusion over church teachings, the dwindling numbers that attend Mass, and the overall shedding of the faithful and wonder why. To some it may appear the Eucharist “isn’t working”. To better understand why it appears the Eucharist “doesn’t work” it is necessary to understand how it does.
Heaven comes to earth every time the Mass is celebrated. The communion of saints joins with the Heavenly Host, in the Spirit, to re-present the once for all perfect sacrifice of the Son to the Father. While worship to the almighty is the main focus of the Mass, the faithful in the Church Militant are offered unity with divine love through the Eucharistic feast. It is a mysterious yet real exchange that affects the communicant in body and soul. Through the physical ingestion of the God of the universe into our bodies, grace enkindles our souls to unite ourselves to Christ in intimate union.
Jesus instituted the mysterious gift of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Each of the Synoptic Gospels includes clear language that Jesus was offering eternal life through the consumption of His body and blood. This clarity was repeated in John 6, where the non-believers left Him over the perceived scandal of eating His body and drinking His blood. Yet Jesus was straightforward in His teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states in paragraph 1391, “Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus…” Yet how?
That the sacraments in general and the Eucharist in particular should possess both physical and spiritual realities should be no surprise. Man consists of both body and soul. These cannot be separated. We are not “souls with a body” as some misguided homilists sometimes preach. We are animated by a spiritual soul in our body. We have a unique place between the rest of creation – all material – and the angels – all spiritual. Yet we are one being. CCC 365 teaches that, “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”
The communal exchange in the Eucharist expresses the love of God for His special creation. The communicant physically consumes the body, blood, soul and divinity of his creator. Jesus truly becomes part of our physical being. In turn, we become part of Him. As members of the body of Christ, sanctifying grace unites our eternal souls with Jesus. This union can endure, even though the “accidents” (physical properties) of the bread and wine will be absorbed in our body.
The Church teaches that the Eucharistic presence of Christ (read, ‘physical presence of the host’) “endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist…” (CCC 1377). This is probably less than 30 minutes. Yet the grace that we receive has no expiration date. We decide when we want to reject the perfect love offered to us by Christ by entering into sin. Jesus comes into our body, and we enter His Soul. As He said, “”He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56) Life doesn’t get any better than that! Then why is the Church such a mess?
Many Catholics claim to be aware of the miraculous and transforming power contained in the Eucharist. Yet, the Eucharist is not magic. Only those who are properly disposed to holy Communion can reap the benefits of receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are two main ways that we can reject the power of the Eucharist. First, we can forfeit the gift through unbelief. Second, we can present ourselves to holy Communion in the state of mortal sin. By exploring these two principles we can estimate how many Catholics may be receiving the sacramental benefits of partaking of the Eucharist.
The first area to explore is the number of Catholics that attend Mass. Those that attend regularly probably don’t fall into the unbelief category. Though perhaps they fall into the unworthy reception category if they partake of the sacred host without going to confession (we’ll get to that soon). Gallup reports that between 2014 and 2017 about 39% of Catholics went to Mass in a given week. As a comparison, in 1955 that number was 75%. In 2016 Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reported that only 22 percent of Catholics attend Mass weekly. No one would claim either percentage is getting any higher. All the organizations that study the practice of religion see a continued decline in Church attendance. In 2020 CARA reported that 36 % of young Catholics (age 18-25) will attend Mass less frequently after the church shutdowns end. The Center for Church Management at Villanova University predicts regular Church attendance at about 12% by 2023. The future is not bright.
A pre-shutdown Pew Foundation poll found only 30% of Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. So that is the maximum percent of Catholics that possess the faith to accept the gifts the Eucharist offers. If we believe the polls, at least 10% of Catholics believe in the real presence yet don’t attend Mass. Quite strange. Scripture tells us that Jesus couldn’t do miracles in his hometown due to lack of faith. Would He respond any differently when viewing the state of the Church in America today? “…he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mk 6: 6)
Sifting the above data, we can generously guesstimate weekly Church attendance at no greater than 20%. Post-shutdown numbers are barely 10% based on preliminary data from CARA and Pew. These Catholics possess the belief in Christ and His church and attend Mass. They pass the first test. However, are they in the state of mortal sin when they present themselves for Eucharist? Proverbs 24:16 tells us the righteous man sins seven times a day. It doesn’t tell us whether these are mortal sins. Let’s assume that the faithful don’t sin mortally. We are still at between 10-20% who can gain the sanctifying grace offered by our Lord through receiving His body and blood.
What about the 16 % who occasionally (or did occasionally) attend Mass? Without a legitimate reason (see Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2181) they fall into mortal sin when they fail to honor the Lord’s Day. Do they avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation in order to repair their ruptured relationship with God? Not many do. CARA reports that only 2% of Catholics regularly go to confession. 75% of Catholics go less than once a year or never go. The later statistic points to a maximum of 25% of Catholics being properly disposed to receive Eucharistic graces. Yet only between 10% to 20% of this number are regularly attending Mass.
Let’s generously assume that the 15% of regular Church going Catholics never commit mortal sins, or if they do, they are in the small minority of Catholics that go to confession. That means that 85% of Catholics cannot receive the benefits of the sacrament. That’s about 60 million Catholics, using the 2016 bishop’s conference statistic of 70 million Catholics in the US. Worse, it implies, based on the numbers that present themselves for Communion periodically, that many Catholics are bringing damnation upon themselves. St. Paul was clear when he wrote that, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Cor. 11:29) His next verse is more telling. “That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” (1 Cor. 11:30)
At least eighty-five percent of Catholics are dying of starvation. They are dying from starvation of the graces offered to those who properly present themselves before the Lord to partake of His body, blood, soul, and divinity. They are spiritually dead, but can be made new again. They can be made right with God through the sacrament that only 2% of Catholics regularly frequent – confession. We and our shepherds should be screaming from the mountaintops about this scandal. The Apostle writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Reconciliation with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit is the answer to embracing the power of the Eucharist. Let us pray that one day this message will be proclaimed from the hierarchy throughout the land.
Edward J Barr is a catechist, an attorney, an intelligence officer, and a Marine. He holds a Master of Theology degree from the Augustine Institute. Mr. Barr is a contributing writer for the Roma Locuta Est blog (www.RomaLocutaEst.com)