Dr Philippa Martyr: Will the Plenary discuss teaching the Real Presence?

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A priest prepares to distribute Communion during Mass in Washington in this 2011 photo. PHOTO: CNS/Bob Roller

Discuss what matters most, the rest will follow

So what about the Plenary Council? It’s all gone a bit quiet on that front, what with COVID19 and Traditiones Custodes.

I’d like to talk about the interface between the two. ‘Interface’ is a good buzzword, like ‘synergy’. Let’s see if we can whiteboard some synergies around this interface.

The last time I wrote about the Plenary Council, it was in the context of the 2016 National Count of Attendance – the Mass attendance figures that were finally published in 2021.

They were pretty dire, as expected. I was really hoping that the Plenary Council deliberations would be informed by this.

So it’s amazing how all roads lead to this same central point: the Eucharist, the Mass, the source and summit of our Christian life.

The Instrumentum Laboris noted that it’s time we looked at redrawing diocesan boundaries and sharing clergy. Good call.

But fixing Church governance from the top down is just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Also, someone once pointed out that allowing people who don’t understand the faith to teach, evangelise and instruct others is a waste of both time and eternity (Matt 23:15).

Trying to employ more and more people in Church agencies is not why the Church was created. The Church was not founded to be an employment agency, or a health and education services provider.

We know that the issues in the Church today are a big tangle – pull one thread, and a whole lot of others also unravel. Traditionis Custodes and Pope Francis’ reminder of the abuses of the Novus Ordo have put the liturgy back front and centre.

In 2019, the US Pew Research Center found that half of all US Catholics surveyed didn’t know that the Church teaches that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. They thought that the Church taught that it was just a symbol of Christ’s body.

This is probably why the same survey found that only one-third believed that the Eucharist really was the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Another 22 percent actively rejected the idea, even though they knew it was what the Church taught.

But the more a person went to Mass, the more likely they were to accept the Church’s teaching about transubstantiation. Around 60 percent of those who went weekly to Mass believed it.

It would be nice to think that going to Mass produced this effect, but this is very likely to be because the people at Mass were older and were taught by their parents about what the Mass is.

That’s why they’re still going to Mass – and that’s why they still believe this very core Catholic truth.

I read an article in Crux recently noting that the US ‘has few cultural activities to reinforce belief in the Real Presence among nominal Catholics’. They meant Eucharistic processions.

But when I read it, I thought that you could easily count sloppy, debased Masses among those activities that don’t reinforce belief in the Real Presence among Catholics.

So it’s amazing how all roads lead to this same central point: the Eucharist, the Mass, the source and summit of our Christian life. Unhook people from that, and the rest of it unravels.

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