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The Eucharist: Lord, Help Our Unbelief

July 29, AD2016

Chelsea - Mass

A few months back I attended a Confirmation ceremony at a local parish. Of course, we were all very proud of the confirmandi, especially as they proceeded into the church in their Confirmation attire, and as the priest laid hands upon them conferring the seal of the Holy Spirit. But as the ceremony ended, it struck me at how chaotic and noisy it became in the church. After the priest and altar boys processed back to the sacristy, and even after there was an announcement that there was a reception next door in the school gymnasium, the volume became incredibly loud. Sure, there were non-Catholic relatives visiting, but I noticed that even those I knew were Catholic were also loud and not one person genuflected to the tabernacle as they tottered around the church. Jesus was obviously present in the tabernacle. I was stunned by what I was witnessing. The noise must have alarmed the priest too, because I saw him poke his head out of the sacristy, still dressed in the chasuble, but went back in without saying anything. I had witnessed this behavior before at other local churches, particularly after Mass, but it still stunned me how irreverent even professed and practicing Catholics were toward Our Lord in the Eucharist.

Certainly the mayhem after the Confirmation ceremony can partially be dismissed as a situation of non-Catholic visitors acting from ignorance. However, the lack of reverence from the Catholics at that event, and witnessed time and time again before and after Mass, seems to be an outward symptom of what recent statistics have told us. The numbers tell us that up to 60% of practicing Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And not only are people of such disbelief that they don’t genuflect and act like they’re in the local pool hall, but up to 75% of Catholics don’t even come to Mass any more.

They All Believed

Let’s start by asking if Jesus were corporeally present in the room, as he was at the Last Supper and in the Upper Room after the Resurrection, what would you do? Would you come into the room, keep your eyes down, and read the parish bulletin? Would you check your phone for sports scores? Would you saunter across the room right in front of him and not greet or acknowledge him? Of course not. You’d probably fall on your face on the ground like Mary did at the tomb or St. John did during his vision in the Book of Revelation. Certainly, the early Christians believed and acted with this kind of reverence because they believed Jesus to be truly present in the consecrated bread and wine.

This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. (St. Justin Marytr, “First Apology,” Ch. 66, ca. A.D. 148-155)

Many Protestant apologists will try to tell you that the Church didn’t adopt this belief until the Council of Trent after the Reformation. They mistake the doctrine of Transubstantiation as the introduction of a belief in the Real Presence. This is false. Transubstantiation is a philosophical and metaphysical explanation of how Jesus is present when our eyes tell us that only bread and wine are present. St. Thomas Aquinas defines that the reality, or substance, of the bread and wine change into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, while the outward appearance, or accidents, remains as mere bread and wine. Prior to that time, all Christians believed in the Real Presence, without the benefit of this philosophical explanation.

No, really, they all did believe it! With the exception of a couple of notable heretical exceptions, for more than fifteen hundred years, right up to the dawn of the Reformation, this is what the entirety of Christianity believed. One of the first Christians to seriously challenge the Real Presence was Berengarius of Tours around the year 1050, who later retracted his views. Then again in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, our old friends the Albigensians (Cathari) denied the Real Presence. It was this heretical belief that John Wycliff (1330-1384) resurrected and presented as his own to later influence baptized Catholics Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin to participate in the Reformation.

Then the question remains: why are we so irreverent at times before Jesus in the Eucharist? Do we not believe He’s really there? When all is said and done, actions speak louder than words. I don’t exclude myself from this criticism at all. We all need to be aware of the Real Presence of Jesus and in front of His tabernacle behave with appropriate reverence. The good news, I suppose, is that we are not alone in this plight, which is simply that our faith is a work in progress. As the man said to Jesus in Mark 9, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Or in Matthew 28, when Jesus was resting with the disciples, “And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.” So, what can we do to help our unbelief?

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi – this is a Latin phrase which roughly translated means the way we pray influences what we believe. This idea is why many people, including myself, make a big deal about reverent liturgies which follow the Roman Missal and the rubrics, with no innovations and distractions. This is why Cardinal Sarah recently called for priests around the world to once again employ the use of the ad orientem posture during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Mass. Of course, this simply means to turn towards God (along with the people) as the Eucharistic prayer is offered. This is one of the hallmarks of the Extraordinary Form (Tridentine liturgy) which was the only form of Mass (in the Roman Rite) before Vatican II. It is one of the valid options allowed to priests in the new liturgy. Cardinal Sarah’s idea is that we can help address the crisis we see in lack of belief and irreverence by employing this older posture, which reverences God and minimizes attention to the priest and the people by together liturgically facing east, from where Jesus will return. Pope Benedict agrees with this approach:

The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is locked into itself. The common turning toward the East was not a “celebration toward the wall”; it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people”: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian Liturgy the congregation looked together “toward the Lord.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Spirit of Liturgy, Chapter 3)

What Can I Do?

While we as individuals don’t have much influence over the options our priests use at Mass (other than appropriately insisting he follow what’s allowed in the Missal and the GIRM), we can employ some personal devotions to deepen our own faith in the Real Presence. The first thing we can do is to minimize distraction. Leave your phone in the car, or at least turn it off. Pick up the bulletin at the end of Mass. Consciously be aware of the Tabernacle when you enter the Church. As you kneel down, greet the Lord, tell Him that you love Him. Ask Him to help your unbelief. All of these things will help you to build that relationship with Jesus that so many talk about, so that your Eucharist will be more meaningful, and your belief in the Real Presence will be stronger. Regularly confess your sins in confession before the Eucharist; this is another way to “open up” the doors of a deeper, even mystical, experience of the Eucharist.

In the past, many used hand missals or devotional prayer books like “Key of Heaven” during Mass.  These books contain many excellent prayers to help you to participate more fully in the Mass, especially prayers after the Eucharist. I have reproduced a couple excellent examples of these prayers below:

Dominus meus et Deus meus.  (My Lord and my God.)” (Instituted by Pope St. Pius X, to be prayed silently during the Elevation.)

“King of kings, Lord of lords whom the heavens and the earth cannot contain, how great is Thy goodness, thus to become our sacrifice and our food! Thou art the food of life, O good Jesus; and it is by Thy power and grace my soul must live to Thee. Communicate, then, to me, at present, Thy divine blessing, and let my weak and hungry soul be no comforted and strengthened by this heavenly food; that it may be an effectual remedy of all my weakness; and make me faithful in Thy service forever.  Grant, O Merciful Jesus, that, whenever I shall receive this precious body and blood, they may forever abide in me, and become a heavenly nourishment to my soul.  Amen.” (Key of Heaven, 1947 Edition)

“I praise You and I bless You, dearest holy Body [Blood] 
Who for our salvation died on the cross and gloriously resurrected.
 O sweet Jesus, O gracious Jesus, O merciful Jesus, 
I bless You from the bottom of my soul; I love You with all my heart, 
I live for You, I die for You, I am Yours 
In my life as well as in my death. Amen.” (Prayer Offered in Hungarian at the Elevation of the Host and Chalice at St. Mary of Victories Church in St. Louis, MO)

“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee! I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love Thee.” (A Prayer given to the Children by Mary at Fatima)

Two other excellent prayers are the Anima Christi and Padre Pio’s prayer after communion.

It is important also to remember that in several apparitions, especially to St. Faustina, Jesus said that he is appalled by our lack of gratitude and how we treat him like a “dead object” in the Eucharist. Always, be sure to communicate with Him in the Eucharist as if you were present at the Resurrection or in the Upper Room. And say, “Thank you, Lord” for his great sacrifice and gift to us!

My assertion, and personal experience, is that through these means and many others, one can gain a more full appreciation and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus – body, blood, soul and divinity – in the Blessed Sacrament. Insist upon reverent and holy liturgies through licit communication with your priests. Teach your children to be reverent, and be a good example to others. Perhaps each of us by doing our little part can help to once again capture the sense of reverence that Our Lord deserves in his Temple.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

James Hooper is a lifelong Catholic, and is blessed with a wonderful wife and child. Jim was was graced with a profound reversion experience in 2011, with a strong calling to know God, obey His Church, and spread the Gospel to seeking souls. His evangelical outreach has focused on online apologetics, street evangelization, and communications strategies. Jim is a team leader for Saint Paul Street Evangelization in Downtown St. Louis and Belleville, IL, and the Director of Communications for St. Mary of Victories Church in St. Louis. Jim is a fervent supporter of the Covenant Catholic Radio Network in St. Louis (http://covenantnet.net), and has evangelized on the air several times. Professionally, Jim is the Leader of a Business Architecture team at a large Catholic Health Ministry. He has a Master of Science Degree in Management Information Systems from Saint Louis University, and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP).

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  • james

    “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” .Henry Ford

    You have hit upon an interesting dilemma in the CC – the ever attenuating belief in the Real presence. As a 12 year parochial student educated at a time when everyone believed, I too wonder how one could be Catholic and not believe. You can not. Part of the problem is in understanding holy mysteries
    – for the average person and even those well prepared in their faith it’s as complicated as trying to understand ( not a requirement) the Trinity. If one does not believe that having faith the size of a seed may move a mountain then it is impossible to conceive of bread turning into Jesus. Be that as it may,
    I believe a very big part of the problem lies in the CC twisted insistence that a priest who has not the faith has the power of transubstantiation. It is as fanciful and contradictory a notion as saying someone who doesn’t believe in the correlation between mustard seeds and mountains CAN move the latter. Impossible. The belief that one can produce miracles without faith extends to the Mass and if a priest honestly believes his actions are symbolic, I don’t see how the communion line will receive anything but bread. This would theoretically account for the decline in respect, belief and the graces that are not gained as the whole congregation leaves spiritually denatured. To take this idea to another level that may restore or at least enliven the mystery of communion, I reference Jesus feeding the 5000 with blessed bread. Nothing wrong with feeding people as it’s a corporeal work of mercy. The troubles the CC faces today all revolve around exclusion. You can’t have your sins forgiven if you are not Catholic. How utterly selfish is that. The CC should open up this sacrament to every person on earth.. Anyone should be able to enter a communion line and receive either the Real Presence … or bread depending on what they believe. Those so inclined to doubt get a good sermon, adequate music and fellowship. they will also be exposed to those who do believe; that so much more seemed to have been dispensed to a few. Maybe they will become curious and begin to … Wonder. I remember when the myopic ecclesiastical powers-that-be changed the discipline refraining from all but water after midnight on the day one was to receive … to one hour before. The 21st century Christian asks with tongue in cheek humor: give me the holy and theological reason why we can’t make it 59 minutes. This logic and reason is why the CC is in crisis.and unless it begins to think outside the box it has put itself in, it will be hard pressed to receive the kind of help it takes to overcome unbelief.

    • Jim H.

      James after a careful reading of your paragraph, it seems that you’ve answered your own questions. How can a priest consecrate without faith – well its the same person that fed the 5,000 that does the consecrating – Jesus. The priest makes no sacrifice of his own, rather is a stand-in for Christ. Additionally you point out that the Catholic Church excludes people from confession, when in reality it was the Protestant reformers who excluded themselves. Those who are Protestant, perhaps through no fault of their own, in fact don’t believe – their founders rejected the notions of the priesthood, confession to a mere man, and the Real Presence. Many in fact laugh at it. They de facto are not in Communion with the Church, so why would we invite them to be in the Communion Line? It would basically be promoting a lie. Then again if they are in communion with the Church in terms of doctrine, then what’s stopping them from becoming Catholic?

      I do appreciate your observation about the change in fasting, which of course is a discipline. Ironically most of these waterings-down of sacramental discpline, such as the 24 hour, fast – and the radical changes in the Mass – had to do with making those outside feel more welcome. Sadly, in many cases its contributed to the watering-down of the faith of those on the inside. I invite you to read the opening speech given by Pope St. John XIII for Vatican 2, which is easily accessible on the Internet. The entire push of Vatican 2 was to reach out to those on the outside.

    • james

      Thanks for the reply, Jim. I don’t believe you can “stand-in” for Someone whose words
      you can’t take to heart – anymore than you could do stand-up comedy if you didn’t know
      any jokes. You’re right on the protestants though. They’re profound problem is their
      PRIDE. They don’t want to believe – in anything that requires faith. And VAT II was
      also about going outside to mingle. When Francis popped in to visit the Buddhist monks
      on a trip to the East he wasn’t inviting them to be Catholic – he was showing the world
      that this faith has a slice of the pie and it would be very beneficial to understand it. Anyway, keep up the good writing.

    • Jim H.

      Thank you sir. And happy Saint’s day a few days late. 🙂

      My articulation of how a priest could be a scoundrel and yet still consecrate the bread was woefully inadequate. St. Augustine has a lot more on this topic. I intend to bone up.

      I once had a retired priest who argued with me in the confessional over abortion, claiming Jesus never spoke about it and even though he was in a Marian order made the statement that the Immaculate Conception wasn’t dogmatic (which of course it is). Needless to say this degenerated into a 20 minute argument. We agreed to disagree and he moved on to absolution, which I accepted as coming from Christ, not him. He even told me these were his views, not the Church’s position. I have since been back to confession to this fellow – no mention of our previous discussion. And he’s been the celebrant at Mass several times.

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      Answer this question, James: Why do you think that the interpretive spin Roman Catholicism has imposed upon Holy Writ should be believed? I have been studying Roman Catholicism for over 25 years,and to-date, from a theological standpoint I’ve discovered very little that foster the type of belief that you’re advocating. When all is said and done, it’s just Roman Catholic interpretation of selected verses,passages,and various man-centered, pseudo-theological dogmas,doctrines et.al. I think that you Catholics forget and I’m happy to remind you, that your religious institution is NOT in charge of Almighty God; you system is NO ONE’S God,Savior( Boniface VIII’s “Unam Sanctum” notwithstanding.),or Judge.Whatever the faults of the Reformers, I have NO DOUBT that Almighty God raised them up…”for such a time as that”…and I THANK ALMIGHTY GOD for them. You speak of pride; what could possibly be more arrogant and reeking of pseudo-theological pride than Boniface VIII’s crazed claims; the man literally posited himself as mankind’s “savior”!! Seriously, James?? I don’t think so; the man you Catholics appropriate as your first”pope” makes nonsense of that drivel in Acts 4:12.(Then again, since Catholics by their own admission don’t read Holy Writ much, maybe Boniface hadn’t gotten to Acts yet.)—So…mull and reflect,my friend.Almighty God was God looong before all our various–” isms” came along,and will remain the Triune God from EVERLASTING TO EVERLASTING, HALLELUJAH!!? PRAISE HIM!!!—PEACE IN CHRIST, ALWAYS!!!!????.

    • Jim H.

      Peace be with you Laurence. I think you answer your own question within the content of your statements. Neither faith in the Eucharist, nor the efficacy of the Catholic Church (in any of its 23 particular Churches) come from 25 years of study, our own personal reason, or our own personal interpretation of a book that was compiled for us by the Catholic Church. All of it is supernatural and originates with Jesus Christ who despite their faults founded the Church on Peter and the Apostles, promised to keep her holy and guide us through it, and continues to do so today despite her sometimes sinful members. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Church and her mysteries!

      Regarding the Reformers, God certainly allowed them to “rise up” and there are certainly many, many Protestants who have a fervent faith that honors God. And yet they are lacking what the Catholic Church in her uninterrupted succession of Pontiffs and doctrine have – that is unity and continuity. We don’t understand why God permits evil (dividing the Body of Christ is an evil, kooky Popes like Boniface who did bizarre things are an evil), but we do know that he has a plan. Our job isn’t to understand it all – our job is to be faithful.

      I understand that many have trouble understanding this notion, but that difficulty seems to originate from the idea that personal understanding and a feeling of discernment. Feelings and thoughts can be influenced by our chief tempters – the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Faith, with a properly formed conscience, by listening to those with the keys, comes from Someone else entirely.

      AMDG

    • james

      “Why do you think that the interpretive spin Roman Catholicism has imposed upon Holy Writ should be believed?”

      Because, even a stopped clock is right twice in a day.

      ” I’ve discovered very little that foster the type of belief that you’re advocating.”

      I’m not sure belief (faith) is fostered. It is a gift given to some in various degrees
      that is either understood by experience or not – ie: Situation A is prayed about or for and Outcome C is uncannily resolved. A careful analysis of what one has asked, begged or needed results in the conclusion that Intercession B played a part. When enough of these episodes in life reach critical mass one makes the connection and one is able to grasp the possibility in a faith that could move a
      mountain. If you ask for bread you will not be given a stone – the problem for most spiritually challenged people is they don’t care to recognize the bread

      ” … Catholics forget your religious institution is NOT in charge of Almighty God;

      Of course not, they’ve just figured God out insofar as to how intercession works.

      Re: Popes, they come and go – as do presidents, poets and kings.

      “ …nonsense of that drivel in Acts …”

      I’m strictly a Gospel guy. I never put much stock in the New or Old Testaments (other than Genesis which has ALL the answers about God) If you can absorb.
      Matt, Mark, Luke & John you have everything a person needs to get thru life.

      “ You speak of pride …”

      Anyone without enough faith to believe in miracles has pride as their stumbling
      block.

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      Hmm…so,”ex opere operato” doesn’t apply here,James?

    • Jim H.

      Does it apply in Matthew 13:58? And besides this isn’t as much about what we can get out of the Eucharist – but what is due the Lord of Lords in his Eucharistic presence, namely our love.

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      Does what apply to Matthew 13: 58, James H.?

    • Jim H.

      My point of course is that even Jesus couldn’t work miracles very effectively with people not predisposed. And again, my point is more about giving Jesus truly present in the Eucharist the respect he is due.

    • james

      Now, to receive the fruits of the sacraments, you should be properly disposed. At least in adults, there must be a pre-dispositional receptivity to receive the grace that is always available in a validly effected sacrament.

      My beef is with the term “validly effected”. I don’t think you could have a Druid priest
      perform a sacrament and have it confer grace to a recipient.

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      Does it ?

    • james

      I refer you to a Douay bible and its catholic encyclopedia where you can sort
      out the nuances of the 7 (of course) specific kinds. My understanding is simple – it’s supernatural gas that gets you where you want and need to go..

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      O.K.,James…I have a couple of excellent references on Roman Catholic theology; I’ll examine them later. I ‘ll probably have to go to the library for the Douay-Rheims Bible.At any rate, I’ll get back to you,and God Bless you.?.I’m glad that you and I can dialogue without the hateful,perjorative language and the vicious vitriol that seems to be the norm on some websites nowadays. God bless you!!?

    • james

      Thanks and God bless you too.