New study shows that now almost two-thirds of US Catholics believe in Real Presence
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 18:05 pm
A new study shows that almost two-thirds of adult Catholics in the United States believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, a significantly different result from the often-cited 2019 Pew Research study that suggested only one-third of adult Catholics in the U.S. believe in the Church’s teaching on the Blessed Sacrament.
The CARA study, which also points to a high correlation between weekly and monthly Mass attendance and belief in the Real Presence, comes amid the second year of the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic revival, which was launched in part because of the Pew Research poll.
The new report — published by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and commissioned by the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life — challenges the methodology and results of the Pew survey but still demonstrates that a large number of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence, which the Catechism calls the “source and summit” of the faith.
Zachary Keith, assistant director on the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, told CNA Thursday that it is important to look at how questions relating to belief in the Eucharist are phrased, citing the difference in wording of both studies as a “large part of the reason for the discrepancy.”
Additionally, Keith said that the CARA study shows that those who believe in the Real Presence “do not know how to articulate it as well as I think the Pew study might have implied.”
The revival culminates at its National Eucharistic Congress, which will be held next July and is expected to draw 80,000 Catholics to worship the Blessed Sacrament at Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts.
Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, told CNA Thursday: “What the recent study shows is the deep need for a true Eucharistic revival, one that pushes past mere notional assent and awareness of the Church’s teaching but is about providing an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, leading to a lived relationship of discipleship.”
‘A different approach’
CARA’s report takes issue with the phraseology of the questioning in the Pew Research study, calling it problematic. The methodology in CARA’s study “used a different approach to try to be as clear as possible,” the report said.
In order to determine the percentage of U.S. adult Catholics who believe in the Real Presence, respondents in CARA’s study were asked a variety of different questions.
The report stated that after an examination of “each respondent’s answers collectively,” 64% of those surveyed “provided responses that indicate they believe in the Real Presence.”
The question answered by respondents in CARA’s study “more accurately reflects the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist” as opposed to the question answered in the Pew Research survey, the report said.
The report said there was a “problem” with the question used in the Pew survey, which asked:
“Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion?”
A few options shown below were given for answers.
“During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine…
1. Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ
2. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ
3. No answer”
The problem with the question, the report said, is that respondents could choose both 1 and 2 and still be correct, citing the U.S. bishops’ conference, which said: “The transformed bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood of Christ and are not merely symbols.”
The Eucharist is “substance and symbol,” the CARA report said.
Mass attendance and education
Respondents in the CARA study were also surveyed on a host of other questions, including Mass attendance and where they learned about the Eucharist.
The study said that 95% of weekly Mass attendees and 80% who attend at least once a month believe in the Real Presence.
Seventeen percent of adult Catholics attend Mass at least once a week, the report said. Before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, 24% of Catholics attended Mass weekly, it said.
Almost 20% of adult Catholics attend Mass at least once a month and 26% attend a few times a year, the report said. Thirty-five percent rarely or never attend.
Those who entered the Church as adults or served in parish ministry polled at higher levels for belief in the Real Presence. Those who attended Catholic schools at any level were more likely than those who never attended to believe in the Real Presence.
The survey also asked respondents where they learned about the Eucharist, leading to their belief or unbelief in the Real Presence.
Fifty-three percent said they learned from their parents, while 44% said they learned through sacramental preparation or religious education. Just over 40% said they learned at Mass, and 37% said they learned at Catholic school.
For those who said they learned from their parents, 67% believe in the Real Presence. Seventy-three percent of those who learned from parish programs believe, while 75% who learned their information in Catholic schools believe.
Sixty percent of those who learned information about the Eucharist from the internet believe in the Real Presence.
“With these methods we hope that we have come to a better understanding of what Catholics believe the Church teaches and what they personally believe about the Eucharist themselves,” the report said.