According to the Center for Applied Research at Georgetown University the average attendance at mass in 2008 by Catholics is only 32%. There is another study that shows the fastest growing churches are those that say they are non-denominational. My experience with these churches is that they are filled with former catholics. The response of many catholic’s to this flight is one of pure puzzlement about how could they leave the Eucharist. It would seem that we believe the key to evangelization is a good understanding of the Eucharist. Unfortunately we have another problem in this area. Catholic answers data shows that only 43% of catholics believe in the real presence in the Eucharis while the Center for Applied Research puts that number at 70%.
It does not matter which research data you choose to accept either survey provides us with a startling reality. Many Catholics in the pews today do not believe what we receive is the body and blood of Christ. . With Jesus saying to us today “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” perhaps we need to ask ourselves what it is we believe.
Those who heard Jesus that day could not believe he said we must eat his flesh. They were very vocal when they said “this saying is hard; who can accept it” (vs. 60). Hard to take is an understatement and the early church constantly had to defend their belief in the Eucharist being the very body and blood of Christ. The research data shows that this disbelief in the Eucharist is still being voiced today not by other faiths but by catholics. I think that explaining how bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ is harder to communicate than the belief that it is truly the body of Christ.
This sixth chapter of John makes no bones about his words and his intent. Listen to Jesus saying to you, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (Jn. 6:53). Not believing in these words of Christ would mean that we do not believe anything that Christ said. That would include why he came, why he died, why he rose, the forgiveness of sin, the promise of the Spirit and life after death among many more sayings.
We as Christians of all faiths either believe what Christ said to us or we do not. We cannot in one instance affirm our belief in the creed and on the other hand reject his very words about eating his flesh and blood. The reaction of some of the followers is proof enough of his meaning. They rejected the concept saying it was “hard to take” and they returned “…to their former way of life” (vs. 66). Does that sound like a reaction to symbolism of bread representing Christ or a reaction to a reality of it being Christ?
Close your eyes a moment and in your mind’s eye hold a Eucharistic host in your hand. Jesus said “the bread you eat is my flesh for the life of the world.” Do you believe his words? Now consider these words of Christ; “the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Now in your mind’s eye consume that host. What is happening within you as you eat it? Does the promise of life have an impact on you or is your mind on something else?
Our response to receiving the Eucharist cannot be lukewarm. We either believe his promise of life or we must reject it like those who walked away that day. We simply cannot remain unaffected after receiving the body and blood of Christ. Our response to this promise of life needs to be embraced and expressed in some way. Not just by returning to our seats in quiet piety but by visible expression. Why not a response of thanksgiving, of praise, of joy, of just one of relief allowing the Spirit to flood us with the promised life?
This sixth chapter ends with Jesus asking his disciples a question; “do you want to leave also’ (vs. 67)? Their response is a key statement that each of us must consider when considering this life offered us by Christ. They said, “…we have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 69).
The church teaches us that liturgy means “the work of the people.” We are taught by the church that during liturgy we are to be engaged. We are taught that during the entirety of the liturgy we are remembering the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. We do this because it was by his life death and resurrection we have been reconciled to the Father. We are taught that during the liturgy we encounter God in word, sacrament and in the people surrounding us. The word of God and the Eucharist are both feeding us and transforming us. We simply cannot be unaffected by the entirety of God’s desires for us during our liturgy.
Next week as you go to church say inwardly to Christ “I have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God”. Then ask that Holy One of God to fill you with his life. Expect to hear his words touching your heart and his flesh and blood filling you with the promise of life. Then the entirety of the liturgy will become alive for you and you will join Mary in praise and thanksgiving saying “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my soul rejoices in God my Savior.”