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The Body and Blood of Christ

A Pew Research Center report, published in 2019, stated that only 31% of U.S. Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church teaches, however, that the Eucharist --- also called The Blessed Sacrament, or Holy Communion --- is the Real Presence: “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Savior, Jesus Christ” under the appearance of bread and wine (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1374), and that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of Christian life.” (CCC #1324)

Why then, do so few Catholics believe this fundamental teaching?

As someone who was brought up in the Latin Mass, it seems that the changes that occurred after Vatican II (1962-1965), but not necessarily because of Vatican II, tended to decrease belief in the Real Presence.

For example, when I was a small boy, we were taught to maintain strict silence in church, unless there was a real need, because we were in the presence of Christ in the tabernacle, and out of consideration for those praying. There was no clapping. We were taught to genuflect before entering and after leaving a pew, and when we passed in front of the tabernacle, “because Jesus is truly and substantially present there.”

We didn’t, however, genuflect when returning to our pew after receiving Holy Communion. I asked my teacher, a Dominican Sister about this. She responded, “Well, Michael, what you have to understand is, at that moment, you are a tabernacle.”  

We were taught to dress appropriately, especially on Sunday, in our “Sunday best,” with suits and ties and polished shoes, and the girls with modest dresses whose hems should touch the floor if they were to kneel on the floor.

We knelt at the communion rail to receive Holy Communion. The communion rail demarcated the sanctuary, which was akin to the holy of holies, a particularly sacred space, where the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ and, in an unbloody manner, sacrificed and offered to the Father. We received Holy Communion on the tongue, from the hands of the priest, and were taught to say a short prayer at this time, such as “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” or, “My Lord and my God.

We were taught that only the priest could touch the consecrated host because his forefingers and thumbs were especially consecrated for this purpose. The Sisters told us about Fr. Isaac Jogues (1607-1646), whose thumbs and forefingers were gnawed off by the Iroquois, and how he needed special permission from the Pope to use his other fingers for consecrating and distributing the Eucharist.

We fasted from midnight on before receiving Holy Communion.

Slowly, in the first five or ten years after Vatican II, changes not necessarily authorized by the Council occurred: many communion rails disappeared, fasting time was shortened, attire became more casual, new churches looked more like auditoriums, the tabernacle was often moved from front and center to the side, black vestments for funerals became less common…

The most perplexing thing for me, though, was receiving communion standing, and in the hand. I recall thinking at the time, “Well, touching the Body of Christ with my hands must not be that big of a deal after all… What else were the Sisters wrong about?

The Sisters were not wrong! It is an incomprehensible privilege to touch the Body of Christ! But, as the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand warned, communion in the hand “fosters an irreverent attitude and thus corrodes faith in the real bodily presence of Christ.” However, since this practice is allowed by the Church, and in some cases commanded by bishops, this in no way means that those who touch the consecrated host are in any way irreverent.

At the moment, the bishops of the United States are promoting a National Eucharistic Revival. The purpose of the revival is to “inspire and prepare the People of God to be formed, healed, converted and united, and sent out to a hurting and hungry world through a renewed encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist --- the Source and Summit of our Catholic faith.”  This year, there will be a pilgrimage to Indianapolis from four points in the United States (one being Bemidji, MN) beginning May 17-19 which will culminate in a Eucharistic Congress held July 17-21. For more information on this, visit the website

The late Fr. John Hardon, S.J., said, “The single most powerful means on Earth for the conversion of America is for Catholic Americans to mobilize a crusade of prayer before the Eucharist for the conversion of our nation.” Let it be done.

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