With the celebration of Corpus Christi on June 19 we begin our Eucharistic revival and renewal. The USCCB leaders have wisely assigned staff to plan the Eucharistic congregation event, and to move the model from single event to an ongoing apostolate. Societal trends and generational shifts are so strong, that we need more than an event or series of events to adequately respond to people’s need for truth.
The findings from the American Beliefs Study conducted by ACS Technologies in 2021 have just become available and they are as eye-opening as the Pew study regarding Catholic beliefs in the real presence of Jesus. Responses indicate that Catholics do not clearly believe who Jesus was.
Understanding the American Beliefs Study
American Beliefs is a comprehensive study of Christian beliefs and social needs in the US, collecting feedback from over 14,000 respondents. 24% of respondents identified as Catholics. There are 5 questions in the survey specifically asking about beliefs in Jesus. Only 45% of Catholics strongly agree that Jesus was both divine and human. 44% strongly agree he actually rose from the dead as the Bible describes, and sadly, 39% strongly agree Jesus rules now and always as Lord of heaven and earth. If we include “somewhat agree” then around 60% of Catholic respondents “somewhat or strongly” agree with these statements.
These are basic beliefs, stated in our Creed, which we recite weekly at Mass (for those attending. 34% say belief in Jesus does not require participation in a church). There is not room for equivocation in the teaching of our Church, so these responses indicate an even more basic lapse in our faith, let alone the more challenging topic of the real presence of Jesus. Consider that less than half of Catholics truly believed in our Eucharistic processions on Corpus Christi. Consider also that our comfort and security lies in the Good News that Christ became man to save us. With tepid belief we are left adrift.
The survey was not designed specifically for Catholics, so one could argue that those who responded to the survey were not “active Catholics”. However the survey was delivered to a random list and results have been validated for statistical purposes. These responses represent a cross-section of Catholics, who reflect varying levels of participation in their parishes.
Implications for the Church
The Eucharistic revival is critical for our Church, not just as a lead-up to the Eucharistic Congress in 2024, but as a time to revisit our core beliefs and pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire all of us. Our time is a missionary time, where we can no longer assume that we are all on the same page or accept the mysteries of our Faith. It is a time for all of us to renew and refresh our Faith. It is also an important time to be welcoming and hospitable; to provide everyone the opportunity to seek to understand and to find the “heart” of their faith that lies beyond the “will”.
Viewed differently we can celebrate that 40 to 50% of Catholics do strongly agree. We have a core group who can begin to build trust with others who identify as Catholic and those who do not. Our growth and vitality depends on our core group reaching others to encourage their faith journey. So our parish and personal efforts must do more than fan the flame of our faithful. It is important that we be filled with faith, but not stop there. This is a time when, to paraphrase Pope Francis, we must “smell like sheep”. Get into the challenging and messy areas where people are not like us. I believe that the mystery and beauty of our Mass can inspire people, but the Mass is not the likely first step.
Consider what you will do as part of this Eucharistic revival. Start with the realization that the majority of people are not aligned with church teaching. Then find ways to invite people to a group or an activity and celebrate them. And allow the time for people to be open and searching so the Holy Spirit can act in them.
Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive with extensive sales, product marketing, strategy and leadership experience in supporting faith organizations. Terry’s professional experience includes organizational leadership, corporate development and growth, consulting with and training church leaders, and leading strategic and priority planning for churches and dioceses. He currently serves on the advisory board for the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine FL, as cantor at St. Andrew parish in Myrtle Beach, SC. and recently as Chairman of the Finance Council at St. Mary the Virgin Mother parish in Hartsville, SC.