New research from Pew published this month indicates the sad fact that only 26% of US Catholics under the age of 40 believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Even more troubling is this study suggests that close to 70% of Catholics across the spectrum don’t believe in the most fundamental teaching of the Church – the Eucharist. That is, after the consecration at the Mass, the elements of bread and wine are transformed into the real Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus while remaining under the appearance of bread and wine. So, this classic Catholic teaching known as transubstantiation is rejected by the majority of its members.
The Pew study has caused many in the Church to insist that we need more catechesis focused on the Eucharist. Or, perhaps we need more people to watch the well-documented Eucharistic miracles, or view the Formed series, Presence. While all these are noble efforts, may I suggest we go to the heart of this dilemma. The problem with shouting out that we need more teaching about the real presence is that these teaching moments won’t reach your average Catholic. Let’s be honest your average Joe in the pew today will rarely dawn a Bible study to research John chapter 6. Where does the average Catholic get their understanding of what the Eucharist is or is not? It will be what they witness at the Mass. The Mass is the only 60 minutes of the week (or the month) the average person will experience a liturgical encounter in which they can see what the Eucharist is.
Here is where we get to the heart of the issue – what type of liturgy and external cues does one see at the Mass? Now we encounter the crux of the matter – the old rite of the Mass versus the new rite. The Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), also known as the Extraordinary Form, is the version of the Roman Rite that existed prior to the sweeping changes to the liturgy that came in the 1960s following the Second Vatican Council. After Vatican II, the Mass morphed into what is commonly called the Novis Ordo Mass (NOM). I don’t wish to get into the debate about the legitimacy of Vatican II. Rather, for our sake, it is crucial to see that the changes from Vatican II have become ground zero for why Catholics today reject the belief in the real presence.
The reforms in the Mass centered on the idea that the liturgical recipe – the prayers, the texts, and rubrics in the Mass – “needs to be simplified” so as to allow the people to have an “active participation” (see Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 50, Sacrosanctum Concilium, ch. II). While this might sound fine, we have to ask wouldn’t we notice a problem if a doctor had to alter his detailed medical instructions for his cancer patient merely because the patient needed it to be “simplified” all the while giving the patient an “active participation” in his treatment. These code words of “simplifying” God’s instructions so people can have an “active participation” hint at the problem. Would a doctor think it’s a good idea if his sick patient, who has no medical knowledge, had an “active participation” in what treatment he should prescribe?
The result of Vatican II yielded a new Mass in which several elements were gutted all the while letting the patient tell the doctor how to treat him.
As it pertains to the Eucharist, some of the many changes that ensued from the Novis Ordo Mass include: communion in the hand, use of lay Eucharistic ministers, shorter Eucharistic prayers, removal of altar rails, thus, no longer receiving communion while kneeling down. More modifications kept evolving to the point one witness a new liturgy and a new way of experiencing the Mass. Sadly, this new experience necessarily water-downs belief in the real presence.
This movement of sloppy liturgy leads to sloppy belief is articulated by the common Latin phrase, “lex orandi, lex credenda.” Loosely translated this phrase states, “the law of what is to be prayed is the law of what is to be believed.” In short, how you worship affects what you believe. So, if your worship is thorough and rooted in the original liturgical recipe, your belief will be rock solid. Conversely, if your worship is lax and follows a more loosey-goosey liturgical approach than expect your belief to be shaky at best. Hard evidence confirms this theory. In 2003, Kenneth Jones published his work entitled Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II. Here, he documents the collapse of Catholic practice post Vatican II. Some of his findings include:
Sunday Mass Attendance: 1958 – 74% Catholics went to Mass, 2000 – 25% Catholics went to Mass. Infant Baptisms: 1965 – 1.3 million infant baptisms, 2002 – 1 million infant baptisms (despite population rise). Catholic Marriages: 1965 – 352,000, 2002: 256,000 (despite population rise). Number of Priests: 1965 – 58,000 priests, 2002 – 45,000 priests.
In every major category, the results show that things got worse when we compare numbers before the changes to after the changes.
Going beyond the modifications in the liturgy there also exists a real link between the aesthetics of the Mass and the belief one takes away with them. In other words, what you witness around you affects how you believe. When it comes to the Eucharist we almost witness a systematic dismantling of the sacredness of the Mass to now being turned into an ordinary encounter. So, do what people see in the Mass communicate to them that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist?
The key is understanding what they don’t see after the changes from Vatican II. What people don’t see when they venture into their local parish are Gothic cathedrals filled with classical art, beautiful statues, gold and marble altars, and a liturgical pageantry that includes Gregorian chant, incense, candles, and a serious veneration to the sacredness that surrounds this experience. Even non-religious people know this. When Hollywood presents Catholicism, they always showcase it using traditional Catholic aesthetics.
In these large, stone churches of yesteryear, the tabernacle is dawned with gold or a vintage veil. Here, the architecture and artistic decor practically omits a divine presence to the people who walk in. However, gone are these immense structures as they have been replaced by the more mundane modern architecture.
When one walks into your modern church they feel like they are walking into an ordinary hotel lobby that lacks the divine aura of the old cathedrals. Here, they’ll see these chessy felt banners have replaced the classical art in the cathedrals. They’ll notice that instead of the tabernacle facing the center of the people, it is placed in a far corner of the sanctuary. Instead of hearing Gregorian chant music, they’ll hear 70’s folk music akin to Simon and Garfunkel.
The architecture, art, and surroundings in the old cathedrals left people in awe and wonder. They communicated to us that we have entered into a sacred place in which the real presence is obvious. For example, the tabernacle that housed the divine Hosts were prominently displayed in the center positioned for all to see. With its pronounced position in front, everyone was careful to direct their attention to the main focal point of the Mass – the Eucharist.
Conversely, the modern churches produce little, if any, awe when one enters into. Rather, the atmosphere here merely omits that you’ve entered into another everyday building – like walking into a large atrium that just happens to have a crucifix in it. Therefore, the surroundings of these new churches subconsciously fail to communicate Jesus’s real presence.
Catholic author Steve Skojec recently described his experience as a boy going from the traditional Mass in an old cathedral to the NOM in a modern church. As he wrote,
“The lack of seriousness with which I felt so many of the external trappings of the liturgy were contaminated. This begun to threaten my faith. I remember kneeling there on the blue shag carpeting, in front of the hideous looking tabernacle and asking God that if He was truly present in the Eucharist, why didn’t we act like it? All the strumming guitars and torch songs and people dressed like they were going to the beach and ugly décor and nonchalance with which we approached the sacrament seemed to indicate a far less serious situation than one in which God became present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, right there on that altar that more closely resembled a really nice dining room table than a sacred space for sacrifice.”
Whether people know it or not, the changes that ensued from the new Mass harmed their faith in which the original Mass was replaced with a cheap knockoff. Eminent philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand described the new Mass as “pedestrian.” He articulated how the Mass went from being God-centered to now man-centered in a pathetic attempt to modernize God into our bland human ways. He writes, “What I deplore is that the new mass is replacing the Latin Mass, that the old liturgy is being recklessly scrapped. . . For the question is whether we better meet Christ in the mass by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down to our own pedestrian, workaday world. . . The new liturgy actually threatens to frustrate the confrontation with Christ, for it discourages reverence in the face of mystery, precludes awe, and all but extinguishes the sense of sacredness. What really matters., surely, is not whether the faithful feel comfortable at mass, but whether they are drawn out of their ordinary lives into the world of Christ-whether their attitude is the response of ultimate reverence whether they are imbued with the reality of Christ.”
These changes that Von Hildebrand notes come to the surface specifically with the Eucharist. If you slowly stripped away the cues in the liturgy that communicate the real presence, then don’t be surprised if in a couple of decades people don’t believe in the real presence. They don’t believe it simply because they don’t see it displayed in the Mass. As an analogy, suppose a boy heard his mother talk about how she loves his father. But suppose the boy witnessed little, if any, love visibly displayed by his mother towards his father. Do you think he would really believe that she loves him? The same concept applies to the Eucharist. We can talk all about how Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but if the Mass doesn’t show special reverence to the Eucharist in the liturgy or the visuals surrounding the church, the real presence will be brushed aside into the background. Given the ho-hum liturgy and bland surroundings present in the majority our churches today, no wonder only 30% of Catholics believe in the real presence.
When it comes to the Eucharist, we can witness how the changes in the Norvus Ordo reflect a lack of veneration to the Eucharist. The most obvious change is laypeople taking communion in the hand. Previously, no one accept the priest was allowed to touch the Eucharist because only the priest has consecrated hands. Notice that before the priest touches the Host he has water poured on his hands as a sign of purification before he lays his hands on the precious Host. The reason being, the Eucharist is the holiest, most sacred item on the face of the earth – the body and soul of Jesus Christ. However, instead of just an ordained priest touching the Eucharist, now the sacred body and soul is taken commonly on everyone’s hands much like we place other ordinary objects be it cell phones, keys, cookies, you name it. If a person puts a hundred common objects in his hand throughout the week, then puts the Eucharist in his hand on Sunday, he’ll instinctively believe the Eucharist is nothing special – similar to every other thing he’s touched throughout the day. If, however, the person sees that only men who have been set apart as priests for Christ can touch the Eucharist, it will follow that they’ll believe that the Eucharist is something sacred.
The original formula of kneeling while receiving the Eucharist on the tongue is both rooted in the Bible and rooted in reality of the real presence. Kneeling while receiving the Eucharist fulfills the verse, “Every knee shall bow before me” (Rev. 14:11). Receiving the Eucharist on the tongue fulfills the scene when one of the angels of the Lord took an ember from the altar of the Lord’s presence and placed it directly into Isaiah’s mouth (see Isaiah 6: 1-7). Why would someone want to change this practice?
All of these liturgical cues about the Eucharist matter. If you start chopping away at these levels of reverence you eventually destroy belief in the real presence. When you take away the kneelers, you take away the altar rails, you take away communion on the tongue, and you have lay people in flip-flops and t-shirts handing out Holy Communion you are gradually gutting belief in the real presence.
Further evidence confirms that the more traditional the Mass, the stronger the Catholic faith is embedded in a person. A study found that U.S. Catholics who attend the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) are far more faithful to the Church’s teachings than those who attend the new Mass (NOM)
While the survey doesn’t ask specifically about the real presence among TLM attendees, the results insinuate that the real presence is much higher in the TLM circle compared to the NOM circle. Those who attend the TLM are far more likely to fulfill their Sunday obligation than are other Catholics. Ninety-nine percent of TLM attendees fulfill the Sunday obligation every week — in contrast with the mere 22 percent of NOM attendees. Additionally, the study showed that 98% of TLM attendees go to Confession once a year compared to 25% of NOM attendees going to Confession. The recent Pew study on the real presence undoubtedly was taken from those who attend the NOM as this reflects a larger pool of the Catholic population. These reports illuminate a profound difference between the reverent faith that comes from the old Rite and the type of wishy-washy faith that comes from the new Rite (see also here).
In this, we see that the ordinary form of the Mass dilutes the Eucharistic liturgy by steeping us in this fallen world, rather than taking us to heaven on earth. In short, the changes insert more focus on the liturgy of the world and the self, less focus on the liturgy in heaven.
What this Pew survey reveals is something that Catholic theology has always taught. That is, the visual and physical reality point to the larger spiritual reality. Therefore, churches that physically showcase original Catholic visuals (statues, pronounced altar, gold tabernacle, etc.) will more prominently communicate a Divine presence. No wonder reports reveal that traditional parishes are registering more growth than these modern man-centered parishes. As Jesus said, “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). Therefore, if you’re faithful in the nuances of the liturgy, you’ll be more faithful in the important belief in the real presence.
Given this data, it seems as though the changes from Vatican II that slowly removed traditional Catholic liturgy and aesthetics, acted to deliberately take away belief in the real presence. In his book, Infiltration, Taylor Marshall makes a strong case that Church was penetrated by demonic teachings so as to gradually erode people’s faith. Marshall asserts that Vatican II was the climax of this infiltration. In fact, such an infiltration was acknowledged by the champion of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI, when he stated that “The smoke of Satan has entered the Church.” The reflection of Paul VI mirrors the image Pope Leo XIII had in 1890 when he experienced a vision in which God granted the devil access into the Church in attempt to destroy her.
This theory of demonic manipulation in Vatican II is actually confirmed from the infamous exorcism case of Anneliese Michel in 1976. This exorcism case has been studied in great detail as it is the first and only time and exorcism was recorded on tape for public record (the transcripts are available here). Keep in mind that in an exorcism, the demon is under the authority of Christ (through the priest). Thus, he is bound to tell the truth and in this case the demon gives us a tell-all account of what is going on. Given that we’ve hypothesized that the liturgical changes caused the lack in belief today, isn’t it interesting how the demons in this exorcism candidly admit that they were behind this plot all along? Here is a sample of what the demons said during the exorcism:
“The giving of Communion in the hand was my work.”
“People standing during Holy Communion pleases me more than kneeling. I do everything possible that no one be on his knees.”
“We are very happy with the new reforms. We are most happy with these changes.”
“They are those who let that thing [the Host] be given in the hands! The doctrine is falsified in the Church!”
“If the bishops did not permit communion in the hand, this would not have happened” (this refers to consecrated Hosts being stolen and sold).
“The religious in monasteries watch TV and don’t pray enough, do not kneel down and they extend their paws” (when the demon says “extend their paws,” he is referring to receiving Holy Communion in the hand).
“The modernists are killing the Church. We are hard at work at this.”
Moreover, the subtle remarks the demon says about certain clergy’s reaction to Vatican II is striking. During the exorcism, the priest said to the demon, “You are responsible for heresies, such as those of Kung.” The priest is referring to Hans Kung, a Swiss theologian, and priest. Kung was one of the engineers of Vatican II and ghostwrote many of the Vatican II documents. The demon replies to the priest assertion on Kung by saying, “Yes and we have still more.”
There was a certain bishop that was outspoken in his concern of the liturgical changes from Vatican II. His name was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. When the priest brought up Lefebvre’s name the demon replied, “Ha! That one! But they don’t believe in him. What a pity.”
Isn’t it interesting that in this exorcism case, the demons (she was possessed by multiple demons) openly confess they were the cause of the liturgical modifications to the Eucharist? They also admit that they were responsible for one of the key architects (Kung) of Vatican II while insinuating that no one would believe the main critic of these changes (Lefebvre).
Whether the reforms from Vatican II were influenced by a demonic infiltration or not, one thing we can see now is they were a colossal bust. Imagine a corporation dramatically altered their product. Then, after some time they saw hard data that showed their numbers declined drastically after they made these changes. To add more gloss on this analysis the corporation had pockets of branch offices that went back to the standards of the original product (i.e. churches with Latin Mass) and noticed that the numbers were soaring in these rare places that no longer embraced the changes. You wouldn’t need an M.B.A. to realize that the changes the company made were the main reason why the company is now tanking.
Here, we’ll need to note that the word “change” as we know it doesn’t fit neatly into God’s formula. The author of Hebrews asserts that God doesn’t change precisely because God’s nature is perfect being itself – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). If God doesn’t change, then his methods likely don’t change willy-nilly. We know the laws of the universe don’t change. Does the law that 2+2=4, or the speed of light = 186,000 mps change? They emphatically don’t change. So, if God’s physical laws don’t change it follows that his spiritual laws don’t change (any supposed change would come from God direct – Jesus instituting the new covenant does not “change” the old covenant, he completes it and fulfills with the NT).
Two decades before Vatican II, future Pope Pius XII warned us about these so-called changes approaching. “I hear around me reformers who want to dismantle the Holy Sanctuary, destroy the universal flame of the Church, discard all her adornments, and smite her with remorse for her historical past” – Cardinal Pacelli
The older liturgy constantly draws more people to the real presence. The original liturgy is analogous to a Divine recipe God gave us to guard and protect from any outside manipulation. Much like St. Paul cautioned to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) and instructed Timothy to “guard what had been entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20), we too must defend God’s formula to be kept pure and intact. When you tinker with the Divine recipe and instead implant modern ideas to make it more like-able at the human level, God’s original recipe will become water-downed, and, in turn, people’s belief will become weak.
If anything this grim report on the denial of the Eucharist can wake us up to take a look back towards the beauty of the original formula of the Mass.