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Jesus is truly present: Do most Catholics need to go back to second grade?

By Tom Dermody
Guest columnist

As schools reopen and parishes gear up for religious education and RCIA classes, a new survey shockingly shows that many Catholics need to return to second grade, the year most of us received our first holy Communion. Before that most special day, we were taught repeatedly that we were about to receive not bread and wine, but Jesus -- really, truly present in the sacrament.

A recent survey of self-identified Catholics, however, found that a majority in all age groups believe the bread and wine used at Mass are only symbols of Jesus' body and blood.

Discussion was lively on our Facebook site after we posted the survey story and asked what can be done to restore belief in this central teaching of our faith. Some longed for a return to altar rails or the Latin Mass. Others called for more reverence demonstrated by priests and their flocks. One asked, "What part of 'This is My Body' is hard to get?"

Bishop Robert E. Barron, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, called the study "a wake-up call" for the church, and we agree. We also echo his assertion that "we're all guilty." Those of us who embrace this profound mystery have grown casual. And actions teach every bit as much as words.

Let's go back to second grade. School is starting, and here is a homework assignment. Read the following passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ponder it. Believe it.

"In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist, 'the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.'"

The catechism says much more. Keep going deeper. We'll never mine, nor comprehend, all of the Eucharist's treasure. But let us, like a first communicant, reverently acknowledge Jesus' real presence at our next Mass and every Mass and receive him with a heartfelt "Amen."

Tom Dermody is the editor-in-chief of The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.