Friday, April 25, 2008

Cara Study of the Sacraments - Adoration

Let's continue with the CARA study of the sacraments as it relates to the Eucharist. This time let's look at questions about Eucharistic adoration. The question was asked: "Does your local parish offer opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration where the Eucharist/Holy Communion is
displayed and people come to pray and worship?" Of those surveyed, 47% responded "Yes," 6% said "No," and 47% said "I don't know." A more meaningful picture is developed when the responses are broken down by Mass attendance. Not suprisingly, the more people go to Mass, the more they know whether their parish offers adoration or not.

  • For those who attend weekly or more: 83% - Yes; 7% - No; 10% - I don't know.
  • For those attending less than weekly but at least monthly: 59% - Yes; 10% - No; 31% - I don't know.
  • For those attending a few times per year or less: 28% - Yes; 3% - No; 69% - I don't know.

The good news here is that it would appear that Eucharistic adoration of some sort is going on in the vast majority of parishes. Jesus is inviting us to come to him.

The breakdown by generations regarding those who responded "I don't know" is:

  • Pre-Vatican II - 36%
  • Vatican II - 46%
  • Post-Vatican II - 52%
  • Millennials - 52%

As a reminder, the generation breakdowns are:

  • Pre-Vatican II (Born in 1942 and earlier, or 66 years old and older in 2008)
  • Vatican II (Born between 1943 and 1960, or 48 to 65 years old in 2008)
  • Post-Vatican II (sometimes called "Generation X," born between 1961 and 1981, or 27 to 47 years old in 2008)
  • Millennial Generation (Born between 1982 and 1990, or 18 to 26 years old in 2008)

CARA suggests that these results may be due to lower Mass attendance by younger generations.

Then CARA asked about participation in Eucharistic adoration: "Have you participated in Eucharistic Adoration at your parish or elsewhere within the last year?" (this was for those respondents who said that their parishes did offer Eucharistic adoration):

  • Yes - 29%
  • No - 71%

Again, as one would expect, the more one attends Mass, the more people participate in Eucharistic adoration:

  • Weekly or more: Yes - 43%; No - 57%
  • Less than weekly but at least once a month: Yes - 35%; No - 65%
  • A few times a year or less: Yes - 8%; No - 92%

The more one attends Mass, the more one realizes the nature and importance of the Eucharist. The more one realizes the nature and importance of the Eucharist, the more one is drawn to the Eucharist.

There were very interesting results in a breakdown by ethnicity for those who have participated in Eucharistic adoration:

  • Hispanics: 37%
  • Non-Hispanic whites: 26%

Clearly, Hispanic Catholics have much to teach Non-Hispanic white Catholics about the value of Eucharistic adoration in our faith lives.

The breakdown by generation for those who responded yes to participating in Eucharistic adoration is:

  • Pre-Vatican II - 37%
  • Vatican II - 30%
  • Post-Vatican II - 27%
  • Millennials - 21%

This breakdown is not surprising in the decreasing percentages from older to younger generations. On the other hand, one could argue that 21% among the Millennials is better than one might have thought it would be.

According to the question, I would not be able to respond "yes." I go to visit Jesus in the tabernacle, but it has been some time since I have made it to adoration when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. But that will change on May 25. My parish is having a Eucharistic procession for Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. I have been organizing it, which has been a wonderful experience (more on that later). I have had adoration in front of a webcam of the Eucharist (see my blog entry of 4/4/08), which is a different 21st century twist of a very old practice.

My final entry on the CARA study will look at the statistics about belief in the Real Presence.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

CARA Study of the Sacraments - More on Frequency of Reception of the Eucharist

More on the CARA study of the sacraments with the focus on the Eucharist. Here's the breakdown by generation for those who said they attend Mass at least once per month. The generations identified were:

  • Pre-Vatican II (Born in 1942 and earlier, or 66 years old and older in 2008)
  • Vatican II (Born between 1943 and 1960, or 48 to 65 years old in 2008)
  • Post-Vatican II (sometimes called "Generation X," born between 1961 and 1981, or 27 to 47 years old in 2008)
  • Millennial Generation (Born between 1982 and 1990, or 18 to 26 years old in 2008)

Across all generations, the percentages who said they "always" receive Holy Communion when they attend Mass are essentially the same (71%-74%). Interestingly enough, however, the Millennials showed the lowest percentages for those who "seldom or never" received (2% vs 7%-9%) and the highest percentages for "frequently or usually" (26% vs. 19%-20%). Therefore, if you combine "always" and "frequently or usually," 99% of the Millennials responded this way vs. 93% for Pre-Vatican II respondents. This is a very good sign indeed.

The study also broke down frequency of reception by education for those who responded with "always" receiving the Eucharist at Mass:

  • 58% of those with post-graduate degrees
  • 40% of those with bachelor's degrees
  • 48% of those with some college or an associate's degree
  • 49% of those with a high school diploma or less
  • 58% of those who attended a Catholic university or college

I find these results fascinating, and I'm hesitant to conjecture about the meaning of these results. But I would suggest the following:

  • Despite concerns about the orthodoxy of many Catholic colleges and universities (and I would add that those concerns are not unimportant), it would appear that attending a Catholic college or university is still the best way of increasing the probability of developing a deep love of Christ in the Eucharist.
  • Those with bachelor's degrees actually receive Holy Communion less frequently than those with less education. Then, those with more education than a bachelor's receive the Eucharist substantially more often. Therefore, we cannot say that more education increases one's devotion to the Eucharist across the board. I suspect, perhaps, that this is a case of Alexander Pope's assertion in Essay on Criticism that "A little learning is a dangerous thing/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:/There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,/And drinking largely sobers us again."
  • While we can't reason our way into belief in the Real Presence, I think these statistics are a wonderful example of how faith and reason work together to enrich our spirituality. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made much of the necessity of faith and reason. Reason informs faith, and faith gives purpose and direction to reason. One without the other leads to error and disaster. I once thought I'd "reasoned" my way out of faith. After a long time away from the Church, I have learned since my return that what had really happened was that I did not have enough faith or reason.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

CARA Study of the Sacraments - Frequency of Reception of the Eucharist

Let's continue to look at the CARA study on the sacraments by focusing on the Eucharist. Catholics who had made their first Holy Communion were surveyed on the frequency of their reception of the Eucharist. Of those surveyed, 50% said that when they attend Mass they "always" receive Holy Communion. 20% responded "frequently or usually." 17% said "seldom." 13% said "never."

These results indicate that 70% of those surveyed received Holy Communion either always or frequently. This seems to correspond reasonably with the 74% who said that receiving Holy Communion at Mass was "very important." Again, it shows that the majority of Catholics consider the Eucharist to have a prominent role in their religious life. And again, it shows that there is still more work to be done, since the Eucharist should be central to every Catholic's religious life.

Yet we should note something that the question does not really account for: we are not at liberty to go to Holy Communion simply because we want to do so, although a desire to always receive Holy Communion when attending Mass is an admirable and spiritually healthy one. However, we cannot approach the Son of God in the Eucharist when our souls are in a state of mortal sin until we have approached the Son of God in sacramental confession. Therefore, there are times when being a conscientious Catholic means not receiving the Eucharist at Mass if we are conscious of being in a state of mortal sin.

Another reason for not receiving Holy Communion at Mass is because we have not observed the one-hour fast previous to receiving.

The breakdown of frequency of reception of the Eucharist as compared to frequency of Mass attendance is as follows:

For those attending Mass weekly or more: Always - 79%; Frequently or usually - 16%; Seldom - 3%; Never - 2% (95% always or frequently).

For those attending Mass less than weekly but at least monthly: Always - 66%; Frequently or usually - 24%; Seldom - 8 %; Never - 3% (90% always or frequently [note: the numbers don't add up to 100%).

For those attending Mass a few times a year or less: Always - 31%; Frequently or usually - 21%; Seldom - 26%; Never - 22% (52% always or frequently).

Again, we see that going to Mass more frequently dramatically increases one's love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

It is also important to note that missing Mass on Sundays without a legitimate reason is a mortal sin under certain conditions (since the sin itself is grave matter, and if the person has full knowledge that it is sinful and deliberately consents to missing Mass). Therefore, for those attending less than weekly who meet the conditions for mortal sin, they should be going to confession before receiving Holy Communion again. However, there is an issue of catechesis here, because most likely the majority of people who don't attend Mass each Sunday also don't believe it to be a mortal sin. (They most likely don't even consider it a venial sin.) As such, the "full knowledge" condition may not be met in such circumstances.

But if we can see that we owe God our love for the love he showed us in the sacrifice of the Son for us, and if we can believe that the Mass is the re-presentation (not the representation or the repetition) of that sacrifice, and if we can believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the Sacrificial Lamb of God, then we will understand why we need to be at Mass each Sunday. It's not because of rules; it's because of love.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CARA Study on the Sacraments among U.S. Catholics

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University conducted a survey in February 2008, the results of which were published in the report, Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics. There are numerous interesting statistics, many of which are heartening, while others show that there is much work yet to be done. I want to focus on the section on The Mass and Eucharist.

Let's start with the question, "How important are each of the following aspects of the Mass to you?" For the aspect, "Receiving Eucharist/Holy Communion," for respondents who attend Mass at least a few times a year, 92% responded "Somewhat" or "Very Important". 74% responded "Very Important" only. This is good news that the Eucharist is such an important draw to Mass for Catholics, even those who attend only a few times in a year. While ideally the number of "Very Important" responses should be much higher than 74%, this is still a good sign. For those who identified receiving the Eucharist as "Somewhat" or "Very Important", the breakdown by how often the respondents attended Mass was as follows: Weekly or more - 97%; Less than weekly but at least monthly - 89%; A few times a year only - 88%. To no one's surprise, the more often one goes to Mass, the more one grows in love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

In the next post I'll continue through the Mass and Eucharist section of the study.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Imperfect Participation in a Perfect Sacrifice

I was at mass this morning with my family, and I was suddenly struck by the importance of one of God's great gifts to us: we are able to partake in the perfect sacrifice of Christ in spite of our our profound imperfection. The thought first came to me as we and dozens of other parents of small children were wangling them like cowboys and their cattle, and as a result, we were not able to keep a fixed gaze on the sacrifice at the altar. And yet, despite the distractions, we are still able to receive the body and blood of Christ, because it is not our worthiness but God's that makes this possible, which we say aloud right before going up for communion: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed."

I have long loved listening to others sing at mass. My wife, Katie, has a beautiful voice, and it is a joy to hear her sing hymns at mass. But most of all, I have relished hearing those in the congregation who do not sing very well but who nonetheless belt out a hymn with unrestrained joy. I appreciate those voices because my own singing can be a bit painful to the ears at times. Most of all, though, I appreciate those voices because they are a good model for me that the important thing is not the beauty of the voice that sings but the majesty and love of who the voice praises and thanks. As the great Quaker hymn says: "Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?" The imperfect voices can sometimes give us the greatest witness to the perfection of God.

The priest who stands in the person of Christ ("persona Christi"), fortunately, does not need to be perfect like Christ to transform the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood. Through God's grace and mercy, an imperfect man--even a seriously flawed and sinful man--may consecrate the gifts and bring us Christ. There is a beautiful story about St. Francis being asked by the citizens of a particular town to confront their priest who was living with a woman. St. Francis went to the priest, but rather than scold the priest, St. Francis took the priest's hands in his own, kissed them, and said, "All I need to know is that these hands bring me Jesus." After that, Francis left and the priest reformed his life. There are many lessons to take from this story, but one of them is that the people of the town were still able to partake of the Eucharist before Francis' visit because, despite their priest's immorality, the priest's unworthy hands still brought the people Jesus.

In a similar way, the Church, which we say in the Nicene Creed is the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" can be holy as an institution created by Jesus but be sinful in its individual members.

So this day let us thank the Lord for not letting our imperfection impede his perfection.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Bread of Life

In this, the third week of Easter, we are working our way through Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John at the daily mass readings. This is the chapter of the Bread of Life discourse, the great Eucharistic teaching of Jesus. Today's reading is this:

The crowd said to Jesus: "What sign are you going to perform for us to see so that we can put faith in you? What is the 'work' you do? Our ancestors had manna to eat in the desert; according to Scripture, 'He gave them bread from the heavens to eat.'" Jesus said to them: "I solemnly assure you, it was not Moses who gave you bread from the heavens; it is my Father who gives you the real heavenly bread. God's bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." "Sir, give us this bread always," they besought him. Jesus explained to them: "I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall thirst again." (John 6:30-35)

Like the crowd, we beseech Jesus to give us life, to satisfy our hunger, to end our thirst. And he answers this prayer, in a way that is baffling to our senses and intellect, and challenging to our faith. But as Jesus told Pilate before his crucifixion: "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). So what he is telling us is the truth, however mysterious it is. And he was coming to this from the very beginning. The name "Bethlehem," where Jesus was born, means "House of bread." He was laid in a manger, where animals feed. He is truly the bread of life.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Father Victor Brown and the Importance of Eucharistic Adoration

I just read a very good blog entry by Father Victor Brown about the value of Eucharistic adoration. He is the chaplain to a monastery of contemplative nuns whose primary responsibility is Eucharistic adoration. To those who say, "What's the use of that?", Father Brown responds, "Questions like this betray a failure to understand the very nature of God and man and prayer." He concludes his entry with this wonderful analysis:

Have you ever wondered why the American government pays military personnel
to do nothing but stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington
National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.? Is that a waste of money, and the time
of the ceremonial guard? Those who see no reason for the contemplative life
would say YES! Those who understand adoration, tribute, and prayer say NO! These latter know perfectly well that no one in the world does things more “practical”
than our Sisters here, who sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him. Like
Saint Mary of Bethany, they have “chosen the better part, and it will not be
taken away from them.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you.

You can read Father Brown's entire blog entry here.

Thank you, Father Brown, for reminding us of the importance of these sisters. What a wonderful testimony to the value of such a vocation in particular, and vocations in general.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Different Kind of Reality TV

So-called "Reality TV" is the dominant format of television programming these days. These shows turned out to be relatively strike-proof during the recent TV writers' strike. They are relatively cheap to produce. They appeal to viewers' more voyeuristic interests. These shows range from the harmless to the repugnant.

However, there is a kind of Reality TV that is little known but holds the promise of great benefit for people. That Reality TV is the use of webcams (cameras which are linked to the Internet) to view the Blessed Sacrament in adoration remotely. It may seem rather odd at first, but if we reflect upon it, it makes sense. Through these Eucharistic webcams, we are still seeing Christ with our own eyes in real time; the only difference is that we are doing so from a distance. The effects of grace from Eucharistic adoration are not diminished because distance (even time) is nothing to God. In addition, the tradition of Spiritual Communion tells us that we can receive Jesus spiritually whether we are in the immediate proximity of the Blessed Sacrament or not.

I have found two Eucharistic webcams. One is at and the other is St. Martin of Tours, a parish in Louisville, Kentucky. I have just begun to explore the solace and spiritual enrichment of this form of Eucharistic adoration. I encourage others to try it.