Christians’ beliefs about the Real Presence in this CARA report are surprising. 64% of all U.S. Christians believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Yes, you read that right: the vast majority of all U.S. Christians, almost 2/3 of them, Protestant and Catholic, believe in the Real Presence.
This is even more interesting: 100% of Roman Catholics hold an orthodox belief on the eucharist. Here is the question Pew asked: “Which of the following best describes the Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for communion? 1) The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. 2) The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Yes, 100% of Catholics chose either 1) or 2). And since both answers are orthodox, we hit 100%. Amazing.
Alas, the good folks at CARA and Pew offer another interpretation. They seem to think that only 1) is a correct answer. That answer was selected by 55% of U.S. Catholics. CARA quotes Pew: “More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ.” The key word “merely” comes from the Pew report, but was not in the question Pew asked people.
This data is fascinating, and we’re grateful to Pew and CARA for presenting it. But they’re stronger on sociology than they are on sacramental theology. If only everyone could get that symbols are real, and that the way Christ is really present is precisely by being symolized in bread and wine. Reality and symbols are not mutually exclusive!
You’re heard the old simplistic divide, Catholics=real, Protestants=symbol. Thankfully, good sacramental theology does much to overcome the divide. So, apparently, does the American populace in all its muddled and confused beliefs. That is very good news indeed.