Teaching the Real Presence Without Words

In this exceptionally insightful article, Liturgy Guy (Brian Williams) identifies the main cause for people leaving the Church: a lack of knowledge and/or understanding of the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. The awesome mystery of Transubstantiation – Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity present under the appearance of bread and wine – is no longer taught properly either at home, at school, or even in Catechism classes, often due to a lack of supporting externals. When this fundamental teaching of our Catholic Faith was safeguarded by a reverent Liturgy in the Holy Mass, with signs and gestures that upheld it, greater understanding then naturally followed on. Bishop Athanasius Schneider made an observation about joining kneeling and receiving Communion: “I’m kneeling now because here is Someone who is greater than I, even this little Host, and so I open my mouth like a little child to receive the Kingdom of God like a child — even more than the Kingdom of God, the Lord of the Kingdom of God.”



Most of the faithful are in agreement that we must do a better job teaching young Catholics about their faith. Recent studies have shown that many Catholics have already left the Church by the time they reach adulthood. What has also been discovered is that many never really understood the faith to begin with.

Nowhere may this be more evident than with the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. Quoting the Council of Trent, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation. (CCC 1376)

Few Catholics today would argue against the need to better catechize the young about the Real Presence. What too many fail to understand, however, is that good catechesis doesn’t always require words.

Just as the Mass itself is an action (the offering of the Holy Sacrifice on the altar) teaching the faithful about Our Eucharistic Lord is less about words, and more about actions. The picture at the top of this post demonstrates my point. What individual elements are we seeing that attest to the Real Presence?

  •  The young woman is kneeling to receive Holy Communion.
  •  She is veiling in the presence of the Eucharist.
  • Communion is being distributed on the tongue and from the consecrated hands of a priest.
  • The priest has his index finger and thumb pressed together on his other hand since they touched the host following consecration.
  • The altar server is holding a paten under the chin of the communicant “so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 93).

Everything captured in this photograph teaches us about the Real Presence; and without words. There are those in the Church today who view all of the afore mentioned elements as superfluous. Many have spent decades jettisoning them from the Catholic Liturgy. Thankfully they are all either common to, or required at, the Traditional Latin Mass.

Educators tell us that people learn through different means. While one person may be an auditory learner, another may be a visual learner, and yet a third might be a kinesthetic learner (by movement). Catholics benefit from all three.

And yet, through the removal of such traditional disciplines as those illustrated in the picture above, the liturgical minimalists have failed to fully catechize the faithful. They have also treated Our Eucharistic Lord as mere bread through their innovations and deprivations.

Indeed, the best catechesis seldom requires words.


In this interview with Fr Mitch Pacwa on EWTN (made nine years ago) Bishop Athanasius Schneider gives a beautiful testimony to the way we should receive Holy Communion:

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10 Responses to Teaching the Real Presence Without Words

  1. Mary Salmond says:

    The real Presence should be taught from birth to death as a constant reminder of the mystery. Our former priest taught it every Sunday in so many different ways and I really miss that. No matter what is taught in religious education classes, it will only stick if each child desires to remember what he or she is taught. If it is not relevant to their life and there is no desire, they tend to forget.


  2. mary salmond says:

    Bishop A.Schneider has given the most practical answers and reasons why there has been a diminishing returns of the reverence for the Holy Eucharist. His comparison of the how the Muslims reverence of the Quran and then how the Muslim saw a lack of reverence how Catholics receive Communion in the hand is a testament that Catholic have lost respect from all other religions. His meditation on the Eucharist, his articulation on the Presence, and his practical approach iare so different than what we see in the western culture from our bishops. His reference to the Eucharist as our Holy of Holies is outstanding and should be taught continuously. Bishop Sarah is probably as reverent about the same. So it is a wake up call to some of our US bishops that they have had too much administrative work rather than spiritual administration.


  3. kathleen says:

    Good points, Mary!
    Loss of Faith and a widespread lack of belief in the Real Presence has all come about because we have, in general, failed to safeguard the reverence and devotion surrounding the Holy Eucharist. All those seemingly unimportant signs and gestures, some that Liturgy Guy highlights above, are in fact of vital importance. Lex orandi, lex credendi, as we keep repeating here.


  4. Mary Salmond says:

    Now how can that be changed, Kathleen? By bishops? Priests? Or us who want to be faithful laity? It must start with bishops to actually take hold. Newer priests would love their local bishop to bring those reverences back. I’ve seen it with my own eyes: a very young priest using the corporal and pall, and that same priest is listed in the Catholic paper to speak about Fatima! Almost shocking! This has not been common since we moved into this diocese over 40 years ago. Go young priests!!!!!


  5. David O'Neill says:

    Agreeing most heartedly that Communion in the hand should be banned but, perhaps, from the Pope rather than individual bishops or priests. Not a great adherent to Pope Francis but whatever he says is usually reported &, therefore, if he were to promote Communion on the tongue as the norm people might listen. It would be so much against his ‘normal’ comments that notice would be guaranteed.


  6. kathleen says:

    Go young priests!!!!!

    Love it, Mary 😀! It’s my experience too, that young priests are often the more devout in their celebration of Holy Mass, more traditional, and orthodox, giving us much hope for the future of the Church.

    In answer to your first question, my opinion is that there is not a whole lot we, the laity, can do, but first and foremost we must do our utmost to remain faithful ourselves to the teachings of the true Catholic Church… not the counterfeit church the Modernists (clergy and laity) are trying to build. It’s not always easy, for we too are flawed by Original Sin, but giving faithful witness to Christ and His Church could produce more ‘good fruit’ than we could ever know this side of Heaven.
    As the title of this post infers: the best example given for others does not require words!

    Then those who are fortunate enough to have a good parish priest (and bishop in their Diocese) should request the TLM be celebrated in their parish. Where this takes place the transformation and growth in the faith among the congregation is usually staggering! Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2007 Motu Propio, Summorum Pontificum, has given us the possibility to ask our priests for this great blessing. At the same time, where there is no other alternative but the Novus Ordo Missae (which sadly is often the case) I would suggest seeking out a parish where it is celebrated with care and devotion. The NOM vary considerably from parish to parish, priest to priest. Some NOM are so dreadful, sometimes even bordering on the sacrilegious, that one could doubt their validity. Avoid them!, would be my advice.

    Another solution would be our duty to inform ourselves properly of the teachings of our Glorious Faith; its history, encyclicals, lives of saints, etc. It will increase our love for it, and give us the necessary answers when we need to defend our beliefs in hostile environments, or just when guiding our loved ones (eg., children, friends) helping to point them in the right direction.

    Last but not least, we must never let up on praying at all times, even (as St Tetesa of Avila once said) among the “pots and pans of the kitchen”… meaning, of course, when we go about our daily duties.


  7. Mary Salmond says:

    Good answers. Thanks. The closest traditional mass is 1 1/2 hours from our home; my husband wouldn’t do that, so I do the best I can at our parish. But I can do the other suggestions. Our current bishop is right of center but probably won’t make waves with what’s left of lingering liberals (who are fading in age).


  8. Thank you for sharing my article with your readers Kathleen, and for that wonderful clip of Bishop Schneider who I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with in October. A holy prelate and prophetic voice.


  9. JabbaPapa says:

    Meanwhile, we have Cardinal Parolin waffling about the “new paradigm” of Amoris Laetitia bringing “change” to the Church …


  10. Mary Salmond says:

    Nice reply! Very cool!


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