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The Roman Catholic Doctrine of the Real Presence

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Franciscus in 2015.
Franciscus in 2015.
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 3, 2020: The distinguished American Catholic journalist Dr. Peter Steinfels (born in 1941), a past editor of the lay Catholic magazine of opinion about religion, politics, and culture Commonweal, a former religion writer for the New York Times, and the author, most recently, of the book A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), has published a new article in the February 2020 Commonweal about the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus the Messiah who is also God (in the church's trinitarian theology) in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at Mass (also known as Holy Communion): "More than a Symbol: Should liberal Catholics be alarmed at evidence that belief in the Real Presence is declining?":

Dr. Steinfels says, "Last summer, the Pew Research Center announced with some fanfare that a recent survey of Americans' religious knowledge showed that only 31 percent of self-identified Catholics believe that at Mass the bread and wine 'actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.' By contrast, 69 percent told the Pew pollsters that the bread and wine are 'symbols' of Christ's body and blood. Weekly Mass-goers were the only group of Catholics in which a majority (63 percent) chose 'actually become' rather than 'symbols.'"

Later in his article, Dr. Steinfels says in parentheses, "(It should be interjected here that, to my knowledge, we have no measures of ordinary Catholics' belief about Real Presence before, say, World War II. It is simply assumed that everyone knew and held what the church teaches.)"

Later is his article, Dr. Steinfels notes briefly that in medieval times ordinary Catholics did not usually receive Communion at Mass. So when and how did the church's current doctrine of the Real Presence come to be articulated and then officially endorsed by church authorities?

Now, in my estimate, the estimable Dr. Steinfels tends to be to the right of the doctrinally conservative Pope Francis but to the left of the alarmist paleo-conservative American Catholic pundit Patrick J. Buchanan (born in 1938). In general, conservative American Catholics tend to be alarmists about a variety of things.

For my assessment of doctrinally conservative Pope Francis, see my OEN article "Pope Francis on Evil and Satan" (dated March 24, 2019):

However, because the Roman Catholic Church is widely known in the United States for certain conservative teachings regarding abortion and artificial contraception and other matters regarding sex, I should also point out here that the church's social teachings tend to be to the left of many American liberals and progressives. Of course, the church's social teachings are not Marxist, to spell out the obvious. Rather, the church's social teachings are rooted in Roman Catholic theology. Consequently, perhaps the church's social teachings would strike many Americans as utopian.

In any event, Pope Francis' 2015 eco-encyclical was widely read. Howoever, it did not galvanize effective action to counter climate change.

Now, if Pope Francis has explicitly discussed the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence in Holy Communion in detail, I have not seen it.

Now, my favorite scholar is the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) in English at Saint Louis University (SLU), the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri. Over the years, I took five courses from Ong at SLU.

Later, I published a book about his life and work, Walter Ong's Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication, 2nd ed. (New York: Hampton Press, 2015; 1st ed., 2000).

More recently, I published "A Concise Guide to Five Themes in Walter J. Ong's Thought and Selected Related Works" online through the University of Minnesota's digital conservancy:

For a bibliography of Ong's 400 or so publications that includes bibliographic information about translations and reprintings, see Thomas M. Walsh's "Walter J. Ong, S.J.: A Bibliography 1929-2006" in the book Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J., edited by Sara van den Berg and Thomas M. Walsh (New York: Hampton Press, 2011, pages 185-245).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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