New study suggests more than two-thirds of Catholics believe the Eucharist is truly Jesus

Archbishop Samuel Aquila Archbishop Samuel Aquila carries the Eucharist out of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver on June 9, 2024. | Credit: Kate Quiñones/CNA

A new study has found that 69% of Mass-going Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist — a result that calls into question the accuracy of a bombshell 2019 study from Pew Research Center, which found that only a third of Catholics believe in this core tenet of the faith. 

Vinea Research, a Catholic firm that conducted the new survey in late 2022, says the survey language it used, which was different from Pew’s, produced a figure that “more accurately represents how Catholics understand the Eucharist.”

“[U]sing language more commonly understood by Catholics, Vinea’s research indicates that many more Catholics than originally thought have an authentic understanding of the core Catholic teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” the group said in a press release. 

The 2019 Pew study was widely cited as a catalyst for the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, an initiative of the U.S. bishops beginning in 2022 to spread and deepen devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. The revival will culminate with the National Eucharistic Congress, a major gathering in Indianapolis from July 17–21. 

As part of the 2022 survey, Vinea sampled 2,200 people, giving half of the respondents the original Pew wording and the other half questions the group revised to better reflect Catholic language. (The Vinea study was done independently, said Hans Plate, founder of Vinea Research, with no involvement or sponsorship by the U.S. bishops or the Eucharistic Revival.) 

The Pew study asked respondents what they think the Church teaches about the Eucharist and also what they personally believe, using the same question for both: 

“During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine… 

a. Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ 

b. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ”

Vinea’s revised questions, taking into account the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Jesus as “truly present” in the Eucharist, read as follows:

  1. Which of the following best describes Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion? 

    a. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist 

    b. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not truly present 

    c. Not sure 

  2. Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion? 

    a. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist 

    b. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not truly present

Plate told CNA that among their respondents who got the original Pew questions, 41% expressed belief in the Real Presence — slightly higher, but not dissimilar, to Pew’s result. However, among those who got the revised questions, 69% overall expressed belief. 

“I don’t want to compare my study to Pew’s study, but I am comparing Pew’s language to more Catholic-accurate language … wording matters significantly,” he said. 

Plate also noted that the level of belief in the Real Presence varied considerably by self-reported Mass attendance.

Among those Catholics who say they “seldom” attend Mass, only 51% expressed belief in the Real Presence. By contrast, 81% of Catholics who attend weekly and 92% who attend more than weekly said they believe. Even among Catholics who only attend a few times a year, nearly two-thirds said they believe in the Real Presence.

This study is not the first to attempt to revise the questions posed by Pew to get more a more accurate sense of Eucharistic belief; in 2023, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University conducted a study tweaking the wording of the questions and found that 64% of those surveyed “provided responses that indicate they believe in the Real Presence.” That study also found that 95% of weekly Mass attendees and 80% who attend at least once a month believe in the Real Presence.

Plate was quick to point out that Vinea’s study does not in any way refute the need for a national “Eucharistic revival.” In addition to the still-sizable portion of Catholics who don’t believe in the Real Presence, he noted that their study uncovered a Catholic population that rarely attends Mass yet believes Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. 

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“That’s something that, I think, can be nurtured with a lot of the things that the Eucharistic Congress and Revival are doing,” he said. 

“That’s where the revival and further catechesis on the Eucharist is really important, to get them to want to know and love the Eucharist, and want it for themselves.”

In addition, Plate said a large majority of Catholics in the survey — 88% — who were aware of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist also said that is what they themselves believe. 

“What this tells me is that for the ‘symbol only’ people, it’s less about rejecting Church teaching and more about being misinformed,” he explained. 

“I’m drawing a conclusion on the basis of just two questions, but that seems to me to be a reasonable hypothesis that could be explored in future Eucharistic-centered research.”

Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, told CNA that they are “grateful to Vinea for this research, which shows the reality of Catholics in the pews with greater precision.”

“Catholics do love and believe in the Real Presence and are coming out in droves to encounter Our Lord in the Eucharist as he passes through the country along the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes,” he said in an email to CNA. 

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“Though a larger number believe in the Real Presence than previously thought, the Church is still far from 100% of Mass-going Catholics holding that core belief,” Glemkowski noted. 

“In response to this, the National Eucharistic Congress has been preparing for the last two years to prepare disciples to go out and share the good news of our Eucharistic Christ with the world. This will continue to be the core mission of the National Eucharistic Congress organization as we complete the revival and go forward from there.”

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