This answer to the question "Is it still prevalent among Roman Catholics to believe that Christ's physical body is present in the Eucharist?" indicates that, according to a 2019 Pew Research survey, as many as 2/3 of self-described Roman Catholics in the U.S. believe that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are merely symbolic of the body and blood of Christ.

majorities in every age group (including 61% of those age 60 and over) believe that the bread and wine are symbols, not the actual body and blood of Christ.

In other words, only 1/3 of those in the U.S. who claimed Roman Catholicism in 2019 believed in transubstantiation (that the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ). It is assumed in this question that the current numbers somewhat similar.

a new Pew Research Center survey finds that most self-described Catholics don’t believe this core teaching (bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ). In fact, nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) say they believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.”

Do self-professed Roman Catholics who disbelieve transubstantiation actually receive the Eucharist when they participate in communion? What I mean is, does the faith of the individual play any role in the proper reception of the Eucharist or is the actual body and blood of Christ consumed regardless of the individual's personal belief?

Another way of asking this question (for clarity) is: When a Roman Catholic who disbelieves transubstantiation receives the Eucharist is it mere bread and wine that is consumed? Is there any benefit or detriment to receiving the Eucharist in disbelief?

3 Answers 3


Does a Roman Catholic need to believe in transubstantiation in order to effectively receive the Eucharistic sacrament?

First of all, the doctrine of transubstantiation is an undeniable article of Catholic dogma and as such Catholic are obliged to accept this as an part of the Catholic faith.

In spite of the similarity of terms, it is necessary to affirm that, in referring to the Eucharist, the Church does not use the terms substance and accident in their philosophical contexts but in the common and ordinary sense in which they were first used many centuries ago. The dogma of transubstantiation does not embrace any philosophical theory in particular.

Indeed, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) did not use the word accident but “species” (appearances) when referring to the Eucharistic change. Substance is the basic reality of bread as opposed to the appearances. Trent’s doctrine is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in No. 1376:

“The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: ‘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.'” - On Transubstantiation

Transubstantiation is not a philosophical definition or explication of the Eucharist. The act of transubstantiation is a theological reality. This dogma is generally explained through the philosophical terms defined as species and accidentals (as well as others) to aid in the understanding of the dogma of transubstantiation.

Here is what the Council of Trent teaches:

In 1551, the Council of Trent declared that the doctrine of transubstantiation is a dogma of faith and stated 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." In its 13th session ending 11 October 1551, the Council defined transubstantiation as "that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood – the species only of the bread and wine remaining – which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation". This council officially approved use of the term "transubstantiation" to express the Catholic Church's teaching on the subject of the conversion of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, with the aim of safeguarding Christ's presence as a literal truth, while emphasizing the fact that there is no change in the empirical appearances of the bread and wine. It did not however impose the Aristotelian theory of substance and accidents: it spoke only of the species (the appearances), not the philosophical term "accidents", and the word "substance" was in ecclesiastical use for many centuries before Aristotelian philosophy was adopted in the West,[58] as shown for instance by its use in the Nicene Creed which speaks of Christ having the same "οὐσία" (Greek) or "substantia" (Latin) as the Father. - Transubstantiation

It is equally important to understand that the amount of supernatural graces given to the faithful will correspond to how souls are supernaturally disposed to recovering the Holy Eucharist.

A soul well prepared and in the state of grace will receive a great amount of divine graces into their souls at the moment of Holy Communion.

A soul less well disposed to the reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion will naturally receive less graces from Our Lord.

For souls that deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist may receive far less graces for God at the moment of Holy Communion than those well disposed to do so.

Souls in the state of mortal sin must refrain completely from going to Holy Communion and actually commit another mortal sins if they receive Holy Communion if they knowingly do so knowing that they are in the state of mortal sin.

More may be gleaned from the following sources:

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    So if a self-professed Roman Catholic disbelieves in transubstantiation, as the pew survey details, and instead believes the bread and wine are mere memorials, is that person actually even a Roman Catholic since they are disbelieving a dogma about the Eucharist that they are receiving? Commented Apr 12 at 21:37
  • 1
    @MikeBorden Please stay in line with the subject matter of the question?
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Apr 12 at 21:51
  • Is the answer to "Does a Roman Catholic need to believe in transubstantiation in order to effectively receive the Eucharistic sacrament?" yes one must believe, since the soul of a person who disbelieves transubstantiation is not disposed at all to receive any graces? Or is the answer that it is better to believe since belief in transubstantiation disposes one to receive graces far more effectively than the memorialist view? Commented Apr 14 at 12:48
  • Thanks @KenGraham, this has all the nuance I tried to give, but I clearly failed :) We do not believe differently
    – ABM K
    Commented Apr 14 at 15:10
  • I think there's some other common word in the definition that's being completely twisted around. The words make sense together but it's a complete non-merge. Something is so not true that it's impossible to believe the catholic priest believes the words in the ordinary sense.
    – Joshua
    Commented Apr 16 at 17:17

Maybe as an outsider I can offer another perspective. Raised in a Protestant denomination believing in Christ's presence in the sacrament but not partaking Christ's body with the mouth but as spiritual eating, we are required to believe Christ's real spiritual presence so that the sacrament has efficacy as a means of grace. I'm not sure what our Baptist brethren (who holds the symbolic / memorialist view) teach regarding Christ's presence, but our denomination teaches that those 3 elements are necessary to be believed and that 100% memorialist view is contrary to our instinct.

On one recent visit to a Catholic mass in a new parish I haven't visited before, I was delighted when the priest REBUKES the 40-50% of the congregation who did not say "Amen" aloud when he said "The Body of Christ" as he holds the consecrated host at the eye level of the partaker prior to giving the host to him/her. He was so strong in his rebuke (which lasted at least a full 2 minute) saying that even in a regular conversation one doesn't mumble a response and that he will NOT give the host next time if he cannot hear the "Amen". I was delighted because this priest is serious that the consecrated host signifies what the liturgy says as the real "Body of Christ".

Now Protestants disagree that the act of consecration IS the mechanism (ex opere operato) by which Christ becomes truly present in the host, explained as even MORE real (i.e. materially) than the Calvinist understanding, but we of course share with Catholics that the right disposition to receive Christ requires these subjective beliefs (i.e. having faith in Christ as feeding us) to be held for receiving the spiritual benefits, while allowing that in addition Catholicism ALSO teaches the objective reality of consuming Christ's body materially.

I think the Pew research is INSUFFICIENT to establish the right mindset of the Catholics in question. The more important survey questions that should be asked are whether those Catholics believe at least one of the following when consuming the consecrated host:

  1. The Catholic has made Jesus the Lord and Savior of their life, thus having faith in Christ (in the same meaning as a Protestant)
  2. The Catholic (as belonging to the spiritual Body of Christ) becomes materially united with Christ's own Body
  3. The Catholic is being fed by Christ as a means of grace
  4. The Catholic sees himself/herself as partaking in the single sacrifice at the cross that continues to be present in the Eucharist today (see the handout of the lecture Entering into Christ's Passion: The Mass as a Sacrifice)

If those Catholics said they hold the symbolic / "memorialist" but ALSO hold to any of the above 4 beliefs, then it's a matter of their confusion of what really transpires in the act of consecration, i.e. a defect in belief rather than intention. Not being able to offer a Catholic citation, I think the Catholic church will say that there is STILL benefit, not detriment, nor disrespect that St. Paul talks about in 1 Cor 11:29. Similarly, if a Baptist believes both the symbolic view and spiritual eating as we do, we also do not censure those Baptists as much.

In this way, I agree with @ABMK's answer that the dogma is the what, not the how. I also agree that in the ensuing comments, the intra-Catholic debate is not whether a Catholic can have a "memorialist" view (the answer is a clear NO, shared also by my childhood Protestant denomination) but more to what is precisely the dogma, i.e. whether the "how" as officially articulated in the doctrine of Transubstantiation (whether using Aristotelian terms or not) is included in the dogma. But then, how many Catholics truly understand the ramifications a pure 100% memorialist view (Zwinglian) which I don't think most of our Baptist brethern believe?



Transsubstantiation isn't dogma by the way. It is only an acceptable way to think about what happens. What is dogma is not the how, but the what: bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The sacraments are "ex opere operato", in short, they are what they are because of what is done. The right words, the right rituals. They are not what they are because of the person of the minister. And most certainly they are not what they are as a result of the believes of the one receiving the sacrament.

That doesn't mean it is a very good idea to receive the Body of Christ without believing you do. Saint Paul writes about this in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 11):

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.

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    I think this is correct, but Protestant might not get the nuance. You do have to believe that Jesus Christ is fully present in the Eucharist regardless of your capacity to grasp the difference between essences and accidents.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 11 at 13:16
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    Yes, but your believe does not change the matter of the Body of Christ. Even if you do not believe it is anything but bread, it still is not bread, but His Body.
    – ABM K
    Commented Apr 11 at 13:25
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    "Transsubstantiation isn't dogma by the way." You sure about that? Ludwig Ott states under "Dogma and Concept of Transubstantiation" "Christ becomes present in the Sacrament of the Altar by the transformation of the whole substance of the bread into His Body and of the whole substance of the wine into His Blood. (De fide.)" archive.org/details/fundamentals-of-catholic-dogma-pdfdrive/… p.379
    – eques
    Commented Apr 11 at 17:15
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    Transubstantiation is clearly a Catholic dogma. The dogma of transubstantiation does not embrace any philosophical theory.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Apr 11 at 22:23
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    Man, I think we've got a real question here. @ken I know where ABM's coming from - now I'm not sure if it's a newfangled heresy or not, but I've had to have heard this statement - that transubstantiation is a philosophical explanation - from two or three prominent apologists in the last few months.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Apr 12 at 12:56

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