Non-Belief In The Real Presence

My sister, who was basically a non-practicing Catholic recently returned to the church last year at my encouragement. She came over for Thanksgiving yesterday and we got into a discussion about the Eucharist. My sister surprised me when she said she had doubts about the Real Presence and that communion was basically symbolic (like the Protestants believe). Needless to say, I was shocked, so my question is, now that she goes to Mass every week which includes receiving communion, is she committing sin by receiving because she doesn’t believe in the Real Presence?


From the Catechism: Faith

2087 Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals his love to us. St. Paul speaks of the "obedience of faith"9 as our first obligation. He shows that “ignorance of God” is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations.10 Our duty toward God is to believe in him and to bear witness to him.

2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:

*] Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief.
*]Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity.
[INDENT]If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.

*]*Incredulity *is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it.
*]"*Heresy *is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same;
*]*apostasy *is the total repudiation of the Christian faith;
*]*schism *is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him."11

Yes and no. Yes she is committing sin called sacrilege but perhaps she is probably covered by “ignorance”. The 2 types of ignorance are explained here:

Perhaps we should just leave the judging to God and you should start praying for the Holy Spirit to remove the obstacles that are preventing her from believing this truth that Jesus is really present and ask the Holy Spirit to lead her to repentance and conversion.

You could buy her a great book that talks about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist called Jesus Shock by Peter Kreeft. Also you could forward this link to her about the Real Presence and some of the miracles attributed to His Real Presence:

I will also pray for her conversion. And also I too know many “Catholics” who don’t believe this also and still receive and also “Catholics” who invite non-Catholics and X-Catholics to come to Mass and have witnessed them explaining what to do when going up to receive communion – There are many Catholics who shouldn’t be receiving - They are under the impression that the Church no longer has “closed communion”. I was even told once by a Eucharistic Minister that its ok if non-Catholics come up and receive if they believe in the Real Presence. ?

People who are really that ignorant are not going to listen to you - so our weapon of warfare is not our words but prayer - combined with fasting - sitting in Adoration and offering up your time to pray with your heart for God to open their hearts and minds so that when He Reveals Himself to them – the scales will fall from their eyes.
Peace 2 U.

Having doubt is not the same as not believing or rejecting something.

Many people struggle with many of the Church’s teachings. The “dividing line” between doubt and non-belief is the action the person takes with respect to that struggle. If the person is open and honestly trying to learn more about the Church’s teaching so they can better their understanding and (hopefully) resolve hesitation or doubt, this is very different from the person who has closed their mind to the issue and refuses to listen to or seek additional clarification and information on the Church’s teaching on a subject.

I would suggest your sister discuss her situation with her pastor or another priest and follow the advice he gives.

A wise post.

If she were my sister, I would explain to her that the church teaches that it is his real flesh and blood that we receive. Then read and explain Jn 6 to her. Then read Mathew where the last supper account is, and go to the words of Jesus, “this IS my body” and “this IS my blood”.

Why would he only give us kitchen bread to eat because there is nothing special about that. We might as well stay home and have our bread toasted.

And I would say that the church asks us out of respect for his real body and blood not to receive if we cannot tell the difference between kitchen bread and this bread that has been changed into his body.

Just try and work with her. She sounds innocent enough but needs instruction on the center of our faith.

If she had a first holy communion as a little girl, you might bring this up to call her attention to her belief in the real presence, and all the ceremony that made it so nice. This might break the ice.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

I was stunned when my wife said the same thing. Be for i had the talk with her i found only about 20-30% of practicing American Catholics believe in the Real Presence. Mostly due to poor Catechism.

Restoring faith in our Eucharistic Lord on the altar was one of the chief tasks of St. Francis of Assisi in rebuilding the Church. And it’s the chief cause of all the other ills in the Church now. As Flannery O’Connor wrote in one of her letters, “If it’s only I symbol then I say the **** with it.” If the Host is a symbol then it follows that Jesus, far from being True God and True Man, is Himself only a symbol of God not God Himself, not the third Person of the Holy Trinity.

There is no saint that ever the Eucharist was symbolic; perhaps passages demonstrating the belief of contemporary saints & blesseds might be a help in this.

Your sister is now in heresy, outside the Church and committing sacrilege. Instruct her to get to confession ASAP.

Posted from App for Android

Thank you all for you advise. I will sit down and have a heart to heart talk with my sister about this. As I said, I was stunned when she first told me this as I had no idea she felt that way. I hope and pray that I can change her mind.


Every fulfillment Jesus effected was greater than the sign that pointed to it. In Jn 6 Jesus points back to the manna in the desert. He then says He is the true bread come down from heaven. How can the ordinary bread one eats at mass (if there is no true presence) be a greater miracle than being fed every day for 40 years by bread appearing in the morning each day (except the Sabbath).

The daily bread we receive is in the Eucharist. It is either ordinary bread, and Jesus was pulling our leg in Jn 6 and at the last supper (such a trickster) or He was the Son of God, telling us the truth.

Disbelief is not inherently sinful. PLEASE disregard other posts by people who frankly don’t have the first idea what they’re talking about, and are handing out false and destructive advice.

Would your sister PREFER to believe, but cannot bring herself to believe? That’s not a sin. Sin requires an freewill act. We cannot “will” ourselves to believe anything. We can refuse to believe (which could be sinful), but we cannot compel ourselves to believe anything. I don’t sense that your sister is obstinately refusing to believe anything, so she is not sinning - not even venially. Zero sin.

A person may remain a faithful Catholic and disbelieve (not just doubt, but disbelieve) even in God (which means disbelief in EVERYTHING that the Church teaches). Even Saints have had such struggles (Mother Theresa struggled with this, as did St. Theresa of Avila). It’s called a crisis of Faith, and it’s not sinful, provided:
*]The person realizes that the disbelief is a personal flaw that should be corrected
*]The person makes an ongoing, diligent and good-faith effort to correct his/her disbelief
*]The person does not teach the disbelief as an alternative to Catholic doctrine

It is absolutely NOT a sacrilege for her to receive Eucharist under such circumstances. In fact, it is a small act of Faith. If she truly rejected Eucharist, would she participate? I wouldn’t. In fact, by not receiving, her actions could be perceived as a violation of the third condition I mentioned. By refusing to receive, she could be teaching (by her actions) that Eucharist was false. Anyone who knew of her doubts would surely perceive her refusal to receive as an expression of those doubts - and, now, she’s “teaching” her doubts. If she truly meets the first condition, she MUST receive (assuming she is not guilty of some unrelated mortal sin). Well, maybe “must” is too strong a word - we are never required to receive at any particular Mass, but she ought to receive if she is eligible, regardless of her doubts.

When she was a non practicing Catholic, did she attend protestant services, or was she taught by protestants in that time away?

I’m confused. You say she has doubts about the Real Presence but then you say she doesn’t believe in the Real Presence. These are two different things. Which is it? Doubts can be removed by the teaching being explained and that is not sinful. On the other hand if she actually rejects and does not believe in the Real Presence then that is heresy.

Thank you DavidFilmer.

OP, If your sister refuses to believe that is one thing, but unbelief itself is a human weakness and not a sin. Wanting to believe but being unable to is actually a form of suffering.

When I find myself doubting or not being conscious of the Real Presence, I find it very helpful to pray the words of the father whose son had an unclean spirit, “I believe Lord, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). Jesus healed his son even though the man had just admitted he doubted!

No, she didn’t attend any protestant services that I am aware of, she just didn’t go to Mass at all.

I thought they were the same thing, just different terminology. For example, if someone says, “I doubt that person said that”, are you not using doubt but also not believing what that person said.

Knowing her and what she would respond to, how do you think the following would go over with her?

*]Where the necessity of going to mass is in scripture, and the consequences for deliberately missing mass on Sunday. #4
*]As Our Lord said so passionately in clear teaching on the Eucharist [/FONT]John 6:51-58

No. They are different. Having doubts about a teaching is not the same as rejection of that teaching.

Hi Mark,
Maybe she would respond to the “original” protestant position on the real presence:

"Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.

Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous." - Martin Luther


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit