The Holy Eucharist and the Hint of an Explanation

The English author and convert to Catholicism Graham Greene once penned a short story entitled “The Hint of an Explanation,” which is well worth the read, not least of all for Graham’s prose and haunting slow-burn of a narrative. The story tells of a young altar server who dutifully attends his priest at Sunday Mass and regularly receives Holy Communion. “I hated it,” the boy recounts of putting on his surplice in a Catholic church, instead of the nearby Anglican church, which he says he considered the “proper” church. Gradually and somewhat reluctantly, the boy is befriended by one of the town’s two bakers, known as Blacker.

“He was hemmed in by his hatred — his hatred of us,” the boy recalls. “That poor man was preparing to revenge himself on everything he hated — my father, the Catholics, the God whom people persisted in crediting.” Blacker seemingly manufactures encounters with the boy and, aware that the child serves at Mass, eventually offers him a magnificent toy train set in exchange for a consecrated Communion host. “It may seem odd to you, but this was the first time that the idea of transsubstantiation really lodged in my mind. I had learned it all by rote; I had grown up with the idea,” the boy narrates. “[B]ut here suddenly I was in the presence of a man who took it seriously, as seriously as the priest whom naturally one didn’t count — it was his job. I felt more scared than ever.” To find how the story ends, you’ll have to read it yourself.

It is perhaps excusable for a child not to think too deeplTy on the doctrine of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, especially if his head is filled with visions of electric train sets and terrors of secretive bakers. But the initial thoughtless apathy of the boy in the story has, sadly, essentially become the norm for adult Catholics. A 2019 survey from the Pew Research Center found that only 31 percent of American Catholics really believe that, as the Church teaches, “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.” According to a more recent study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, only about 35 percent of American Catholics believe in the True Presence. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the present age, nearly 10 percent of American Catholics noted that they are familiar with the Church’s doctrinal teachings on the True Presence but choose to reject them.

Continue reading at the American Spectator