We do not live in a world where people, even many Christian people, have a sense of the transcendent power of God and of God’s intimate, but non-competitive, relationship with creation.
The doctrine of real presence is not the only thing affected by this. We can easily imagine disappointing results on similar survey questions asking things like: Do Catholics believe Jesus is God or a great human teacher?; Do Catholics believe in creation or evolution?; Do Catholics believe in God’s providence or in free will?; Is Scripture is the infallible word of God or a culturally conditioned artifact (instructive, it is implied, but not authoritative)?; and, Is contraception wrong? (This latter fits the pattern because the question in the background of it, and of any similar ethical question, is something like: “Is morality derived from the nature of things as given by their creator or determined by Church authority?). Every one of these is, at root, a false dichotomy that is posited because God is imagined to be in competition with creation.
Transubstantiation is not, then, one disconnected and esoteric doctrine that a Catholic can take or leave. It is an articulation of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist seeking understanding in the theological context of a deep appreciation of the relationship between God and creation. To affirm it is to affirm something foundational to the whole Christian worldview. Not to put too fine a point on it: it affirms that God is God and creation is creation.
O salutaris Hostia,
Quae caeli pandis ostium.