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Christ's Presence in the Liturgy
CHRIST’S PRESENCE IN THE LITURGY
One of the central principles expressed in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy issued in 1963 concerns the presence of Christ in liturgy:
Christ is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, but especially under the eucharistic elements. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them". (CSL #7)
Forty-five years on, does our celebration of Mass demonstrate that Christ is present in these four ways?
During the eucharistic prayer people give their attention to the words prayed on their behalf by the presider. We sing the responses (memorial acclamation, great amen) because this is a high point in the celebration. The sacred elements are handled with care and respect by the ministers of communion and by all the faithful. The vessels are crafted from materials that are solid and noble. Everything speaks of honour and reverence for Christ present in the consecrated bread and wine.
Do we show the same honour and reverence for Christ present in the scriptures when they are read? If we really believe that it is Christ himself who speaks when the word is proclaimed, we must give our full attention to this part of the liturgy too. A sermon given by Caesarus, Archbishop of Arles, early in the 6th century could as easily be addressed to us today:
I have a question for you, brothers and sisters. Which do you think more important – the word of God or the body of Christ? If you want to answer correctly, you must tell me that the word of God is no less important than the body of Christ! How careful are we, when the body of Christ is distributed to us, not to let any bit of it fall to the ground from our hand! But we should be just as careful not to let slip from our hearts the word of God that is addressed to us, by thinking or speaking of something else.
And what of Christ present in those with whom we worship, the Body of Christ? Do we treat them too with respect and reverence? Hospitality is everyone’s ministry, not just the role of the greeters. We all need to be “present” to those with whom we worship – to acknowledge their presence, to share the sign of peace graciously, to sit with the rest of the community and not on our own at the back, to join wholeheartedly in the responses, gestures and singing of the celebration.
Actions speak louder than words. 'Lex orandi, lex credendi': the law of prayer is the law of belief. It should be clear in what we do and how we do it that we truly believe that Christ is present, not only in the sacred elements but also in the assembly, in the word and in the priest presider, when we worship together.