'Especially' Present - 14th December 2014

I received this interesting response to my recent column in which I questioned whether the way we celebrate Mass demonstrates in action our belief that Christ is present in the people assembled, in the presider, and in the word of God proclaimed, as well as in the eucharistic elements:

“Liturgy Lines this week was on what, I would suggest, is a most important topic. My response to your question ‘Do we show the same honour and reverence for Christ present in the scriptures when they are read?’ would be ‘NO!’ From my experience many people give no more than lip service to the presence in the word, and that I feel is a great shame.

“I support whole heartedly all you wrote with one exception - your use of the words ‘and especially in the eucharistic elements’. I haven't checked - maybe you are just citing the liturgy documents.

This raises for me two concerns. It implies degrees of the presence of God. As I understand the presence of God, God is present; it is our perception that might have its shortcomings. Perception is my second concern - as long as we are going to imply degrees of presence, the concerns you raise will continue to exist.”

Here is my response:

Yes, I was quoting official documents when I used the word ‘especially’ in that context. Article 7 of the Constitution on the Liturgy states:

“To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations. He 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, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Mt 18:20)” (emphasis added).

Certainly, as you say, Christ's presence under the eucharistic species is not the only ‘real’ presence but at the same time it is unique. Christ becomes truly present in the assembly, the word, the meal, but these are different modalities of presence.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1374) states: “The mode of Christ’s presence under the eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend. In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained. This presence is called ‘real’ - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (emphasis added).

You may well be right in saying that the problem lies in the issue of perception which has its shortcomings. I think the real difficulty here is the impossibility of finding adequate words to describe something that is beyond human understanding and language.

Elizabeth Harrington