At the close of the last essay on the Liturgy, I spoke about the Real Presence as a marvelous and challenging doctrine of the Church. We need at this point to say that the Real Presence does not mean that Christ is present in an unreal way when we are at home or in the privacy of our room when we pray to Christ. He is still with us and this is a form of presence; but there are degrees of presence even in our dealing with other human beings.
We can be present to a loved one by a letter or email, or we can be present to someone else through Skype and the telephone. Each form of presence evokes the person in a different and more compelling way. In the voice on the telephone or through Skype, we can discern and appreciate much more as we listen to the intonation and the particular emphasis that the speaker gives.
Likewise with the Lord Jesus there are different degrees of His presence to us. What the Church means when she says that Jesus is present in a ‘real’ way in the Eucharist is that by analogy, we are face to face with him not only in His divinity but also in His humanity. Of course, this is all through faith as any of the presences of God are communicated. Unlike our dealings with each other, there is no sense-communication unless we are given the very rare benefit of a vision of Christ Himself.
So there can be an intensification of presence as we go from the presence of Christ in our mind and in our room; to the presence of Christ in His word; to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the Tabernacle; to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist when exposed for adoration; and finally to the closest presence: when we receive Him in Holy Communion. There is a gradual unfolding of the mystery of His Presence as we move to the full communion of merging our body and soul into His.
After the consecration, a new reality is being proclaimed which is at once beyond all experience and at the same time united to our lives. This is sort of ratified at the Great Amen when the community approves and declares its faith, “Through Him and with Him and in Him…” What follows is the marvelous prayer that Jesus taught his followers (The Our Father) and from there we move toward that Holy Communion which is the grand climax of the Eucharist.
But before we can receive the Holy One, we must follow the words of the Lord and make sure we are at peace with others. This greeting of peace is meant to be symbolic. Often, people think this is the time to shake everyone’s hands in the congregation, thus interrupting the Divine Liturgy; this is a misuse of the rite. In greeting the people next to us, we are going out of ourselves; and in the other person near us, we not only greet him or her, but who they symbolize: all the people of the world, especially those I have problems with! It is not necessary to greet everyone. This can be done at the end of Mass in the lobby of the Church or in the gathering space outside of the main building. The greeting of peace is a symbol of making peace with the world so that I can receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without a hypocritical two-facedness that the Lord so rightly condemns.
We can then process to the altar (not ‘get on line’!) to be united to our Lord and Savior and through Him to participate in the Holy Communion with all of our brothers and sisters. In our union with the ‘real’ Jesus, we are also united with everyone on earth that receives the one Lord. We are also united with all the blessed ones (like family members and friends) who, having left this earthly life, are in the presence of the same Jesus we have just received!
One can clearly see that hidden in a simple moment of receiving what looks like a wafer and what looks like wine, we are plunging into a Mystery so great that many saints have said that this vision would cause our death since we cannot “see the living God and live”.
With Jesus united to us, we hear, after meditation in silence and the closing prayer, the words, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We are literally sent out like Jesus sent out the Apostles to preach the Kingdom of God and to make the world a better place.
Suggested Resolution: As I leave Mass, I will try and think of someone that I can help so as to bring God’s reign closer and make it more real in this world.