LITURGY MATTERS: Christ is present

Principles shaping and critiquing our celebration of Catholic liturgy.

On April 30 I began a series on Liturgical Principles with a reflection on the Paschal Mystery as the proclamation and content of every liturgical celebration. Today we continue that series focusing on a second principle: Christ is always present in the Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations through the power of the Spirit. (CSL n. 6, 7) 

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL) says this about Christ’s presence:

To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross" (20), but especially under the eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes (21). 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" (Matt. 18:20). a. 7 cf. ‘General Instruction of the Roman Missal’ (GIRM) a. 27 (emphasis mine).

We could summarise it by saying Christ is present in the Assembly which gathers to worship, the minister who presides, the word proclaimed, the sacrament we celebrate and ‘substantially and uninterruptedly under the Eucharistic species’. (GIRM a.27)

Whenever the Liturgy Council and I run formation, this principle can blow people’s minds. It leads them into a deeper appreciation of the liturgy and it changes the way they participate. People are also challenged by it because it invites us to move beyond a more limited understanding of Christ’s presence in the liturgy.

This principle invites us to reflect on our awareness of the multiple modes of Christ’s presence in the liturgy and the degree to which we engage with all of them. Christ’s presence is a dynamic, active presence, not primarily a static, objective presence.

  • In the gathering of the Assembly Christ is present calling us together, unifying us in all our glorious difference.
  • In the person of the minister Christ is present leading us.
  • In the word proclaimed Christ is present speaking to us.
  • In the eucharist Christ is present in the four-fold Eucharistic dying and rising action: take, bless, break, give.

Christ’s presence is a paschal, dying-rising presence. Christ is always calling us to conversion – to let go of what blocks the work of God’s love in our lives and to live in communion with God every day. Appreciating this leads me to ask many things, including:

  • Am I aware of Christ present in my brothers and sisters? Am I willing to let go of my private mode of presence and respond to Christ’s invitation to gather as one worshiping community, the Body of Christ?
  • Am I as attentive to Christ speaking to me in the readings as I am to his presence in the Eucharistic species? It is not an accident that the readings finish with ‘The word of the Lord’ and ‘The Gospel of the Lord.’ These statements of belief mirror what is said to us at communion, ‘The Body of Christ’ and ‘The Blood of Christ’. This is intentional, as is the practice of placing the Book of the Gospels on the altar from the beginning of Mass.  Word and Sacrament.
  • Am I attentive to the four-fold Eucharistic action where we are invited to join ourselves to Christ’s offering so that we are taken by God, blessed by God, broken open and poured out and then given for the life of the world. Am I aware that when I receive communion, my ‘Amen’ proclaims my commitment to living as the Body of Christ every day, shaped by the living Word of God that cuts to the core like a double edged sword? We receive in communion what we have become in the liturgy.

I don’t know about you, but my awareness of the Spirit-enabled enormity of Christ’s presence in the liturgy is often less than it could be. Imagine who we might become together and be together in this Hunter – Manning – Newcastle area if we were totally open to the presence of Christ in the liturgy! For this gift I pray.

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.