For Catholics in the past, the presence of Christ at Mass was seen as only being in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. With the fuller recovery of our tradition preceding and at Vatican II, we came to be aware of the other ways in which Christ is present with us in the course of the Mass.
In the Introduction to the Missal, we find the following words: “Christ is really present in the very assembly gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and indeed substantially and uninterruptedly under the Eucharistic species” (No.27).
This is an important and game-changing statement.
What does it mean to say that Christ is really present in the people gathered in his name? Christ has made us ‘his’. In our baptism, the priest said as he traced a cross on our foreheads: “I claim you for Christ by the sign of his cross”. And so we became a part of the People of Christ.
Christ already has his place in our lives and the command that he gives to us “Do this in memory of me” is a crucial element in our accepting to be ‘one of his own’. We respond to his call and command Sunday by Sunday as we make our way to the place where the disciples of Christ gather. We may have all sorts of reasons for going to Mass, but the real meaning of our being there is about our belonging to Christ – not just in terms of what we feel, but in terms of the influence of Christ within us.
We are there to testify to the faith we have in Jesus Christ. We are there to strengthen and encourage each other by the very fact that we are there. By that very fact we are saying I believe in Christ too. He gathers this group of people together by means of his influence on them. He is present to the whole community of faith by his inner influence on each of them. We need to remember that we are gathered together because of his influence within us all. And of course priests need the witness of that gathered community to make sense of what their role is within the community. If priests do not take that presence of Christ in his People seriously, it will have an adverse effect on their ministry and their personal spirituality.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin