The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council encourages us to look for, acknowledge, and honor four manifestations of the Presence of Jesus when we come to church for Mass: From that time onward (see Acts 2:41-47) the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the Paschal mystery: reading those things “which were in all the Scriptures concerning him” (Lk 24:27); celebrating the Eucharist, in which “the victory and triumph of his death are again made present” (Council of Trent); and at the same time giving thanks “to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Cor 9:15) in Christ Jesus, “in praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12) through the power of the Holy Spirit. 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,
- 1a. Not only in the person of his minister, “the same now, offering through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross.” (Council of Trent, Decree on the Mass)
- 2. But especially under the Eucharistic elements
- 1b. By his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes (St. Augustine)
- 3. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the church
- 4. He is present, lastly, when the church prays and sings, for he promised: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt. 18:20) [Coonstitution on the Sacred Liturgy, ch.1, no.6-7]
Entering the Church as Sacred Space
According to the universal teaching and accepted practice of the Catholic Church, upon entering the Church, genuflect or bow. (The bow is permitted when the tabernacle is placed in a separate chapel. The genuflection is also permitted when the Sanctuary Lamp clearly indicates the entrance to the Chapel of Reservation). The point is that, when you see indication that the Eucharist is reserved in a place of worship, you acknowledge both the sacredness of the space and the Presence of the Eucharist.
Encountering the First Presence of Jesus
He is present…when the church prays and sings, for he promised: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt.18: 30)
Next, enter the pew. You should enter in the same way you entered the church building: with a gentle and warm smile, or a very simple greeting for anyone around you that might catch your eye. If they are familiar to you, it is not inappropriate to give them a warm embrace. If you know that they have been ill or burdened, it is not inappropriate to express concern for them and to tell them that they are in your prayers. If they are strangers to you, it is very much in order that you introduce yourself and say a few simple words of welcome. This should be brief. An extended conversation is not appropriate in the assembly space. If you see that others are absorbed in prayer, it is not appropriate to break their concentration with a greeting. Now, kneel and acknowledge the Presence of Christ in this sacred assembling of his body, the Church. I suggest a prayer like this:
“Jesus, I have come here at your summons. My presence declares that you are Lord of my life. I greet you and honor you in the assembling of my brothers and sisters. You are walking among us, sitting beside us, and present in our greeting of one another. You form us into your living body. In this time of worship, may we be further fashioned in your image, bound in unity and empowered to serve you in the responsibilities you have entrusted to us.
The Second Presence of Jesus
He is present in his Word, since it is he himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church.
As the Mass begins, prepare to receive the second Presence of Christ: in the Word of God proclaimed. In the penitential rite seek to remove any interior obstacles to your hearing the Word God wishes to speak to you, especially obstacles such as anger, bitterness or resentment. As the Scriptures are read, listen to them not as someone standing up there reading to you, but as Jesus speaking to you. Receive the word as His word, as if He were personally present and saying these things directly to you – because He really is present and saying them to you. Perhaps you might pray:
Jesus, don’t allow me to stand distant from your words. Remove any wall I have placed, or distance I have kept between us. You have something to say to me personally in what I am about to hear. Lord, I want to hear you, I need to hear you. You have words vital to my life and hope. Let me receive your words even if they prove personally revealing or challenging. Speak, Lord, I am listening.
The Third Presence of Jesus
He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass…in the person of his minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross.by his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes.
When the priest stands at the altar and says, “Pray brethren…” and we respond, “May the Lord receive this sacrifice from your hands…”, acknowledge the Presence of Christ in the person of the minister, the priest. Jesus said: “He who hears you, hears me.” (Lk 10:16) You might continue to pray:
Jesus, your Apostle Paul told us that you use “the weak of this world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). The man at the altar is every bit as weak as I. He is a sinner, just as I am. In this sacramental action, help me to acknowledge your anointing on weak human flesh. Give me a heart to recognize your personal presence in this sacred moment, acting through this man, with him, and in him.
The Fourth Presence of Jesus
He is present…especially under the Eucharistic elements.
At the words of institution (“this is my body…this is my blood”) the bread and wine are changed in substance (transubstantiated) to become the body and blood of the Lord Jesus: his whole body, his whole blood, his whole self as true God and true Man. It is important to receive the body and blood of Christ with wonder, awe, and the highest reverence. It is also important to realize what God is saying to you in this gift. God calls you not only to receive, but also to live as flesh of his flesh, and blood of his blood. Perhaps you might pray:
Jesus, what have you give me? What have I received? In receiving your Body and Blood, what does this now make me? What does it make the person kneeling next to me? And the person behind me? How radically does it change my relationship with them: the way I speak to them, the way I treat them? Jesus, you have made us your body, “the fullness of you who fill the universe in all its parts.” You are and will be really present in us. It is you who will be appealing for reconciliation in the world through us, and embracing the world in us and with us. I give all that I am and all that I have to serve this communion of my life with yours.
The final Presence that is the true end of every celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass is the presence of Jesus in his Body, the Church. Before transubstantiating the bread to be his Body, Jesus said, “Take this and eat of it.” Before transubstantiating the wine to be his Blood, he said, “Drink of this, all of you.” Communion is the final end and purpose of the Mass. “I living in them, you living in me, that their unity may be complete.” (John 17:23). We receive the true Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion to become the body and blood of Christ on the world. The way we relate to our fellow believers and the way we handle our world ought to be different because of what we received. Reverence and awe should fill the personal space between us and characterize the way we handle all things.
The Presence in the Tabernacle
We reserve the Holy Eucharist in the Tabernacles of our churches not only to bring it to our infirm brothers and sisters, but to pray before it and there, in adoration, to remind ourselves both of its awesome nature and its ultimate purpose. This purpose is to nourish us and strengthen us and make us what we cannot make of ourselves: the body of Christ, flesh of God’s flesh and blood of God’s blood; one humanity, undivided and without stain or defilement. This is the mighty work of our Savior, Jesus. Great refreshment and peace flow from any time spent in prayer before the Sacrament. Stop in for a visit.