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Christ Is Present In More Than the Eucharist!

By Deal W. Hudson
June 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Real Presence is NOT limited to the Eucharist.  There are "four modes" of Real Presence: Christ is present not only in the Liturgy of the Eucharist but also in the Liturgy of the Word, the priest who celebrates, and in the people gathered together during the Mass. In pointing to these other modes of Real Presence, I am neither trying to pit the contemplative against the communal, nor create a dichotomy where one does not exist, nor deny the supremacy of the Eucharistic presence in the way Christ presents Himself to us.  I'm merely asking that we recognize, given these various modes of Real Presence, the importance of seeing parish life, indeed the experience of the Mass itself, as involving a "people" and not a collection of monadic individuals who just happen to be sitting in the same building at the same time. 

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Having read through the comments to my article, How Catholics Have Failed the Culture, I've noticed one repeated theme that deserves addressing. 

A number of commenters wrote eloquently about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and how the contemplation of that Presence in prayer and liturgy more than compensates for the lack of fellowship in the parish community. In fact, several suggested the demands of fellowship would demean contemplation and prayer.  All these commenters imply that my expressed desire for greater "community" would be better fulfilled by the contemplation of the Eucharist.

I both understand and appreciate that point of view -- it comes from the heart of the Church and makes the Catholic faith distinctive among Christians around the world.  However, it contains a misunderstanding, one that may be actually encouraging the very problem I addressed in the previous article: the paucity of most parish life in the United States, the lack of welcome, of felt connection between parish members.

The misunderstanding is about the Church's teaching on Real Presence itself -- Real Presence is NOT limited to the Eucharist.  There are "four modes" of Real Presence: Christ is present not only in the Liturgy of the Eucharist but also in the Liturgy of the Word, the priest who celebrates, and in the people gathered together during the Mass.

The Church's teaching on the four modes of Real Presence can be found in the Constitution of Sacred Liturgy (#7):

"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, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered Himself on the cross," but especially under the eucharistic elements. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. 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).

In 1965, Paul VI's encyclical, "Mysterium Fidei," underscored what this manifold presence of Christ is to His Church.  I call your attention to the section where he talks about the "people of God":

"He is present in His Church as it shepherds and guides the people of God, since the Church's sacred power comes from Christ and since Christ, "the shepherd of shepherds" (Idem, In Ps 86, 3: PL 37, 1102), is present in the shepherds who exercise that power, according to the promise made to the apostles" (#37).

It's crucial to note that Paul VI refers to the Real Presence of Christ during the sacrifice of the Mass as a "manner more sublime" since it fills "the mind with wonder and presents the mystery of the Church for contemplation" (#38). Paul VI in a later paragraph calls it Real Presence "par excellence"!

Thus, in pointing to these other modes of Real Presence, I am neither trying to pit the contemplative against the communal, nor create a dichotomy where one does not exist, nor deny the supremacy of the Eucharistic presence in the way Christ presents Himself to us.  I'm merely asking that we recognize, given these various modes of Real Presence, the importance of seeing parish life, indeed the experience of the Mass itself, as involving a "people" and not a collection of monadic individuals who just happen to be sitting in the same building at the same time. 

How this recognition impacts our attitudes toward parish life, or our attempts at its revitalization, is not spelled out anywhere I know, nor need it be.  Part of the genius of the Church is its universality, its accommodation to every kind of existing person, regardless of station, language, education, and personality. 

This latter factor -- personality -- is often overlooked when discussions of liturgy and parish life are discussed.  It's common sense, at least to me, that people of differing personalities are going to respond more immediately to differing modes of Real Presence: To those who are contemplative, the Eucharist; to those who are social, the people of God; and so forth. 

When it comes to the Liturgy of the Word, the reading of Scripture and its exposition in preaching is often lackluster, so there is another group not being fed. "Being fed" is a phrase I have chosen deliberately because the Church, if it's truly a feminine body, should be nurturing, it should feed its people. But our Church, the historical Church and its parishes, are not very nurturing in my experience and the experience of many others. 

This lack of nurture needs to be addressed, immediately and explicitly.

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Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D, is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine. He is the Senior Correspondent for Church and Culture and a contributing writer for Catholic Online.

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