February 2014 FGO by Bro. Jason Rhoad
One of the documents from the Second Vatican Council is named Sacrosanctum Concilium, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. While there is much to be learned from entire document, for this month’s discussion, I am only going to focus on one small aspect of it, paragraph seven. In that one small section, we get a very key catechesis on the liturgy. There we are reminded of the four ways Jesus Christ is present at each and every mass.
Given recent poll numbers concerning how many Catholics actually attend mass regularly, and how many of those that either don’t know or don’t believe in the real presence of Christ at mass, part of the new evangelization has to be focused on helping baptized Catholics understand just what a true treasure the holy sacrifice of the mass is. St. Padre Pio once said, “If we only knew how God regards this sacrifice, we would risk our lives to be present at a single Mass.” Paragraph 11 of CSL teaches that the full, conscious, and active participation by all the people at mass is the pastoral aim to be considered before all else. In other words, the most important thing is that we the faithful understand what the mass is, what is going on, and what our participation should be. So in that spirit, let’s take a look at one aspect of the mass that should capture our awe, Christ’s presence.
CSL 7 teaches us that there are actually four ways that Christ is present in the liturgy. First, he is present in the person of his minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross.” The Church teaches us that the priest acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Christ is present then through the ministry of the priest. The priest participates in the priesthood of Christ, the true high priest. So when the priest performs the priestly functions during the liturgy, such as administering the sacraments, it is Christ who administers the sacraments.
Second, Christ is present in the sacraments themselves, most notably in the holy Eucharist. Christ is present in all the sacraments as each of them were instituted by Him in order communicate to us the grace that they signify. To receive a sacrament is to receive the grace of Christ. But the way we receive Him par excellence, the way that Christ’s presence trumps all other ways in which He is present to us, is in the holy Eucharist. When the priest consecrates the bread and wine, those ordinary elements which are condensed symbols representing the entire lives of all the faithful, become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The CCC tells us that Christ is really, truly, and substantially present. The smallest fragment of the host and the smallest drop of the precious blood contain the whole Jesus, so when we receive under either species, we receive the full Christ.
The third way Jesus is present at mass is in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. In John 1:1 we read that in the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. We then read that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is the logos, the eternal Word of God. Every word in the Bible can be condensed into one word, Jesus. St. John of the Cross said, “In the eternal silences of the Trinity, God only spoke a single word, the Eternal Word. He has nothing more to say.”
Finally, CSL 7 tells us that Jesus is present when the Church prays and sings, for He has promised “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Mt. 18:20). Through this, Jesus shows us the importance of gathering together as a community to worship. While it is true that we can experience Jesus anywhere and in many different ways, He specifically tells us that if we gather together in His name, He is truly there with us.
CSL 7 sums it up this way: “From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.”
The document goes on to tell us how the earthly liturgy is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy. The mass is truly heaven on earth. As one of the Eucharistic prayers tells us, God’s angel takes the sacrifice from the altar and brings it to the altar in heaven. We are entering into the once for all sacrifice of Jesus. We are at the foot of the cross. Through the earthly symbols of bread and wine, we are to offer ourselves, in union with Christ’s offering, to God the father. So we join our sacrifice to His, which accomplished the redemption of the entire world. Because of this, an infinite amount of grace is available at every single mass. The more we open ourselves to this grace, the more we cultivate our relationship with God and dispose ourselves to what God has ready and willing for us to experience, the more our capacity for the divine life increases. Let’s remind our brothers and sisters of this most awesome and sublime reality the next time we hear someone say “I don’t get anything out of the mass.”