Real Presence

Unlike some Protestant traditions, which view the bread and wine consecrated at Mass as a symbol of Christ’s body and blood, Catholics (and some Protestants) believe, in the words of the Council of Trent in the 16th Century, that the Eucharist is “truly, really, and substantially” the presence of Christ.

There is a danger that we misunderstand what that means in the context of the Mass. In an article I recently read by Father Scott Detisch, he expressed the worry “that people think that Christ is not present in the liturgy until the Consecration of the bread and wine and so everything up to that point is merely prelude and not important.” This leads, he suggests, to what he terms “some disturbing habits,” such as complacency about arriving late to Mass, impatience at efforts to get people to sing and perfunctory recitation of the readings.

It is important that we not let our acceptance of the consecrated bread and wind as the body and blood of Christ blind us to the fact that Christ is already present prior to the consecration. Pope Paul VI, in his 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei, made clear that the assembled congregation, the presider, the scripture readings, and bread and wine are all the “real presence of Christ.”

As Fr. Detisch observes, “We receive the Real Presence of Christ as consecrated bread and wine because they are part of a wider context of Christ’s Real Presence in the eucharistic meal that begins with our act of gathering. Thus, the whole liturgy is important.”

A good reminder, one that should help us to avoid some of the “disturbing habits” of which Fr. Detisch complains and make the entirety of our Eucharistic celebration more meaningful.


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