The Presence of Christ at Mass
I love the gift of the Mass! We often hear the phrase that “Christ is present in the Mass,” and when we do hear this, our minds often, and rightfully, go to the Eucharist. Jesus Christ is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine at Mass in a substantial and sacramental way. This Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a truly miraculous event that occurs on our altars each and every day, and we have the opportunity – the invitation – to witness and receive this miracle when we attend Mass. The Eucharist is evidence of God’s love for us. Jesus is truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharistic species.
But God’s love for us is superabundant. This word has particular meaning in theology, but I want to use this word in a particular way in relation to the Mass. The Mass is the evidence of God’s superabundant love for us because in the Mass, we encounter Jesus Christ not only in the Eucharist, but in other ways as well. Christ’s presence is preeminent in the Eucharist – because the Eucharist is His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. But Christ is also present in the Mass through the Word of God proclaimed in the midst of the assembly, in the person of the priest, and in the gathered assembly itself.
In the Word proclaimed. Christ is present in the Word proclaimed at Mass and in the Sacraments. “Christ is present in his word; as he carries out the mystery of salvation, he sanctifies humanity and offers the Father perfect worship.” (Introduction to Lectionary for Mass 4). I liken the encounter with the Word of God at Mass to coming to receive communion. There is an encounter between the communion minister and the communicant at which there is an exchange – the giving and receiving of a gift, if you will. In this exchange, both minister and recipient encounter the Presence of Christ. Likewise, in the act of proclaiming and hearing the Word of God at Mass, we find the Presence of Christ in an exchange of the gift of His Word.
In the person of the priest. We see at the altar the priest, standing in the person of Christ who says “This is my body. This is my blood.” In the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest offers the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, made present on the altar, as Christ did when he offered himself as a sacrifice for us on the Cross. The priest stands in the person of Christ and does what Christ does in offering the Eucharist. The priest also leads us in prayer to the Father as Christ leads us to the Father. In the person of the priest, we encounter the very presence of Christ.
In the gathered assembly. Christ 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. 18:20)” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 7). We encounter Christ in the others who pray with us. In fact, another name for the gathered Church is the Body of Christ.
May we give gratitude to God for the Mass and for the superabundance of his love. He wishes to be with us in multiple ways in the Mass. Let us be open to his invitation of encounter with God at Mass: in the Word proclaimed, in the person of the priest, in the gathered assembly, and most especially, in the Most Holy Eucharist.
—Josh Perry is director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Burlington.
—Originally published in the March 18-24, 2023, edition of The Inland See.