Perceiving Christ's real presence in
The Letter to the Hebrews is one of the richest writings
of the New Testament; yet too often it remains neglected by believers.
Perhaps this is because its argument is rather dense, and demands close
attention, as the author himself cautions us. The heart of his
proclamation may be found in these verses: "Jesus holds his priesthood
forever, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able for all
time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always
lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:24-25).
At the liturgy we offer every prayer "through our Lord
Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever and ever". Thus we echo the
faith of the author of Hebrews: Jesus lives always and makes
intercession for his Church, his body of which he is the head. The
Church depends upon Christ for its very life; and Jesus communicates
this life most especially in the Eucharist. Pope Benedict XVI, in the
Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis writes: "The
Eucharist is Christ who gives himself to us and continually builds us up
as his body" (n. 14).
There is an adage from the Patristic era that affirms:
"The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church". It
suggests the intimate and reciprocal relation between the Eucharistic
body of the Lord and his ecclesial body. But it is important to
understand correctly the priority. As Pope Benedict insists: "The
Church's ability to 'make' the Eucharist is completely rooted in
Christ's self-gift to her"; because "for all eternity Christ remains the
one who loves us first" (n. 14). And the love of Christ finds its
fullest incarnation in the Eucharist: his very body and blood given for
The welcome and needed reform of the liturgy after
Vatican II has brought many riches in its wake. The Sacred Scriptures
have been restored to a place of honor so that the people of God are
nourished at the table of the Word as well as the table of the
Eucharist. The fuller involvement of the whole congregation in the
liturgical celebration has led to a more active participation on the
part of the whole community, meeting the Council's call for "participatio
Yet, even the most fervent advocates of the reformed
liturgical rites admit that there is also a potential "dark side" of the
reform. The celebration of the Eucharist versus populum and the
tendency to highlight the Eucharist as the meal of the community can
unwittingly place in the shadow the unique nature of this meal, made
possible by the sacrifice of Christ. It is Christ's self-gift that is
the heart of this meal: "the bread that I give is my flesh for the life
of the world" On 6:51). As Pope Benedict wrote: "The Eucharist is Christ
who gives himself". And the Latin is even more forceful: "Christus se
Christ handing himself over to us".
Stressing the communal dimension of the liturgy,
unquestionably valid in itself, can subtly turn into a self-celebration
of the community. This risk becomes more pronounced in a therapeutic
culture where surface emotion often becomes the gauge of authenticity.
The outcome, to put it bluntly, can be a "decapitated" body
community that has been severed from its Head.
However, the need to emphasize the primacy of Christ, as
Head of the body and source of its life, did not only emerge after the
Second Vatican Council. Long before the Council the great theologian
(later Cardinal) Henri de Lubac, SJ, wrote his book, The Splendor of
the Church (French title: Meditation sur l'eglise). In it he
insisted: "There is certainly no confusion of Head with members.
Christians are not the physical or Eucharistic body of Christ, and the
Bride is not the Bridegroom". There is intimate union within irreducible
distinction. Christ the Head is never without his body the Church; and
the Church cannot flourish save in life-giving union with its Head.
Therefore, it is essential to cultivate in our
spirituality a lively sense of Christ's real presence. Surely, the
sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist constitutes the fullness
of that presence. But it needs to be complemented by other practices of
the presence of Christ. Eastern Christians have promoted the practice of
the "Jesus prayer", often synchronized with one's breathing. The
Benedictine tradition seeks to recognize Christ's presence in the guest.
The welcome recovery of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has helped
many to rediscover the living presence of the Lord in the midst of his
The Eucharist thus becomes a school of the Lord's
presence, teaching us to perceive that presence in every aspect of our
lives. And the priest who is the celebrant of the community's Eucharist
should also strive to be the community's mystagogue, helping lead his
people to an ever deeper realization of Christ's saving presence in
their midst. A crucial dimension of such mystagogy is the incorporation
of moments of profound silence in the Eucharistic celebration so as
better to savor Christ's presence in word and in sacrament.