Do you ever consider why you go to Mass on Sunday?
Many of us were raised to believe that it’s our obligation to attend Sunday Mass under penalty of sin. We also go because we look forward to special time with Jesus Christ in the intimacy of Eucharistic reception. It is important for us to remember, however, that Eucharist is not the only way in which we encounter Jesus in the liturgy.
We go to Mass to give glory to God and become a holy people. In the Mass, we worship God through his Son. Think how many times you hear that phrase from the priest during the Mass: “We ask this through your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.” But how are we personally encountering Christ in the liturgy?
We all know that we encounter Christ in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. But the Church teaches us we really encounter Jesus in three other ways as well. In Sacrosanctum Concilium—The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [CSL], four such encounters are articulated:
Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her 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 species. 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”. [CSL 7]
To summarize, Christ is truly present in the Mass in four ways:
- in the celebrant during the Eucharistic prayer. He is then in the person of Christ.
- especially in the Eucharist.
- in his Word—the Scriptures. It is Christ who speaks when the Word is proclaimed.
- in the gathered assembly—the Body of the Risen Lord.
Are we taking the opportunity to encounter Jesus in every liturgical occasion?
The Mass is a spiritual tool for transformation and continuing conversion. When I allow myself to be transformed through Eucharist into the Mystical Body of the Risen Christ sent to the world to share the joy of the Gospel, I am aware of my ongoing call to conversion. Just because I am a fully initiated Catholic (meaning that I have received the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation and Eucharist), and even perhaps an adult, does not mean that I have “graduated” or “arrived.” In this life, I am always on a spiritual journey, growing in my understanding and unity with Christ. Walking, if your will, as a disciple with Christ on the road to Emmaus.
Sometimes it is easier for me to focus on Christ in the Eucharist, because I am not challenged as much in that relationship. Communion is a safe and intimate encounter where I feel Christ’s love and mercy. I can be vulnerable with Jesus Christ, he is always understanding and loving and merciful in Eucharist, but sometimes when I meet Christ in the Gospel, He challenges me to find myself in the prodigal son, in the woman at the well, or in the tax collector.
More challenging even than my encounter with Christ in the Scriptures is my encounter with Him in those gathered in His name! They sometimes have the audacity to hold me accountable for my actions. I see disappointment in their eyes, or hear questioning in their words. However, these challenges, these encounters with Christ, help me to become a better disciple.
Making sure that I encounter Christ in more than Eucharist makes me understand more about the community of Christ and about the Mass. The word “Mass” comes from the Latin text of the dismissal—“ite missa est”—“Go, the Mass is ended: glorify the Lord by the way you live your life.”
Nowhere in the Gospel does it say that it is easy to be a Christian. It certainly wasn’t in the early Church. We are a “counter-cultural” faith community. We, like Jesus, go against the grain. My encounter with Christ in celebrant, Word, Eucharist, and community is a means to develop my relationship with God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Being a Christian is hard work. The liturgy is a gift to help us gain eternal life.
I understand now that I become what I receive in Eucharist. Like the bread and wine, I am transformed through Eucharist into the Body of the Risen Christ. I go through the doors of the church together with the gathered assembly – the Body of the Risen Christ:
to love . . .
to serve . . .
to give witness . . .
to share what I have so freely been given . . .
For further reading on encountering Christ in the liturgy and the sacraments, see “Encountering Christ the Savior: Church and Sacraments”.