Real Presence Fallen Flat

Deal W. Hudson

My wife, also a Catholic convert, has said several times over the years, “The Church makes it so hard to be a Catholic.” If she was really precise she would have said, “I go to Mass and it looks, sounds, and feels perfunctory — there is no attempt at ‘celebration’, which is what it’s supposed to be, right?”
For the record, I concur, completely, and with sadness.

I have addressed this issue before and each time I receive dismissive, sometimes condescending, comments such as, “I attend Mass to be in the Real Presence of Christ, what else do you need?” Or, “I don’t want my prayer and contemplation interrupted by people and personalities!” Or, “It doesn’t matter if the music is bad, the homily weak, the congregation unresponsive, Christ is objectively present!”

It is to this last “accuser” that I will address myself — because, though disagreeing, he has put his finger on the issue: It’s precisely because of Christ’s objective presence that the Mass should look, sound, and feel closer to a celebration, than an audition for the next zombie film. After all, don’t call refer to Mass as “celebrated”?

I’ve watched the parishioners as they came out the side door of the parish, usually no one speaks on the way to the parking lot, few smile, and as slipped as quickly as possible into their cars already parked facing the exit.

Try this thought experiment: You arrive at Mass, walk through the nave, enter, and see Jesus Christ standing at the altar. You take your seat, but you kneel of course, probably trembling. After the pews are full, Christ steps forward saying, “Welcome! I thank you for being here. But I’m only here to observe.” Christ turns to the priest, lector, choir, organist, and altar servers, saying, “Please continue!” and then He suddenly disappears.
Imagine what kind of Mass would follow? Now that everyone knows Jesus Christ is watching. What would change, if anything?

Most would agree, I believe, on the kind of celebration of Holy Mass that would result: inspired, animated preaching; the lector reading loud and clear, with feeling; the choir and organist making music at the peak of their powers (all wishing they had rehearsed more); the altar servers moving with dignity as if blocked for a stage play; the congregation responding in full-throated unison, grateful to be on their knees.

In short, the Mass would be celebrated with a beauty and joy that breathes the breath of God into each and every one.

As they leave Mass, they are quiet – but then turn to look at each other – smiles break out, tears fall, and laughter rises as well.

And there would be another outcome: Some would start attending daily Mass; others would no longer wear blue jeans and polo shirts; some would join the choir or volunteer as lectors and altar servers; very few would “forget” to bring a donation to put in the collection plate; the parish itself would be transformed into a vibrant, compassionate place where parishioners felt eager, rather than obligated, to gather.

The lesson? The Real Presence of Jesus Christ is an objective truth that should incite a celebration and all that a real celebration entails. He is not an objective presence like a mathematical truth or a principle of physics, which elicit detached contemplation. His objectivity is the Person at its divine pitch and beauty, the sound and sight of which transforms the subjects in His Presence.

Praise Him! Worship Him! Let Him lift you up, raising your voice and spirit in true celebration!

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