By Fr. Michel Mulloy
Vicar General, Diocesan Director of Liturgy
Do you believe that we encounter Jesus in the celebration of the Mass? That might seem to be a strange question from the Director of Liturgy for the diocese. Well … yes, but I think the depth of our belief needs to be explored.
We believe that Jesus is truly and really present in the Communion we receive. It could be argued that this is the reason we come. I would not disagree. However, much happens in Mass before Communion and it is not unimportant. We are, throughout the Mass, encountering Jesus in the Word proclaimed, the priest presiding and in the community, gathered.
The presence of Jesus throughout the Mass does not diminish the importance of Communion. Catholics have a unique awareness of the reality of the Lord’s presence in the sacred species, and that reality has drawn many Catholic into a deeper union with the Lord, has brought non-practicing Catholics back to their faith practice and has been a significant dimension of conversion for others. Still, if Mass were simply a matter of receiving Communion, we could simplify things quite a bit.
The presence of Jesus in the Communion we receive is grounded on our belief that Jesus, risen from the dead, is present all the time. Jesus is alive and active in our lives. The resurrection was not simply a historically significant event that we remember with fondness. It is a living reality he makes present to us today. Jesus continues his saving work in, with and through his church in the world today. Our belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic species is predicated on this deeper reality.
The risen Jesus continues to bring about the salvation of the world. As Jesus did once in history, so he eternally offers himself to God the Father in sacrifice, to free us from our sins and to bring us into union with God. At the heart of the celebration of the Mass is our desire and willingness to join our sacrifice to the sacrifice of Jesus. My coming to Mass and my participation in the whole celebration are how I concretely offer myself with Jesus to God the Father.
The listening, the praying, the attention, the singing, all my gestures and actions, all in celebration of the Mass are how I join the sacrifice of Jesus. Joining my sacrifice to the sacrifice of Jesus is not possible unless I am with him, that is, encountering Jesus. The whole of the Mass is giving expression to our desire to enter this encounter with Jesus.
We believe that by making this sacrifice with Jesus to the Father, we will also share in the resurrected life God gives to his Son. Communion is the gift of God the Father to us. It is the deep encounter with Jesus we have been preparing for throughout the celebration of the Mass. The fact that Jesus is present to us throughout the Mass is the underpinning that makes communion so powerful.
When we embrace our belief that the risen Lord is present and active in our lives all the time, then the celebration of the whole Mass and our immersion in the celebration with our whole heart, mind and soul, are essential. It is through the whole Mass that we encounter Jesus, and in that encounter, receive the great gift of his life in our life through holy Communion. So, the question is important.
Do you believe that we encounter Jesus in the celebration of the Mass?