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The multiple presences of Christ keep me Catholic

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Michael DaleyFirst Communion Sunday.

It had been anticipated in our house for some months. Of course, there were the preparations at school. These culminated one evening where a dinner was held during which the story of Israel’s Passover from slavery into freedom was connected with Jesus’ Last Supper at which the Eucharist was foreshadowed.

The children could sense something special was near.

A few weeks leading up to the day, a memory book was created by those closest to the first communicant. Jokingly, I told my daughter of the hand me down, polyester leisure suit (it was the 70s) that I wore. More seriously, however, I shared with her my wish that she would come to know that Jesus — in His compassion for others and care for the poor — is a person worth following and modeling your life after.

At home who could forget (I know I can but Nora cannot) shopping with Grandma Deedie for the white dress. Also, readying for the reception after Mass, Martha Stewart would have gotten weak in the knees had she seen my wife’s cross cake. It was almost too nice looking to eat.

The day of Nora tried to play it calm and cool. Entering the church, though, she joined in the excitement and anxiety of her classmates. After processing in, she joined us in the pew adorned with her own personal banner. The Mass then proceeded as it had for her hundreds of times before.

When it came time to get the Eucharist, Nora purposefully and reverently received the body and blood of Christ. As her father, I was proud to see her reach this milestone in her faith development.

Yet, the more I thought about this graced eucharistic experience, the more I realized that the liturgy offers her other “presences of Christ.” The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) stressed this notion of “the four-fold presence of Christ” in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Amongst them is the assembly. Gathered together as one body, joined in prayer, song, and worship, it powerfully communicates the presence of Christ in our midst. Scripture strongly emphasizes this point when Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered for my sake, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

For a Catholic community long focused on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, this invitation has slowly begun to take root. Our celebration of the body and blood of Christ should bring with it the recognition that we, the assembly, are also the body of Christ, the people of God.

Though at one time it may have been considered “too Protestant,” Catholics today are coming to more fully recognize that when God’s word is proclaimed at Mass, we aren’t just learning about God. We actually encounter God. We are not hearing about God, but meeting God through the revealed word. John’s Gospel reinforces this very truth when it says that Jesus is “the word flesh” (John 1:14). As a result the proclaimed word should lead us to the table of the Lord.

Another presence is that of the priest presider. Leading the community in worship and prayer, the priest brings and reveals Jesus to us. This doesn’t mean that the priest is perfect or sinless. Only that he is striving, like all of us, to be holy as he meditates the presence of Christ to others in his person and in the celebration of the sacraments.

Taken as parts of a larger whole, one can see how each presence — assembly, proclaimed word, priest, and Eucharist — builds and expands upon the other. The multiple presences of Christ — it’s what keeps me Catholic.

Daley is freelance writer and teacher at St. Xavier High School.

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