Thanks to Fr Martin Williams for his third post during our 40 Meditations on the Mass
Religious people – and people who say they are not ‘religious’ but ‘spiritual’ – are often accused of not living in the ‘real world’. (The same is also said of political idealists or people regarded as ‘do-gooders’ by their more cynical neighbours.) So, what is reality? (A big question!)
There is a limerick composed at the expense of Christian Science, a sect, founded in America by Mary Baker Eddy in the later 19th century:
There was a young lady of Deal, Who said, “Although pain is not real,
When I sit on a pin
And it punctures my skin
I dislike what I fancy I feel.”
We would agree, as Catholic Christians, that the young lady concerned did not live in the ‘real world.’ The real world is full of pain and grief, just is it also full of joy and happiness. Why, then, should we be accused of not living in the real world?
Citizens of Heaven
Because this world is not the only world we inhabit. What does St Paul say? “Our citizenship [or commonwealth] is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3.20).
Elsewhere he speaks eagerly of the Coming of the Lord, using a word (parousia) which can also mean Presence, as in the visitation of some powerful figure such as the Emperor or his representative. Paul uses it of himself and his visits to Philippi (Phil.1.26;2.12). In the latter verse it is the opposite of apousia = absence. His Coming in glory is, of course, the subject of the only substantial discourse of our Lord in St Mark’s Gospel (ch.13).
HIs Real Presence
The Eucharist is both an awaiting of the Coming of the Lord and also a celebration and realization of his real Presence. His presence fills and unites heaven and earth – sacramentally, when the Holy Spirit makes bread and wine become his Body and Blood.
The emissaries of the Russian Prince Vladimir to Constantinople in AD 988 did not know, when they experienced the Liturgy in the Basilica of Hagia Sophia, “whether they were in heaven or on earth.” No doubt it was the beauty of the Liturgy which moved them, a heavenly beauty, which was to lead Prince Vladimir and his people to faith. For the Church knows by faith that at Mass we are both in heaven and on earth. So which is the ‘real world’?
If God is the ultimate Reality, then all that is created, seen and unseen, is real. But it has no independent, self-derived reality, and the further away it moves from God, the less real it becomes! It is when God is acknowledged as Creator and Redeemer, above all in the celebration of the Eucharist, that we appreciate his Presence in all that he has made and his promise of a new heaven and a new earth.
My Lord and my God
When we acknowledge Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist, when we adore him at the elevation of the Sacrament (“My Lord and my God”), when we bow or genuflect to his Presence, when we prepare ourselves in penitence and faith to receive his Body and Blood, we are acknowledging Reality: through Christ all things were made; God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son to the Cross for our salvation; by the Holy Spirit Christ is risen from the dead, and is present in the Spirit to all who call upon him, above all to his holy people gathered in obedience to his word to “do this to remember him”.
We call this Eucharistic presence of Christ his Real Presence, because we are simply acknowledging Reality: this is what God has done, is doing and will do, not just something we feel or imagine.
Christ’s Presence is for real. Let us adore him, as we wait in joyful hope for his Coming in glory.