At a recent TeamRCIA Institute, a participant was flummoxed about the dismissal of the catechumens after the homily. Why, he wanted to know, would we dismiss people who are learning about Jesus before Jesus is made present in the Mass (at the moment of consecration)?
The real presence(s) of Christ
It’s a head-scratcher. Throughout most of history, we have focused on Christ’s presence in the eucharist as something that happens at the specific moment the bread and wine are consecrated. However, the Second Vatican Council recovered for the church a deeper tradition. The Council said that Christ is also present in several other ways in the liturgy:
- [Christ] 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” [Council of Trent],
- 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 [St. Augustine].
- 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” [Matt. 18:20]. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 7)
The recognition of the multiple ways in which Christ is present does not diminish the real presence in the consecrated bread and wine. Likewise, to say that Christ is really present in the eucharistic elements does not deny Christ’s presence in other ways in the liturgy. Pope Paul VI wrote:
This presence is called “real” not to exclude the idea that the others are “real” too, but rather to indicate presence par excellence, because it is substantial and through it Christ becomes present whole and entire, God and man. (On the Holy Eucharist, 39)
Catechumens need to know why Christ is present
In fact, by recognizing all the ways in which Christ is present in the Mass, we deepen our understanding of the meaning of real presence. Recognizing the multiple modes of Christ’s presence helps us to better understand why Christ is present.
I think of the miracle of the eucharist as similar to the miracles of the gospels. Often, when Jesus performed a miracle, the nonbelievers focused on the wrong questions. They wanted to know things like did Jesus have the authority to do this, did he really do it, and how did he do it.
For Jesus and for the true disciples, the right question is why did he do it? So our question, and the question we have to teach the catechumens to ask, is why is Jesus present to us in a real way in the liturgy?
The mission of the church
The primary reason Christ becomes present in the liturgy is to gather all of us together, in Christ’s name, to accomplish “this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 7).
This is the mission of the church — to glorify God and restore all creation to holiness. Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
“Worship” itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. (On Christian Love, 14)
Know what we are saying “Amen” to
Dismissing the catechumens before we celebrate the second half of the Mass is not denying them Christ’s presence. It is preparing them for the ultimate purpose of Christ’s presence. At the Easter Vigil, when, for the first time, they eat Christ’s Body and drink Christ’s Blood, the catechumens-now-neophytes will be laying their lives on the line for the sake of loving others—even the unlovable. That takes deep commitment and mature faith. Our job as catechists is to make sure they know what they are saying “Amen” to when they enter fully into the eucharistic banquet.
What is your experience of dismissing the catechumens from Mass? How are you preparing them to participate in the eucharistic banquet?