The real presence of Christ

For those of us who are Dominicans, today is special. On this day, May 24th, we celebrate the translation of St. Dominic. The term might appear puzzling at first. But all it means is that on this day, St. Dominic’s body was transferred from the place where his brothers had laid him to rest, honoring his wishes that he be buried under the feet of the friars, to a tomb that the next generation of Dominicans felt would be much more fitting for a man of St. Dominic’s holiness. Now, it is said that when his body was removed from its original tomb, a sweet fragrance could be smelled, an odor of sanctity that permeated the room and lingered, reminding the brothers of their holy father, whom they had loved and lost, but whom they now realized that they had never truly lost at all.

Like St. Dominic whose memory lives on for us almost 800 years after his death, like that sweet aroma which reminded his followers of their beloved teacher and friend, like the Order of Preachers he left behind that testifies to his love of the Gospel and his commitment to God’s Holy Word, our Lord Jesus has also left behind a memory of himself. No, not a memory or a reminder, for these words are much too weak. Rather, our Lord Jesus has left behind him a promise, a promise that he would be with us always, even to the end of the world. On that day of the Ascension when his grieving and bewildered disciples saw him depart from their midst, Our Lord assured them that they would never be without him, that he would remain with them always.

He has kept this promise, and has done so through this sacrament of the Eucharist that we celebrate tonight. He is present in the Word we proclaim, in the text from Isaiah that we heard Sister read so beautifully, he is present in the response psalm that was sung, and in this Gospel that we just heard. For Jesus is the very Word of the Father, and when we hear the Scripture proclaimed, we hear not Isaiah, or Matthew, or Sister, or me, but first and foremost Christ Jesus himself.

Next, Christ is present in the person of the priest or bishop who presides at Eucharist. We may be only Christ’s poor and inadequate instruments, but as ministers who stand in the person of Christ we link this celebration of the Eucharist to all of the Eucharists that have ever taken place, and by the presence of Christ found in us, this Eucharist is identified with the celebration of the Last Supper and ultimately with the mystery of Calvary.

Again, Christ is really and truly present in this assembly gathered. For we are truly the Body of Christ, made into members of his Body at our baptism and nourished by the one bread we eat and the one cup we drink. As members of Christ’s Body, we offer ourselves with Christ Jesus himself in this sacrifice to the Father. Where we are assembled in faith, hope, and love, there Christ Jesus also is.

Finally, Christ is really present in this bread and in this cup, which through the power of the Holy Spirit ceases to be the bread and wine that it was. Although this substance may look like a wafer of bread and taste like a wafer of bread and feel like a wafer of bread, faith tells us that it is not bread we eat, but Christ’s very Body. It is the same with what once was wine. It may look, taste, and smell like wine, and have all of the effects of ordinary table wine. But faith tells us that it is no longer wine but Christ’s very blood. In this Eucharist we celebrate then, Christ is truly present Body and Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Through Christ’s presence in his Word, through his presence in the person of the ordained minister, through his presence in this community assembled, and especially through his presence in the Eucharistic food, Christ keeps his promise to us. He is with us always. Like those early followers of St. Dominic found at the time of the translation of his body, we find that we are not alone after all, Our Lord is truly with us, strengthening us, encouraging us, teaching us, and healing us until that day when we shall see him face to face.