Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Manifold Presence of Christ in the Liturgy

Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Manifold Presence of Christ in the Liturgy

Article excerpt

[Editor's note: The doctrine of Christ's manifold presence in the liturgy, found in Vatican II's Sacrosanctum concilium no. 7, has a complex history. It entered the official magisterium after the council, especially as reformulated by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Mysterium fidei, but has had seemingly little recent impact. The author gives an overview of its development, surveys its presence in recent eucharistic theology, and offers some reflections on its central importance.]

The theme of "presence" has been important in Roman Catholic eucharistic theology, sometimes almost crowding other themes from consideration.(1) Cesare Giraudo has published an interesting survey of the treatment of the major themes relating to eucharistic theology in the manuals of theology over the last several centuries.(2) According to his analysis, the discussion of the eucharistic presence often occupies two-thirds to three-fourths of the total space devoted to the Eucharist.

It was no surprise then that the bishops at Vatican II took up the theme of presence in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium.(3) What may have been surprising is the way in which the council treated the topic, not simply as "real presence" but as presence in a variety of modes. Describing presence in a manifold way, however, had been prepared by Pope Plus XII in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Del. How this teaching on the presence of Christ came to be incorporated into the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is complex. The conciliar doctrine and its subsequent acceptance into the papal magisterium and contemporary eucharistic theology is the focus of this article.

My purpose here is threefold: first, to explore the origins, development, and appropriation of the doctrine of the manifold presence of Christ in Vatican II and in subsequent papal and curial documents; second, to analyze the use of this eucharistic theology in three authors from the period immediately following the council (Edward Schillebeeckx, Joseph Powers, and Alexander Gerken) as well as in three recent authors (David Power, Robert Sokolowski, and Raymond Moloney); and third, to offer some observations and pose some questions about the significance of the doctrine in recent theological reflection on the Eucharist.(4)


The teaching of Christ's manifold presence in the liturgy is found in Sacrosanctum concilium no. 7. My interest focuses on the first part of that section and particularly on its context. The constitution was the first document debated and subsequently promulgated by the bishops at Vatican II. It begins with four numbers that formulate the overall agenda of the council: to invigorate the lives of the faithful, to adapt the Church to the times, to promote Christian unity, and to reach out to the whole world. The liturgy is a preeminent way to accomplish these goals. The constitution then introduces its theological argument. God's plan for the world is fulfilled in Christ. Christ in turn sent the apostles to preach the good news and to baptize those who believe. The Church celebrates Christ's paschal mystery through the power of the Holy Spirit. The text (no. 7) then elaborates on five ways that Christ is present:

To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present to his Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations. [1] He 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, sess. 22, 17 Sept. 1562, Doctr. De ss. Missae sacrif. cap 2: CT 8, Actorum pt. 5, 960], [2] but especially under the eucharistic elements. [3] By his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes [see Augustine, In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus 6, cp. 1, n. 7: PL 35, 1428]. [4] He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. …

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