Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

A woman bows before receiving Holy Communion during the Diocese of Owensboro’s March 26, 2024 Chrism Mass at the Owensboro Sportscenter. The annual Holy Week liturgy is held in the Sportscenter to have space for the faithful who attend from all around western Kentucky. RILEY GREIF | WKC 

A Word From Bishop Medley: Unity and Real Presence

Editor’s note: The following is a reprint of Bishop Medley’s message for the April 2024 Acts 2:42 video for Session 8: Unity. To learn about Acts 2:42 small group opportunities at a parish near you, visit

We here in the United States are in the second year of a three-year Eucharistic Revival.

One of the triggers for this process came about when there was a much-publicized poll suggesting that a great majority of American Catholics did not believe in the Church’s age-old teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Certainly very concerning. But as with so many polls I immediately wanted to know more – wanting to look a little longer and a bit deeper.  Wanted to ask if those responding to the poll were all looking at the same question, at the same meaning of “Real Presence.”

I will admit that while I share the observation that there is plenty of room for concern – as a priest and pastor I observed something a bit different.

I have observed the prayerfulness of people of all ages attending Mass and particularly the reverence shown as they came forward to receive Holy Communion. I noted the active participation in the actions of the united assembly at this moment and the engagement in private prayer. I observed people of prayer and awe venerating the Blessed Sacrament.

I observed people genuinely encountering Jesus Christ in unity – as one Church.

Subsequent polls and studies have demonstrated that with clearer definitions and understanding of meaning, a much higher percentage of Catholics affirm a belief that Christ is truly and really present in the Eucharist.

Now all that does the beg the question of why so many Catholics, if they believe in this Real Presence, do not attend Mass on Sunday more regularly?

So today I want to speak a little about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist – in the Mass.

In the Mass there are many ways that we encounter Jesus.

We encounter Jesus in the Holy Scriptures – believing that Jesus is manifest powerfully in the Word of God. We treat that Word with reverence – the lectionary, the book of the Gospels are handled with respect. Readers should be well-trained. The ambo, (the pulpit), is a noble fixture that speaks of the place of the Holy Word. Christ is revealed in the Word every time it is proclaimed.

The altar itself indicates the presence of Christ. It’s not just an ordinary table. It is a table created and designated for one purpose. It is an object of deference – superbly illustrated by the gesture of the priest kissing the altar as he approaches it and kissing it again after the blessing and dismissal.

The assembly itself is Christ present. There is a popular definition of the Church – “Here comes everybody.” Jesus said, “Whenever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there.”

The priest, the presider, shows us yet another way to see Christ. Chosen from among the Church, the priest is an “alter Christi” – another Christ. He offers the holy sacrifice on behalf of us all and proclaims the Gospel of the Lord. So, there are multiple manifestations of Christ to be found.

You might wonder why we speak of Christ present in the species of bread and wine as “Real Presence.” Well, we have the Words of Jesus that have been treasured by the Church since the time of the apostles.

In the Mass, the priest prays: “For on the night before he was betrayed, he himself took bread, and giving thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.’ In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice, and, giving thanks, he said the blessing, and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying: ‘Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.’”

Ok – so we can study theology and read books from all ages about Eucharist and Real Presence. However, it all comes down to faith. It comes down to that command: “Do this in memory of me.”

Often when teaching young people about the sacraments I discuss with them the outward signs of the sacrament. I ask them, what do you see with your eyes on the altar before you come forward for Holy Communion?

They will usually respond, the Eucharist. And I say, no – with your eyes you see bread and wine. It is with faith that you see the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Big difference. And remember that faith is a gift.  And a gift must be accepted.

But why accept this gift – this preposterous gift that asks us to believe something so absurd that bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ?

It is sacred tradition from the night of the Last Supper. The everlasting sign that Jesus chose to leave with us. It is a gift accepted by saints and sinners alike, united in Christ, who trust in God’s everlasting love and presence.

Real Presence.

Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro

Current Issue

Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
Contributors |  Riley Greif, Rachel Hall
Layout |  Rachel Hall
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