There’s more kissing in the Mass than one might think.
When the priest and deacon reach the altar at the beginning of Mass, they kiss it. Later, after the proclamation of the Gospel, the minister kisses the book. Finally, prior to receiving Communion, all present exchange the sign of peace, more traditionally called the “kiss of peace.”
If we could put a name on this kissing craze, it would be the name “Jesus.” We kiss altars and Gospel books and other baptized Christians because behind and beneath these sensible signs is Jesus Himself.
The Catholic “sacramental principle” — that Jesus comes to us, and we to him, through outward signs — is true of all things liturgical, great or small. A vestment such as an alb, the color red or rose or green, the priest’s greeting, “The Lord be with you” — all combine in a tapestry that reveals the radiant face of Christ.The seven sacraments manifest Christ in the most effective way, and atop this ladder of ascent is the Eucharist itself. In its celebration and, as an extension, its adoration outside of Mass, Christ is present in His body, blood, soul and divinity. As the Council of Trent would say, and as today’s Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “The whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC, 1374)
Here we get a sense of what Pope St. Leo the Great meant when he said, “What was visible in our Savior [2000 years ago] has passed over into His sacraments.”
Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is called “real,” Blessed Pope Paul VI taught, “because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes Himself wholly and entirely present.” (see CCC, 1374)
If — when? — you have trouble seeing Christ in the host, know that you are not alone. St. Thomas’s Eucharistic hymn “Down in Adoration Falling” (Tantum Ergo) reminds us, “What the senses fail to fathom, let us grasp through faith’s consent!”
St. Augustine also encourages us. He was one who spent a lifetime searching for God and learning to become more sensitive to His presence, until God finally “broke through” his five senses. “You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
At the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne — the theme of which was “We have come to worship Him” (Mt 2:2) — Pope Benedict explained the true affection adoration involves. “The Latin word for adoration,” he says, “is ad-oratio … a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love.”
Adoring Jesus with the saints — Leo, Thomas Aquinas, Paul VI, Augustine — takes on new light. Adoring Jesus in the Eucharist is a moment of encounter, intimacy and power.