Chris Carstens

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Real Presence

Sometimes I wish that Mass had better special effects.

When we were kids and Father lifted up the Host,
a pair of kneeling altar boys off to the side,
or hidden somewhere, back behind a screen,
would shake their jingling chapel bells
as if to say, “Wake up! It’s happening right now
and you don’t want to miss it.
Jesus is in the building.”

One time, over midnight cards in college,
a friend admitted shyly that he’d never seen the crouching altar boys
and so he thought for years that at the point of Consecration
bread just rang itself.

I’d like that.

These days I go to Mass about two dozen times a month,
and every time I tell myself, today I’ll pay attention,
this time I’ll keep my focus at the point of Consecration,
and yet, at least three days in five,
somewhere between Lift Up Your Hearts and
Our Father, Who Art in Heaven,
instead of moving with the Eucharistic prayers,
my thoughts have floated off to grocery lists,
or that time forty years ago when I forgot to call my Dad on Father’s Day,
And did I ever tell him I was sorry?
When I come back we’re shaking hands around the pew and wishing one another Peace.
I’ve missed it once again.

Now, if I ran the Universe, when it was time for Consecration,
(“The Little Bang,” I think we ought to call it),
there’d be a flash of light,
perhaps a puff of frankincense,
emerging out of nowhere just above the altar,
or maybe, only maybe,
a Tesla bolt of crackling laboratory lightning
sizzling down from Crucifix to Chalice,
just like in the Bride of Frankenstein.

OK, that last might be a little much, but
what I’m looking for is some acknowledgement from nature
that the ordinary laws of time and space
have just been set aside.

God has to feel it when it happens.
He most of all.
And when the Host is lifted up
that very spot becomes the Center of the Universe
because that’s where God is looking.

Just think about it. Jesus felt the power flow
when that long-bleeding woman stretched her fingers to his cloak.
He turned to look and asked
“Who touched my clothes?”

How surely must He turn, acknowledging our plea
to come and transform bread and wine
into Himself,
and through them,
transform us.

That’s why I go to Mass.
I want to be there in the room when transubstantiation happens.
I want to be alert when Jesus comes into the world.

Please ring those chapel bells, and ring them loud.
I need to be awake.

“Real Presence,” read by Chris Carstens.

Chris Carstens is a retired psychologist, now living in Dallas, TX. He and his wife share nine grandchildren, scattered across the country. His current poetry grows out of scripture study and prayer.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this poem with us; I find it relatable, thought provoking, and encouraging. I read it aloud to both my husband and son. As an acolyte, this child gets to ring the bells that sometimes summon his mother back from her grocery list meanderings…and sometimes not.


    • Jennifer, thanks for taking time to write. Somebody once said that publishing poetry is like dropping a feather into the Grand Canyon, and then waiting for an echo. It’s good to hear that you liked it — and even read it aloud to your son. Win win.


  2. Chris…… what a joy to be transported back to many of the times in my younger years ( and sometimes even now) when I was partaking
    ( mind wandering) during Mass. The more I studied the word of God and the history of every action that takes place during the celebration of Mass, the less my mind wandered. I’ve grown to have a deeper appreciation for the awesome sacrifice Jesus made for ME- sinful me! The opportunity to confess and repent- such a gift of second chances, an infinite number of second chances- is just priceless.

    The more I have made Mass personal I have found I needed to help out the priest. ha ha ha

    As the priest says ….. it is right and just to give Him thanks …..I find myself quietly interrupting, saying…… yes, and it is also my honor and privilege to give Him thanks.

    During the consecration when the priest lifts up the bread I bow my head and say to myself…….your precious, precious body. When the cup of wine is lifted and consecrated I quietly say…… my Lord and my God, forever and ever.

    Oh yes, I love the bells and incense. I’m thinking we used a lot more incense back when I was a kid. I call for more bells and incense these days! The older I get the more senses I need to use. While they’re at it they could increase the loudness and length of those bells.
    Bossy Jeanie


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