Essay XX



by Monsignor Canon Edward Myers



Our purpose in these few pages is to emphasize the truth that when we profess our belief in the Holy Catholic Church we make an act of faith in a great mystery of the Christian Revelation

1. The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ

The Church is more than a religious society whose purpose is the worship of God, more than a society different from all others because it was founded by God, more than a depository of grace and revealed truth.  The Church herself is supernatural in her nature and essence, since she is the Body of Christ, living with the life of Christ himself, with a supernatural life.  From the “fullness of Christ” all his members are filled, so that the Church herself is “the fullness of him who is wholly fulfilled in all.”  Hence the mystery of the  Church is the very mystery of Christ himself.

Our act of faith in the great mystery of Christ’s Church means far more than belief in a wonderful worldwide organization of millions of men, united as no other group of men has ever been in belief, in practice, and in central government; it means that there circulates throughout the Church the life of grace which Christ came to bring into the world, linking together the members of the Church under Christ their Head with such a closeness of union that Head and members form a unique reality: the mystical Body of Christ.  Our act of faith in the Church is an act of faith in Christ ever active in our midst, ever speaking, ever teaching, ever guiding, ever sanctifying those who are one with him, through the organism he has willed should exist in the world. 

2. Visible and invisible elements in the Church

The negation of the visible character of the Church of Christ, and of its hierarchical constitution, has led to such stress being laid upon the visible, tangible aspects of the Church that those who are not Catholics have come to think of it in terms of its external organization and of its recent dogmatic definitions, and not a few Catholics, concentrating their attention upon the argumentative, apologetical, and controversial side of the doctrine concerning the Church, have been in danger of overlooking theoretically – though practically it is impossible for them to do so – the supernatural, the mysterious, the vital, the overwhelmingly important character of the Church as the divinely established and only means of grace in the world, as the Mystical Body of Christ.  Practically the doctrine of the supernatural life, of sanctifying grace, of the development of the spiritual life, has safeguarded these deep truths; though even there individualism has asserted itself to the detriment of the collectivism of Christian activity.  The stress laid by St. Paul on the edification of the body of Christ, on the benefit the whole derives from the perfection of the members, has tended to be passed over where the social value of the contemplative life is not appreciated. 

It is in and through the Church that Jesus Christ has willed to effect the salvation of mankind.  From the beginning that Church has been a complex entity, and its history is filled with incidents in which men have concentrated upon some one essential element of its constitution to the exclusion of another equally essential element, and have drifted into heresy.  The Church has its visible and its invisible elements, its individual and its social claims, its natural and its supernatural activities, its adaptability to the needs of the times, while it is uncompromising in vindicating, even unto blood, that which it holds from Christ and for Christ.

The development of the doctrine of the visible Church and of the authority of its visible head upon earth has been very marked.  The persistent rejection of these revealed truths demanded their reiterated assertion and their vigorous defense.  No thinking man can overlook the fact of Catholicism: there stands in the midst of the world a body of men with a worldwide organization, and a carefully graded hierarchy, with a well-defined far-reaching process of teaching, law-making, and jurisdiction.  The Vatican Council (1869-70) teaches us that “God has instituted the Church through his only-begotten Son, and has bestowed on it manifest marks of that institution, that it may be recognized by all men as the guardian and teacher of the revealed Word; for to the Catholic Church alone belong all those many and admirable tokens which have been divinely established for the evident credibility of the Christian faith.  Nay, more, the Church itself, by reason of its marvelous extension, its eminent holiness, and its inexhaustible fruitfulness in every good thing, its Catholic unity and its invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility, and an irrefutable witness of its own divine mission.  And thus, like a standard set up amidst the nations, it both invites to itself those who do not yet believe, and assures its children that the faith which they profess rests on the most firm foundation.”(Dogm. Const. De Fide, iii)

In that teaching the interplay of the visible element and the invisible element is set forth most clearly; and so it has been from the days of Our Lord himself.

His parables and his teaching on his Kingdom make it clear that it is an organic and social entity, with an external hierarchical organization, aiming at bringing all men into such an attitude of mind and heart that the just claims of God his Father are recognized and honored on earth, and hereafter in the heavenly kingdom in which alone Christ’s ideal will be perfectly achieved.  On earth the seed is sown, the grain of mustard seed becomes the mighty-branched tree; the leaven works in the paste and raises it; even now we must need to enter in if our lot is to be with the elect; this, then, is the Kingdom preached by Christ and his followers. 

On earth the kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field, but while men were asleep his enemy came and over-sowed cockle among the wheat (Matt. xiii 24); again it is “like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together all kinds of fishes”(Matt. xiii 47); again it is likened to ten virgins – the wise and the foolish.  Members of the Kingdom may give scandal and be rejected, they may be persecuted and falter before the deceptions of Antichrist.  No doubt the Kingdom is life and spirit, and “the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth” (John iv 23).  But it is also clear that Christ’s Kingdom is seen and known and persecuted, and subject to the vicissitudes of human movements.

Now it was precisely the visible organized body of men that Saul the persecutor knew, when he was “consenting to the death” of Stephen, a deacon of the organized Church, and when he “made havoc of the Church,” imprisoning its members; when he set forth from Damascus, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against them.  In later years he recalls that he was “according to zeal, persecuting the Church of God” (Phil. iii 6); “that beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God and wasted it” (Gal. i 13).  “For I am the least of the Apostles . . . because I persecuted the Church of God” (I Cor. xv 9).

3. The relation between them

Our Lord has willed that his Church should be what it is, and that it should be the instrument of salvation for all.  He might have willed otherwise: he might have dealt with individual souls as though no other individual souls existed, by direct and immediate action, without taking into account the actions, the reactions, and the interactions of souls upon one another; without the realities underlying the Mystical Body; he might have ensured the preservation of his doctrine by direct revelation to individual souls; he might have willed that his followers should have been unknown in this world and known only to him, linked without knowing it in the invisible, mysterious life of grace – with no external sign of communion. 

But that was not his will.  He has taken into account the normal workings of our nature and he has supernaturalized them.  Our individuality is respected, our social nature is respected too.  Man is essentially a dependent being: dependent upon others for his life and his preservation, yearning for the company and the help of others.  And so too in the supernatural life: the personal love of Our Lord for each one of us does not deprive us of the supernatural help, support, and sympathy of those with whom we are united in Christ, in his Church.  Under the headship of the successor of Peter, the Christ-founded Church teaches, safeguards and sanctifies its members, and their coordinated, directed prayers and efforts combine to achieve the purpose for which Christ founded his Church – by mutual help and intercession and example.

Man is a sense-bound creature and the appeal of sense is continuous.  Our Lord has taken our nature into consideration.  The merely invisible we can accept on his authority.  But he has given us a visible Church, with recognizable rules and laws and doctrines and means of sanctification, in which man is at home.  We accept Our Lord’s gift to us with gratitude and strive to avail ourselves of the visible and invisible character.  He has willed that as individuals we should be united with him by sanctifying grace, and that at the same time we should be united to one another with a unique collectivity, an unparalleled solidarity, which is the reality designated as the Mystical Body of Christ.  And he has further willed that all the members of that Mystical Body should be members of the visible, organized hierarchical society to which he has given the power of teaching, ruling, and sanctifying.  That visible  Church is to be the unique indefectible Church which is to last until the end of time, and in its unity to extend all over the world.

The analogy of Body and Soul is used of the Church of God, and may be useful in emphasizing that relative importance of the two essential elements of the Church.  Our Lord wills that all should have life and should have it more abundantly: we have that life when we form part of the Mystical Body of Christ by supernatural Charity.  All the merely external elements of Church membership will be insufficient unless the purpose of that external organization is achieved: life-giving union with Christ.  It is for that purpose alone that the visible Church exists.



1.  The teaching of Christ

Our Lord’s prayer for the unity of his Church stands out very vividly.  “Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we also are.  While I was with them I kept them in thy name.  Those whom thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition” (John xvii 11-12).

That last prayer of Our Lord, embodying his last with, embodies also his abiding, effective will.  He had told his apostles that “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman.  Abide in me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he that abideth in me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit, for without me you can do nothing” (John xv 1-5).  When he sent his Apostles on their mission, he told them: “He that receiveth you receiveth me” (Matt. x 40).  “He that heareth you heareth me.  He that despiseth you despiseth me, and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Luke x 16).  And in the picture Our Lord gives us of the last judgment (Matthew xxv 31 to 40) he identifies himself with his followers, and declares that “as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”

2.  The teaching of St. Paul

When St. Paul was struck down on the way to Damascus he heard a voice saying to him “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts ix 4).  Who said “Who are thou, Lord” and he, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.”  Saul was persecuting the Church of God; Our Lord identifies himself with that persecuted Church: in persecuting the Church Saul was persecuting Christ himself.  Thus at the very outset of his Christian career, St. Paul learned that truth which was to affect the whole of his teaching, the truth of the union of Christ with his Church, a union so close, so unique, so unparalleled, that he uses one imaged expression after another to try to bring home to his hearers a fuller realization of the supernatural reality which had been revealed to him.  He uses the analogy of the human body, of the building, of grafting, to render more vivid the truth he wants Christians to understand.  Christ is the Head of his Church, and “he hath subjected all things beneath his feet and hath given him for supreme Head to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who is wholly fulfilled in all” (Eph. i 22-23).  And again, “the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ too is Head of the Church, himself being the savior of the body” (Eph. v 23).  And speaking of the visionaries of Colossa, he emphasized their “not holding fast by the head, for from this (which is Christ) the whole body, nourished and knit together by means of the joints and ligaments, doth gro with the growth that is of God” (Col. ii 19).  And again in the Epistle to the Ephesians (iv 15), “Rather shall we hold the truth in charity and grow in all things unto him who is the Head, Christ.”

Christ, then, is the Head of the Church, which is his body; the Church is the fullness of Christ, made up of head and members.  “You are (together) the body of Christ, and severally his members.”  The body of Christ, like the human body, presents a variety of structure, but “now there are many members yet one body” (I Cor. xii 20).  And there is a variety of functions which cannot be exercised in isolation.  “The eye cannot say to the hand ‘I have no need of thee’; nor again the head to the feet ‘I have no need of you.’  Nay, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are (still) necessary. . . . (Yea) God hath (so) compounded the body (as) to give special honor where it was lacking, that there may be no schism in the body, but that the members may have a common care for each other.  And if one member suffereth, all the members suffer therewith.  If a member be honored, all the members rejoice therewith.  Now you are (together) the body of Christ, and severally his members” (I Cor. xii 20-27).  Those varied gifts have their place in the Church, “and himself ‘gave’ some as Apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as shepherds and teachers for the perfecting of the saints in the work of the ministry unto the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. iv 11-12).  Again, “to one through the Spirit is granted utterance of wisdom, to another utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith in the same Spirit; and to another, gifts of healing (still) in the same Spirit; and to another, workings of miracles; to another, prophecy, (diverse) kinds of tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues” (I Cor. xii 8-11).

Yet in spite of this variety of gifts and endowments, all must tend to perfect unity.  “For all you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  In him is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for ye are all one person in Christ Jesus” (Gal. iii 27).  “For the perfecting of the saints in the work of ministry unto the building up of the body of Christ till we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the full measure of the stature of Christ . . . thus . . . rather we shall hold the truth in charity, and grow in all things in him who is the Head, Christ.  From him the whole body, welded and compacted together by means of every joint of the system, part working in harmony with part – (from him) the body, deriveth its increase unto the building up of itself in charity” (Eph. iv 12-16). 

Without going into exegetical detail, the truth that St. Paul is trying to express is clear: that there is the very closest possible relation between the members of the Church and the Head of the Church, so close that together they may be looked upon as one person, and that there is an ever-growing, intimate compenetration of members and head; the working of the members together with their Head constitutes the fullness of Christ; and in order that this universal fullness of grace should be diffused, our effort and our collaboration is called for: Christ is only his whole self by the unceasing working of his members.  The gifts they severally receive have no other purpose than to foster this increase, and in the working out of Christ’s scheme, the head is not the whole body, though it may be the focus of the whole vital influence.  Merely to say that Christ is the Head is not fully to define Christ.  “God hath given him for the supreme head to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him, who is wholly fulfilled in all” (Eph. i 22).

In these many passages we are faced by a reality which goes beyond any mere moral influence, any relation of the merely moral order.  The influence of Christ upon his members is a real, a vital influence, the nature of which we have to bring out more clearly.  St. Paul, in speaking of Christ as Head of the Church, is speaking of Christ as he now actually is.  No longer the suffering Son of God making his way in the midst of men, but Christ triumphant, inseparable from the fruits of his victory, from those whom he has redeemed, whose redemption is realized by their incorporation with him; so that in virtue of their union with Christ they share in his merits and in his glory.

3.  A twofold solidarity

To the solidarity of human nature in Adam, with its Original Sin and consequent evils, God has willed to contrast a more glorious restoration, a triumphant solidarity of supernaturalized creation transcending the limits of time and place and uniting all “in Christ,” whether Jew or Gentile, so that “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. ii 18).  That is the great “Mystery of Christ” (Eph. iii 4), bringing together mankind in one city, one family, one temple, one body under the headship of Christ, “recapitulating” all in Christ, so that all who are justified should think and act as members of the Body of Christ, having the closest possible relations as individuals with Christ their Redeemer, and through him and in him, with their fellow Christians.  Relations so close that the merits of Christ become theirs in proportion to the degree of their identification with him, and the merits of all avail unto all for the achieving of Christ’s purpose, the application of his merits to the salvation of mankind.

This great Mystery of the identification of Christ and the faithful in the mystical body of which he is the head and they are members dominates the mind of St. Paul.  Christ is the head, the Source of its corporate unity; the indwelling of his Spirit is the source of its spiritual activity.

“It seems to be true, speaking quite broadly, that where the Apostle refers to Christ’s Mystical Body, whether a propos of the whole Church or of the individual, he is thinking primarily of external organization, and when he refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, primarily of inward sanctification.  The doctrine of the Mystical Body, like that of the Kingdom in the Gospels, has its internal and external aspect” (Lattey, Westm. New Test., Vol. iii, p. 247).

St. Paul teaches us that it is by Baptism that we enter upon our “new life” “in Christ Jesus,” when we die to sin, and are crucified with Christ and, “putting on the Lord Jesus” (Rom. xiii 14), become one with him, identified with him, incorporated in him, members of his body and members of one another.

4.  The Fathers

The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ is one which has stood out quite clearly from the very beginning.  It has not undergone development.  The sacred writers have simply made known to us the reality revealed to them.  This being so, it will be unnecessary to quote at any length the teaching of the Fathers on this most important point.  A few indications will suffice.

St. Irenaeus is familiar with the idea that the Churches scattered throughout the world form a unique community; and that social reality corresponds to a mystical reality, for the Church is the grouping of the adopted sons of God, the body of which Christ is the Head, of is simply “the great and glorious body of Christ,” which Gnostics divide and seek to slay (Contra Haer., iv 33, 7).  For Tertullian all the faithful are members of one same body, the Church is in all those members, and the Church is Jesus Christ (De Paenitentia, X).  St. Ambrose, explaining the teaching of the Epistle to the Ephesians, gives as the motive of the charity we must have for one another, our close union with Christ, as we form only one body, of which he is the Head (Letter 76, No. 12).

The teaching of St. Augustine is so full that it might well fill a volume.  The Church is the body of Christ and the Holy Ghost is the soul of that body; for the Holy Ghost does in the Church all that the soul does in all the members of one body; hence the Holy Ghost is for the body of Jesus, which is the Church, what the soul is for the human body.  Therefore if we wish to live of the Holy Ghost, if we wish to remain united to him, we must preserve charity, love truth, will unity, and persevere in the Catholic faith; for just as a member amputated from the body is no longer vivified by the soul, so he who has ceased to belong to the Church receives no more the life of the Holy Spirit (Sermons 267, 268) “The Catholic Church alone is the body of Christ . . . outside that body the Holy Spirit gives life to no man . . . consequently those who are outside the Church have not the Holy Spirit” (St. Augustine, Letter 185, section 50).  “His body is the Church, not this Church or that Church, but the Church throughout the whole world; . . . for the whole Church, consisting of all the faithful, since all the faithful are members of Christ, has in Heaven that Head which rules his body” (Enarrationes in Psalmos lvi 1).  In his De Unitate Ecclesiae (2), he tells us that “the Church is the body of Christ, as the Apostle teaches (col. i 24).  Whence it is manifest that he who is not a member of Christ cannot share in the salvation of Christ.  The members of Christ are bound together by the union of charity, and by that self-same charity they are united to their Head, who is Christ Jesus.”  In the De Civitate Dei,” he emphasizes the union of the souls of the departed with the Church which is the Kingdom of Christ.  The members of the Church alive on earth are one with the departed; hence the commemoration of the departed at the Eucharist, and hence again the practice of reconciling sinners on their death-bed and baptizing the dying.  Hence again the commemoration of the martyrs who bore witness to the truth unto death, and who now reign in Christ’s kingdom.  To that Church of God belong also the just of all ages, and also the angels of God, for the angels persisted in their love of God and in their service of God (Enchiridion lvi; Sermon, 341, 9).  St. Augustine thus explains the binding force of the Church of God: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered for us and rose again, is the Head of the Church, and the Church is his body, and in his body it is the unity of the members and the union of charity that constitute its health, so that whenever a person grows cold in charity he becomes a sick member of the body of Christ.  But he who exalted our Head is also able to heal our inform members, provided only they have not been cut off by undue weakness, but have adhered to the body until they were healed.  For whatever still adheres to the body is not without hope of healing; but if he should be cut off from the body his cure is impossible” ((Sermon 137,1).  “It is the Holy Spirit that is the vivifying force in the body of Christ” (Sermon 267,4).



1.  The term

In view of the confusion that exists today in the use of the term “mystical” it may be well to give some account of its various meanings in ancient and modern literature.  Etymologically it is akin to “mystery”; both words spring from the Greek          : to close the lips or the eyes, lest words should reveal or eyes see what is hidden.  Thus is pre-Christian literature it is used of pagan cults, indicating a religious secret bound up with the “mysteries,” which were closed to all but the initiated.  Nevertheless it is sometimes used colloquially of non-religious secrets.

The Christian uses of the term are manifold.  We find the word commonly connected with the celebration of the Christian mysteries, especially of Baptism and the Eucharist.  Whatever was concerned with the administration of the Sacraments, or their explanation, was “mystical.”  Even today we speak of the “mystical oblation,” the “mystical sacrifice,” the “mystical cleansing.”  It is easy to see, therefore, how the word “mystical” was used so frequently to designate the sacrament, or the outward sign of inward grace.  It is also used in the sense of “symbolical” or “allegorical.”  Hence the “mystical meaning of Scripture” is the spiritual, figurative, or typical meaning, as distinct from the literal or obvious meaning.  The mystical sense of the Scripture is that hidden meaning which underlies the simple statement of events.  Again the word “mystical” is applied to the hidden reality itself.  The sacred writer often sets forth the truth in allegories, comparisons, and figures of speech; thus St. Paul teaches us that the faithful are members of the organism of which Christ is the Head, and of which the faithful form the body.  This is what we have come to speak of as the “mystical body of Christ.”

A further development of those earlier meanings in the application of the term to the hidden and mysterious realities of the supernatural order.  In this sense the secrets of grace in the souls of men, supernatural communications with God, are “mystical.”  In a more restricted sense it is used of the spiritual life of faith and sanctifying grace with its striving after perfection through prayer and mortification: the “mystical life.”  But in the strictest and technical sense it is applied to the state of infused contemplation.

What may be designated as the post-Christian or non-Christian senses of the term are not easy to analyze.  But in a philosophical religious sense the term is used of any teaching which admits the possibility of reaching “the fundamental principle of things” otherwise than by the normal use of the human faculties.  A linked meaning takes us away even from that vague religious sphere into the realm of thought inaccessible to ordinary minds dependent on intuition, instinct, or feeling.  A still more vague use of the term is fashionable craze for designating anything that is secret, or in any way connected with worship, with sentiment, with dreams, with the indefinable, the invisible, as “mystical.”

It may not be without interest to note that the term “mystical body” which is used by commentators on the scriptures and by theologians to designate the body of Christ, put before us so vividly by St. Paul and by the early Fathers, does not actually occur in the New Testament, nor yet in the patristic writings.  The two words “mystical body” are actually combined by St. John Chrysostom, when he is speaking of the Blessed Eucharist (Homily on the resurrection of the dead, n. 8, Gaume edition, Paris 1834, p. 56 C).  And that patristic use of “mystical body” for the Eucharist persisted in Rabanus Maurus (died 856) and in Paschasius Radbertus (died 951).  The latter’s book on the Body and Blood of the Lord has a chapter (7) on the uses of the term “body of Christ.,” where “mystical body” is still confined to the Blessed Eucharist.  Alexander of Hales, who died in 1245, in his Universae Theologiae Summa (Edition 1622, Vol. 2, p. 73), treating of the grace of Christ and his Headship of the Church, uses the words “mystical body” of the Church.  The same use is found in William of Auvergne (died 1249) in his De Ordine (Opera, vol. 1, p. 545), and in Albert the Great (1206-80).  All three authors use the term quite as a matter of course, and it would seem to have been in common use in the early thirteenth century.

Albert the Great explains the term “Mystical Body,” applied to the Church, as the result of the assimilation of the whole Church to Christ consequent upon the communion of the true Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist; so that the true Body of Christ under the appearance of bread became the symbol of the hidden divine reality.

2.  Meaning of the Mystical Body of Christ

What, precisely, then, is meant by the Mystical Body of Christ? (The principles of St. Thomas utilized in this section will be found: Summa Theol., III, Q. viii; Sent. Dist., 13;  Questiones  Disput: de Veritate, Q. xxiv, art. 4 and 5; Compendium Theologicae, Cap. 215; and also St. Thomas’ Commentary on 1 Cor. Chap. xii, lect. 3; Commentary on Eph. chap. i, lect. 7 and 8; chap. iv, lect. 4 and 5; Commentary on Col. chapt. i, lect. 5.)  It is obvious that the Church is not the natural Body of Christ.  On the other hand it is more than merely morally the Body of Christ, i.e., the union between its members and Christ is not merely the union of ideas and ideals – there is a much closer connection between Christ the Head and his members, constituting a unique entity, which, because of its close connection with the Word Incarnate, is designated by a unique name: the Mystical Body of Christ – a body in which the members, living indeed their natural life individually, are supernaturally vivified and brought into harmony with the whole by the influence, the wondrous power and efficacious intervention of the Divine Head.  That Invisible Head ever abides, the members of the Mystical Body come and go, but the Body continues to exercise its influence in virtue of the vivifying power from on high animating its members, and that with such persistence and consistency, with such characteristic independence of action transcending the powers of the individual members, that we may speak of it as a Person, as Christ ever living in his Church, which is his Body, inasmuch as we are the members of which he is the Head.

What makes Christ’s Mystical Body so very different from any mere moral body of men is the character of the union existing between Christ and the members.  It is not a mere external union, it is not a mere moral union; it is a union which, as realized in Christ’s Church, is at once external and moral, but also, and that primarily, internal and supernatural.  It is the supernatural union of the sanctified soul with Christ, and with all other sanctified souls in Christ.;  Now, given the nature of the human soul, its individuality, its immortality, it is clear that the union of our soul with Christ in his Mystical Body excludes the conversion of our soul into the Divine Substance, excludes any identification of man with God, any confusion or a co-mingling of the Divine and human natures.  in that union there is not and cannot be equality or identity, but there is a likeness, a supernatural likeness between our soul and Christ the Head of the Mystical Body.

3.  Vital influence of Christ

With Christ we form one Mystical Body, whereof he is the Head and we are the members  A unique Body indeed, not a physical body, not a merely moral body, but a Mystical Body without parallel in the physical or moral order.  As our Head, Christ exercises a continuous, active, vitalizing, interior, and hidden influence, governing, ruling, and raising his incorporated members.  So that from Christ as Head comes the Unity of that Body, its growth, the vitality transmitted throughout its members.  The life and increase of that Body is obtained by the operations of each of the members according to the measure of the vitalizing influence which each one receives from the Head (Cf. the scriptural texts quoted above, pp. 663-664: Col. ii 18-19; Eph. i 22-23; iv 15-16; v 23). 

That is the internal influence he exercises through his grace in our souls.  There is, moreover, the external influence he exercises through his visible Church.

It is by the grace of Christ that we are united to Christ our Head, and Christ is the source of all our grace in the present dispensation.  Not, indeed, that we are to conceive that the very grace which existed in his human soul is transferred to ours–that would be absurd; but he is the source of our grace inasmuch as the Divine Plan of Redemption he merited grace for us, and is the efficient instrumental Cause of grace, since as Man he taught the truth to men, he founded his Church and therein established the power of jurisdiction, teaching authority, and Holy Orders, and in particular because he instituted the sacraments, whereby grace if produced, and he gives to those sacraments all the efficacy they possess.  This causality of Christ, this active influence exercised by Christ, the Church never loses sight of, ever directing her petitions to God: Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our chief concern at present is, however, not so much with the active influence exercised by Christ, as with the effect which is thereby produced in men by Christ, produced by the Head upon the members of the Mystical Body.

4.  Likeness of members to Head

In virtue of our incorporation in Christ, we are united to Christ, and that union consists in the supernatural likeness established between our soul and Christ: for unity of souls is as we have seen obtained by likeness.  Now that likeness is manifold.  There is, first of all, a real and physical (not material) likeness, attained by the justified soul, inasmuch as the sanctifying grace, the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are bestowed upon it, are of the same species as those which inhered in and were infused into the human soul of Christ: they differ, of course, in degree, inasmuch as in Christ they exist in the supreme degree.  In the faithful soul this sanctifying grace, with its retinue of virtues and gifts, may, of course, be increased by meritorious good works, and thus the likeness to Christ increases.  From that physical likeness there follows moral likeness also.  For being informed, being vitalized by the same supernatural life, we are disposed to the same supernatural activity as Christ himself: that is to say, the infused supernatural habits dispose the soul to the same operations, freely performed, as those elicited by Christ: the Christian by acting in accordance with those virtues, imitates or follows Christ.  We are thus united to Christ in thought and word and deed, striving to look at all things as Christ himself would have looked at them, to speak of all as Christ would have spoken, to behave to all as Christ would have behaved – thus becoming “other Christs.”  Christ became the living standard of holiness, the divine example which we strive to reproduce in ourselves.

5.  Union with Christ by charity

Besides that union of our soul with Christ through supernatural likeness, we must recall the union consequent upon supernatural cognition and love, a most intimate union.  Christ is known to his followers by Faith, he is loved by Charity: how deep may be that knowledge, how intense, how ardent that love, how efficacious and vivifying may be the influence thus exercised by Christ is to be seen in the lives of the Saints.  It is clear that here exists true friendship, the mutual love of benevolence of Christ for the Faithful, of the Faithful for Christ.  But this friendship not only exists between Christ and each of the faithful, but also mutually amongst the faithful themselves.  The love whereby the Christian loves Christ is supernatural charity, the primary object of which is God himself, as he is himself Infinite Goodness itself.  But the secondary object of that theological charity is every single one of our neighbors, inasmuch as he is actually or potentially a sharer in the Divine Goodness.  And so by loving Christ, we wish happiness to ourselves and to our neighbors; by the virtue of hope we hope it for ourselves and for others; and finally, by performing works of mercy, we co-operate in procuring for one another sanctification in this life and eternal happiness in the next.  And all this meets in due subjection and obedience to the Vicar of Christ, who in this world rules and governs the Mystical Body of Christ.  Hence arises the Communion of Saints, which is the communication of good things amongst all the members of the whole Church: militant, suffering, and triumphant. 

And thus, the life which animates the Mystical Body of Christ consists in (1) the unity of souls by likeness to Christ, and (2) the unity of souls by knowledge and love and consequent co-operation.

6.  Christ lives in the Church

What confronts the world and the powers of evil at every moment of the world’s history is not merely the resolute will of strenuous and righteous men banded together in the most wonderful organization the world has ever known: behind that will, behind that organization, is the will and power of Christ working through his grace, reproducing in every age supernatural effects of virtue, arousing in every age similar opposition from all, of whatever type or character, who are not in the fullest harmony with Christ our Lord.  Of the undying character of that hatred, that virulent, active hostility, there can be no doubt, and in the world there is one Body alone upon which all anti-Christians, and not a few professing Christians, can agree to concentrate their destructive energies: surely the very abnormal character and persistency of that attack, reproducing in its varying phases every phase of opposition to Jesus Christ himself, is a strong corroboration of the well-founded character of the claims of the Catholic Church, that she and she alone is the Mystical Body of Christ, that in and through her alone Christ still lives and speaks to the world.

It is this silent, supernatural influence radiating from Christ indwelling in his Church which is the real explanation of that wonderful unity of faith which characterizes the genuine Catholic Church: which, as the priest speaks to the people, brings forth acts of faith from the hearts of his hearers, which, when Catholics are gathered together at a Eucharistic Congress, causes every heart and mind to be in complete, entire, and helpful harmony with every Catholic mind and heart throughout the entire universe.  It is that same silent influence which accounts for the self-sacrifice and generosity of Christ’s servants, manifesting itself in identical ways in cloister and home, in modern and ancient times, although no external communication has taken place between Christ’s faithful ones.

7.  Holy Ghost the soul of the Mystical Body

The soul of the Mystical Body is the Holy Spirit: he is the inspiring, the animating principle.  He indwells in the Church and in each one of the faithful, he is the internal force giving life and movement and cohesion.  He is the source of the multiplicity of charismata manifesting the vitality of the Body (Rom. xii 4-11).  From him proceeds even the smallest supernatural act, for “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ save in the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Christ, in him he is and through him he is given to us.  His work is to achieve unity, unity among men, and with God” (St. Cyril of Alex. , Com. on John xvii 20-21).

Jesus in his mortal days was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Luke iv 1), “and of his fullness we all have received” (John i 16).  “But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Creator will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (John xiv 26).

“But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, that man is not of Christ” (Rom. viii 9).  “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father!” (Gal. iv 6).

Baptism, which incorporates us into the Mystical Body, gives us too the principle of our unity and activity: “For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of the body, many as they are, form one body, so also (it is with) Christ.  For in one Spirit all we, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, were baptized into one body; and were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. xii 12-13).

This common teaching was set forth by Leo XIII in 1897 in his Encyclical Divinum illud munus on the Holy Ghost: “Let it suffice to state that as Christ is the Head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.”



1.  The Fall and Redemption

The record of God’s dealings with man makes clear a two-fold contrast between grace and unity on the one hand and sin and discord on the other.  God’s grace has ever been the great unifying factor, uniting God with man and man with his fellow-men.  Sin separates man from God and from his fellow-men.  The purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was to rid it of discord and unite it with God in the grace-union once more.  His supreme prayer for his followers was “that they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me and I in thee; that they also may be one in us . . . that they may be one as we also are one.  I in them and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one.”

In the mystery of the Redemption by the Word Incarnate we see the relation of fallen man to God changed to man’s advantage; he has been redeemed, saved, reconciled, delivered, justified, regenerated; he has become a new creature.  The significance of the Redemption from the point of view of our subject lies in this, that the Redemption of man is analogous to his Fall.  All men, deriving their human nature from Adam, had inherited from him the stain of original sin, and thus the whole human race in one man had been set at enmity with God.  Just as man’s Fall had been corporate, so his reconciliation was to be corporate too.  For the fatal solidarity with Adam which had resulted in death and sin was to be substituted by a new and salutary solidarity whereby all men, born in sin of the first Adam, might be regenerated to the life of grace in the new Adam, Jesus Christ.  Our lost rights to supernatural development in this world, and to a vision of God after the time of probation, have been restored to us through the supernatural action of Christ’s human nature, hypostatically united to the Word of God.  Christ is the Spokesman of mankind, the Representative Man, the Second Adam, carrying out for our sakes what we could not carry out for ourselves, giving to God that glory and adoration, that worship, thanksgiving, and reparation, which the Man-God alone could give.  In virtue of our solidarity with him we share in the results of his activity, and our share will be the greater in the measure in which we more and more completely identify ourselves with Christ, “put on Christ,” become “other Christs.”

2.  St. Thomas on redemption and the Mystical Body

It is in terms of this solidarity of man with Christ, in terms of the Mystical Body formed by mankind united with its Head, that St. Thomas, as follows, sets forth the doctrine of the Redemption, and of the application of its fruits:

“Since he is our Head, then, by the Passion which he endured from love and obedience, he delivered us as his members from our sins, as by the price of his passion: in the same way as if a man by the good industry of his hands were to redeem himself from a sin committed by his feet.  For just as the natural body is one, though made up of diverse members, so the whole Church, Christ’s Mystical Body, is reckoned as one person with its Head, which is Christ” (III, Q. xlix, art. 1).

“Grace was in Christ not merely as in an individual, but also as in the Head of the whole Church, to whom all are united as members to a head, who constitute one mystical person, and hence it is that Christ’s merit extends to others inasmuch as they are his members; even as in a man the action of the head reaches in a manner to all his members, since it perceives not merely for itself alone, but for all the members” (III, Q. xix, art. 4).

“The sin of an individual harms himself alone; but the sins of Adam, who was appointed by God to be the principle of the whole nature, is transmitted to others by carnal propagation.  So, too, the merit of Christ, who has been appointed by God to be the head of all men in regard to grace, extends to all his members” (III, Q. xix, art. 4, ad 1).

“As the sin of Adam reaches others only by carnal generation, so, too, the merit of Christ reaches otherss only by spiritual regeneration, which takes place in baptism; wherein we are incorporated with Christ, according to Gal. iii 27: as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ; and it is by grace that it is granted to man to be incorporated with Christ.  And thus man’s salvation is from Grace” (III, Q. xix, art. 4, ad 3).

“Christ’s satisfaction works its effect in us inasmuch as we are incorporated with him as the members with their head, as stated above.  Now the members must be conformed with their head.  Consequently as Christ first had grace in his soul with bodily passibility, and through the Passion attained to the glory of immortality: so we likewise, who are his members, are freed by his Passion from all debt of punishment, yet so that we first receive in our souls the spirit of adoption of sons whereby our names are written down for the inheritance of immortal glory, while we yet have a passible and mortal body: but afterwards, being made conformable to the sufferings and death of Christ, we are brought into immortal glory, according to the saying of the Apostle (Rom. viii 17), and if sons, heirs also: heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ; yet so if we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him” (III, Q. xlix, art. 3, ad 3).

“Christ’s voluntary suffering was such a good act, that because of its being found in human nature, God was appeased for every offense of the human race with regard to those who are made one with the crucified Christ in the aforesaid manner” (III, Q, xlix, art. 4).

“The head and members are as one mystic person; and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being his members.  Also in so far as any two men are one in charity, the one can satisfy for the other, as shall be shown later” (Supplement, Q. xiii, art. 2).  “But the same reason does not hold good of confession and contrition, because the satisfaction consists of an outward action for which helps may be used, among which friends are to be computed” (Q. xlviii, art. 2, ad 1).

“As stated above(Q. vii, art. 1, ad 9; Q. viii, art. 1, ad 5), grace was bestowed upon Christ, not only as an individual, but inasmuch as he is the Head of the Church, so that it might overflow into his members; and therefore Christ’s works are referred to himself and to his members in the same way as the works of any other man in a state of grace are referred to himself.  But it is evident that whosoever suffers for justice’ sake, provided that he be in a state of grace, merits his salvation thereby, according to Matt. v 10.  Consequently Christ by his Passion merited salvation, not only for himself, but likewise for all his members” (Q. xlviii, art. 1).

3.  On Baptism and incorporation

The fruits of the Redemption, therefore, are applied to individuals inasmuch as they are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ.  Now the means which Christ has instituted for this incorporation are the sacraments, and in particular Baptism, the sacrament of regeneration.  Hence in the teaching of St. Thomas concerning this sacrament we are able to see again the far-reaching importance of the doctrine of the Mystical Body.

“Since Christ’s Passion,” he writes (III, Q. xlix, art. 1, ad 4), “preceded as a kind of universal cause of the forgiveness of sins, it needs to be applied to each individual for the cleansing of personal sins.  Now this is done by Baptism and Penance and the other sacraments, which derive their power from Christ’s Passion.”

Even those who lived before the coming of Christ, and therefore before the institution of the sacrament of Baptism, needed, if they were to be saved, to become members of Christ’s Mystical Body.  “At no time could men be saved, even before the coming of Christ, unless they became members of Christ: ‘for there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved’ (Acts iv 12).  Before Christ’s coming men were incorporated into Christ by faith in his future coming, and the seal of that faith was circumcision” (Rom. iv 11, III, Q. lxviii, art. 1, ad 1).

Treating the question whether a man can be saved without Baptism, St. Thomas allows that where actual Baptism is absent owing to accidental circumstances, the desire proceeding from “faith working through charity” will in God’s providence inwardly sanctify him.  But where you have absence of actual Baptism and a culpable absence of the desire of Baptism, “those who are not baptized under such conditions cannot be saved, because neither sacramentally nor mentally are they incorporated in Christ, through whom alone comes salvation” (Rom. iv 11, III, Q. lxviii, art 2).  He emphasizes the same truth when speaking of men who are sinners in the sense that they will to sin and purpose to remain in sin.  These, he says, are not properly disposed to receive Baptism: “’For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ’: now as long as a man has the will to sin, he cannot be united to Christ: ‘for what hath justness in common with lawlessness’” (2 Cor. vi 14). 

The reason why the effects of the Passion of Christ are applied to us in Baptism is that we are a part of Christ, we form one with him.  “That is why the very pains of Christ were satisfactory for the sins of the baptized, even as the pains of one member may be satisfactory for the sins of another member” (III, Q. lxviii, art. 5, ad 1).  Indeed, the effects of the Passion of Christ are as truly ours as if we had ourselves undergone the Passion: “Baptism incorporates us into the Passion and death of Christ: ‘If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live together with Christ’(Rom. vi 8); whence it follows that the Passion of Christ in which each baptized person shares is for each a remedy as effective as if each one had himself suffered and died.  Now it has been seen that Christ’s Passion is sufficient to make satisfaction for all the sins of all men.  He therefore who is baptized is set free from all liability to punishment which he had deserved, as if he himself had made satisfaction for them” (Q. lxix, art. 2).  Again, “the baptized person shares in the penal value of Christ’s Passion as he is a member of Christ, as though he had himself endured the penalty” (Ibid., ad 1).  “According to St. Augustine,” he writes in article 4 of the same question, “’Baptism has this effect, that those who receive it are incorporated in Christ as his members.’  Now from the Head which is Christ there flows down upon all his members the fullness of grace and of truth: ‘Of his fullness we have all received’ (John i 16).  Whence it is evident that Baptism gives a man grace and the virtues.”

4.  Body and Soul of the Church

From this explicit teaching it is clear that there is only one Body of Christ, and it is by Baptism that we are incorporated in it.  Consequently we must be very careful in using the well-known distinction of the “body” and “soul” of the Church.

Every man validly baptized is a member of Christ’s Mystical Body, is a member of the Church.  Now it may well happen that adverse external circumstances may prevent a man’s character as an incorporated member of the Church being recognized, and the absence of such recognition may involve the jurifical denial of all that it involves.  In the eyes of men he may appear to have broken the bond uniting him to the Church, and yet, because of the supernatural faith, and the persistent loving life of grace, whereby he seeks in all things to do the will of God, his union with the Church really continues: spiritually he remains a member of the Church, he belongs to the body of the Church.  He may, all the time, through error, be giving his external adhesion to a religious society which cannot be part of the Church.  But at heart, by internal and implicit allegiance, he may be a faithful member of the Church.

Evidently, if the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, then to be outside the Mystical Body is to be outside the Church, and since there is no salvation outside the Mystical Body, there is no salvation outside the Church.  But, as we have seen, a man’s juridical situation is not necessarily his situation before God.

The use of the term “the Soul” of the Church as distinct from “the Body,” in the sense that Catholics belong to the Body and the Soul, and non-Catholics to the Soul only, and therefore may be saved because of their good faith, does indeed convey an element of truth, but not the whole of it.  The continual stressing of the “good faith” of those who are unfortunately out of visible communion with us, does seem to undermine the traditional horror of heresy and of heretics, replacing it by a horror of “heresiarchs”; it seems to a premium on muddle-headedness, and to reserve the stigma of heresy for the clear-headed ones.  After all, the malice of heresy lies in the rending of the Body of Christ: what our Lord meant to be one, heretics, even material heretics, divide.  They may be in good faith–and that good faith will at some moment lead them to see what they had not seen before–but the fact remains that their error or ignorance, however inculpable, retards the edification of the Body of Christ.  Even the claims of Charity should not blind us to the importance of growth in the knowledge of objective truth, as contrasted with the limitations of error, however well-meaning it may be.

In this matter the advice of St. Paul to the Ephesians is relevant: “With all humility and mildness, with patience supporting one another in charity, careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  One body and oen Spirit, as you are called in one hope of your calling.  One Lod, one Faith, one Baptism” (Eph. iv 2 ff). 

The notions of Redemption, Baptism, and the Mystical Body are combined by the Apostle in the following magnificent passage: “Christ also loved the Church and delivered himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, purifying her in the bath of water by means of the word, and that he might present her to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish. . . . Surely no man ever hated his own flesh, nay he doth nourish and cherish it, even as Christ the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph. v 25-27, 29).



1.  Redemption and sacrifice

The Catholic doctrine of Redemption is inseparable from that of Sacrifice, for it was by his sacrifice on Calvary that Christ achieved our Redemption.  “Christ, being come an high-priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation: neither by the blood of goats or of calves, but by his own blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and of oxen . . . sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleaning of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?  And therefore he is the Mediator of the New Testament: that by means of his death for the redemption of those transgressions which were under the former testament, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. ix 11). 

Such being the intimate connection between Redemption and Sacrifice in the economy of our salvation (See Essay xiv: Christ, Priest and Redeemer, passim.), it is not to be wondered at if the doctrine of the Mystical Body finds its clearest illustration and most practical application in the Catholic teaching concerning the sacrifice of the Mass.

2.  The Mass the sacrifice of the Mystical Body

The central fact of human history is the Redemption, wrought, in accordance with the divine plan, by the life-work of Christ, and culminating in the supreme act of self-oblation made by his human will in manifestation of his love of his Father.  The sacrifice which Christ offered to his Father on the Cross is the one perfect act of worship ever offered by man to God.  But Christians have never regarded that sacrifice simply as an event of the past.  They have been ever mindful of the command he gave his followers to do as he did in commemoration of him, “showing the death of the Lord until he come” (1 Cor. xi 26), “knowing that Christ, rising again from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall have no more dominion over him” (Rom. vi 9).  Christ as he is today is Christ triumphant with the fruits of his victory, with the faithful in whom his Spirit dwells and works.  The same sacrifice which Christ offered on Calvary is unendingly renewed in the sacrifice of the Mass.  The sacrifice is Christ’s; the victim is Christ; the priest is Christ.  The only difference lies in the absence of actual blood-shedding on the Calvary of the Altar.  The Mass is the sacrifice of the Mystical Body of Christ (See Essay xxv in this volume: The Eucharistic Sacrifice).

That the whole Church has a sacerdotal character is clear from several passages of the New Testament.  Baptism, which made us sons of God, members of the Mystical Body, gave us an indelible character: “But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter ii 9).  “Jesus Christ . . . who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us a kingdom and priests to God and his Father” (Apoc. i 5).  “Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter ii 5).  Together with our Head, through the ministry of the priests who have the power of consecrating, we co-operate effectively in the offering of the sacrifice in the measure of our supernatural importance in the Mystical Body (Cf. The Eucharistic Sacrifice). 

3.  Christ, Head and Members, offers the sacrifice

It would be a pitiable mistake to think of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass as a dead offering.  It is a living offering and is offered by the living Christ.  Christ is the priest of the Mass.  It is Christ who celebrates the Mass, and he celebrates it with a warm and living Heart, the same Heart with which he worshipped his Father on Mount Calvary.  He prays for us, asks pardon for us, gives thanks for us, adores for us.  As he is perfect man, he expresses every human feeling; as he is God, his utterances have a complete perfection, an infinite acceptableness.  Thus when we offer Mass we worship the Father with Christ’s worship.  Our prayers being united with his obtain not only a higher acceptance, but a higher significance.  Our obscure aspirations he interprets; what we do not know how to ask for, or even to think of, he remembers; for what we ask in broken accents, he pleads in perfect words; what we ask in error and ignorance he deciphers in wisdom and love.  Thus our prayers, as they are caught up by his Heart, become transfigured, indeed, divine.

Hence by God’s mercy we do not stand alone.  In God’s providence the weakness of the creature is never overwhelmed, unaided, by the omnipotence of God.  In particular the Catholic is never isolated in his prayers, in his pleadings with God.  He is a member of the divinely instituted Church, his prayers are reinforced by the prayers of the whole Church, he shares, in life an din death, in that amazing combination of grace-aided effort and accumulated energy known as the Communion of Saints.  But especially is the Catholic strong when he pleads before God the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  Simply as a member of the Church, as a member of Christ’s Mystical Body, every Catholic has a share in the sacrifice offered by Christ as Head of his Church, a share in the supreme act of adoration thereby offered to God.  And that partaking in the offering of the Sacrifice is as real and as far-reaching as the Mystical Body itself.

4.  Christ, Head and Member, the victim

Christ, head and members, offers the sacrifice, but Christ, head and members, offers himself, and we, in union with our Head, are victims too.  St. paul has told us that we are “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, if, that is, we suffer with him, that with him we may also be glorified” (Rom. viii 17).  We must share in his sufferings if we would share in his salvation.  And in his epistle to the Collosians (i 24), St. Paul stresses the importance of our privilege: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings on your behalf, and make up in my flesh what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ, on behalf of his body, which is the Church, whereof I am become a minister.”  So that as we are members of the one body, our sufferings, our prayers, our sacrifices, “may further the application to others of what Christ alone has secured for all” (Lattey in loc).  “The Church,” says St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei, x 20), which is the body of which he is the head, learns to offer herself through him.”  “The whole redeemed city, that is, the congregation and society of the saints, is the universal sacrifice which is offered to God by the High Priest” (Ibid., 6). 

“I exhort you therefore, brethren,” writes St. Paul (Rom. xii 1), “by the compassion of God, to present your bodies a sacrifice, living, holy, well-pleasing to God, your spiritual service.”  Since we are members of Christ our sufferings, united with the offering of Christ, acquire a value in the carrying out of Christ’s purpose in the world which they could never have of themselves.  Our mortifications, our fastings, our almsdeeds are seen to have a range of effective influence in the Mystical Body, however trifling they may appear in themselves.  The Lenten Fast is no mere personal obligation: the Church calls upon her children to do their share in furthering the interests of Christ in the world, insists that they should not be merely passengers in the barque of Peter, but should “:pull their weight”; for they too have benefited and are benefiting from the fastings and prayers of God’s holy servants throughout the world.  The call to reparation on behalf of others is bound up with the privileges we enjoy through our solidarity with our fellow-members of the Mystical Body.

5.  The sacrificial attitude of mind

Every sacrifice is the external expression of an internal sacrificial attitude of mind, whereby we submit all that we have and all that we are to the divine will, that in all things it may be accomplished.  In every sacrifice the victim is offered in place of him who offers it, as a means of expressing as adequately as possible the perfection of his submission to God.  Now we have seen that our union as members of Christ’s Mystical Body with the Victim offered to God in the Mass, unites us with our High Priest both as offerers and as offered.  Hence, from our solidarity with the priesthood and the victimhood of Christ there follows as a necessary corollary the duty in Catholics of cultivating the sacrificial attitude of mind.

When the pursuivants were thundering at the door of the house of Mr. Swithun Wells in Gray’s Inn Lane on the morning of All Saints’ Day, 1591, as the priest, Edmund Genings, stood at the improvised altar and offered the Sacrifice of the Mass, there could be no mistake about the sacrificial attitude of mind of the small group of faithful present on that occasion.  All had suffered for the privilege of worshipping God as he would be worshipped in his Church, and had refused to conform to the observances of the Established Church.  With calm deliberation they took their lives and fortunes in their hands, and offered them up to God in union with the redeeming sacrifice of Christ himself.  The working out of God’s will was to them as mysterious as it is to us.  But their duty to God was clear, and the danger they ran was clear; but they commended themselves into the hands of God, and prayed that his will might be done.  The spirit inspiring them shines out in Mr. Swithun Wells’ reply when in prison he answered, “That he was not indeed privy to the Mass being said in his house, but wished that he had been present, thinking his house highly honored by having so divine a sacrifice offered therein,” and the Justice told him that though he was not at the feast, he should taste of the sauce.  On 10 December, 1591, he won the crown of martyrdom.

If we compare the attitude of mind of the small group of devoted Catholics who were gathered round the martyr’s altar with the attitude of those indifferent Catholics who under the most favorable conditions content themselves with deliberately conforming to the very minimum of the Church’s requirements, we can see that there is room for many gradations in the intensity of the worship of God in the Holy Mass.  Better perhaps than any technical definitions the example of our Catholic forefathers can teach the lesson so many of us have to learn.

Our lives are spent in the midst of men who, however religious-minded they may be, have lost all idea of sacrificial worship: the Great Christian Act of Sacrifice is no longer the center of their religious observance.  At times one may wonder whether the influence of atmosphere does not affect the less-instructed of the faithful.  Our people have a firm and deep belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, but it often happens that they have a less clear perception of what the Sacrifice means.  At times one hears the question, “Why is it that when Our Lord is already present in the Tabernacle, such a great manifestation of reverence should surround the Consecration?” a question which shows how little it is realized that at the Consecration Our Lord comes offering himself as our Victim, bearing our sins, offering himself to his Eternal Father for us.  Such a though makes the Sacrifice real and living to us, and moves us to offer ourselves up with him, to be ready to suffer what we can for him who suffered and died for us.



1.  Union with Christ consummated by Holy Communion

The end of all sacrifice is union with God; and the end of the Sacrifice of the New Law is union with God through and in Jesus Christ; a union which is consummated by Holy Communion, wherein those who have offered the sacrifice partake of the sacred Victim.  It is evident, therefore, that the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as well as the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Mass, is intimately bound up with the doctrine of the Mystical Body.  In fact, the Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Mystical Body of Christ.

 2.  Nature of this union

How close this connection really is may be seen from the study of three well-known texts of the Gospel of St. John: “Abide in me and I in you.  As the  branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you the branches; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit, for without me you can do nothing” (xv 4-5).  “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us . . . I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one” (xvii 21-23).  “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you; he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life. . . . He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him.  As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me the same also shall live by me” (vi 54 ff). 

The comparison of these three passages not only brings out in a striking manner the nature of the union that Christ wills should exist between himself and the faithful–and among the faithful themselves–but also shows what Christ intends to be the primary and chief cause of that union.  The union for which Christ prayed is a union of life, a communion of supernatural life, of the divine life of grace and charity, that union which, as we have seen, knits together the members of the Mystical Body, as the branches are united with the vine.  It is a union so intimate that those who are united may be truly said to be in each other; a union so close that Christ does not hesitate to compare it with the union existing between his Father and himself: “as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee.”  Now the union between Christ and his Father is a union of nature and life.  “He that seeth me,” he had said to Philip, “seeth the Father also.  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? . . . Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more.  But you see me; because I live, and you shall live.  In that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. . . . If any one love me . . . my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him” (John xiv 9 ff).  The members of Christ, therefore, are united with their Head and with each other by the communication of the life of grace and charity, which, as St. Peter tells us, is nothing else than a participation of the divine nature (Cf. 2 Peter i 4.  Cf. also 1 John iv 7: “Everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God”; ibid., 15-16: “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. . . . He that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in Him.”) 

3.  The sacrament of the Mystical Body

What is the chief means whereby this life of grace is to be communicated to the members of his Body?  The answer is found in the third of the texts quoted above: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him.  As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.”  The Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood is the divinely appointed means for incorporation into his Mystical Body.  The Eucharist, in other words, is not only the Sacrament of Christ’s true body; it is also the Sacrament of his Mystical Body.  Hence St. Paul writes: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not fellowship in the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not fellowship in the body of Christ?  We many are one bread, one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”  And commenting on these words of the Apostle St. Augustine says: “The faithful know the body of Christ if they do not neglect to be the body of Christ.  Let them become the body of Christ if they wish to live by the Spirit of Christ; and therefore it is that St. Paul, explaining to us the nature of this bread, says, ‘We being many are one bread, one body.’  O sacrament of piety!  O symbol of unity!  O bond of charity!  He who wills to live has here the place to live, has here the source of his life.  Let him approach and believe, let him be incorporated, that he may receive life” (In Joan., tr. xxvi 13).  “Be what you see,” he writes elsewhere (Sermon 272), “and receive what you are. . . . He who receives the mystery of unity and does not hold the bond of peace, does not receive the mystery for his profit, but rather a testimony against himself.”

Hence also St. Thomas, dealing with the sin of unworthy Communion, having pointed out that the Eucharist signifies the “Mystical Body, which is the fellowship of the Saints,” writes: “He who receives this sacrament, by the very fact of doing so signifies that he is united to Christ  and incorporated in his members: now this is effected by charity-informed faith which no man can have who is in mortal sin.  Hence it is clear that whosoever receives this sacrament in a state of mortal sin is guilty of falsifying the sacramental sign, and is therefore guilty of sacrilege” (III, Q. lxxx, art. 9).

4.  The Eucharist and Baptism

The intimate connection of the Sacrament of the Eucharist with the Mystical Body may be clearly illustrated by the teaching of St. Thomas on the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation (See Essay xxxiv: The Sacrament of the Eucharist).  It has been seen in a preceding section that Baptism is the Sacrament of incorporation in the Mystical Body, and hence for infants the actual reception, and for adults at least the desire, of this sacrament is indispensable for salvation; for outside the Mystical Body of Christ none can be saved.  Now to assert that Incorporation is the proper effect of the Eucharist would seem at first sight to contradict the undoubted truth that Baptism is the “gate of the Sacrament” and, alone, is necessary for salvation.  St. Thomas solves the difficulty by pointing out that the Eucharist is the source of the efficacy of all the other Sacraments, these being subordinated to the greatest of them all.  “This Sacrament,” he writes (III, Q. lxxix, art. 1, ad.1), “has of itself the power of bestowing grace; nor does any one possess grace before receiving this sacrament except from some desire thereof; from his own desire in the case of the adult; or from the Church’s desire in the case of children.”  If this desire in adults is a sincere one, as it should be, and the baptized person is faithful to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, he will complete what is expected of him and receive the Blessed Sacrament:

“The effect of this sacrament is union with the Mystical Body, without which there can be no salvation; for outside the Church there is no entry to salvation. . . . However, the effect of a sacrament can be had before the actual reception of the sacrament, from the very desire of receiving it; hence before the reception of this sacrament a man can have salvation from the desire of receiving this sacrament. . . . From the very fact of being baptized infants are destined by the Church for the reception of the Eucharist, and just as they believe by the faith of the Church, so from the intention of the Church they desire the Eucharist, and consequently receive its fruit.  But for baptism they are not destined by means of another preceding sacrament, and therefore before the reception of baptism infants cannot in any way have baptism by desire, but only adults.  Hence infants cannot receive the effect of the sacrament (of baptism) without the actual reception of the sacrament.  Therefore the Eucharist is not necessary for salvation in the same way as Baptism” (III, Q. lxxiii, art. 3). 

And elsewhere (III, Q. lxxx, art. 11), “There are two ways of receiving this sacrament, namely, spiritually and sacramentally.  Now it is clear that all are bound to eat it at least spiritually, because this is to be incorporated in Christ, as was said above (i.e., in the passage just quoted).  Now spiritual eating comprises the desire or yearning for receiving the sacrament.  Therefore a man cannot be saved without desiring to receive this sacrament.  Now a desire would be vain, except it were fulfilled when opportunity presented itself.”

5.  Union of the faithful

But it would be a mistake to regard the Eucharist as having its effect merely in the individual soul that receives it.  All that has been said hitherto about the solidarity of the members of Christ forbids any such restricted view.  The Eucharist has far-reaching effects passing beyond the mere individual to the masterpiece of divine Love, the sanctification of mankind; bringing all men under the Headship of Christ, uniting soul with soul, and souls with Christ, until all the elect in Heaven and in Purgatory are one in Christ with his faithful on earth; so that all work together to achieve his Fullness: “for the perfecting of the Saints in the work of ministry, unto the building up of the body of Christ, till we all attain to the unity of the Faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the full measure of the stature of Christ . . . thus . . . we shall hold the truth in charity, and grow in all things unto him who is the Head, Christ” (Eph. iv 12-15).



1.  Meaning of the term

The term “Communion of Saints” seems to have been first inserted in the baptismal creeds in the South of Gaul; and it is to be understood as the South Gallic writers of the fifth and sixth centuries understood it; giving the word “Saints” the normal meaning which it still holds today: the Elect, those who have attained the end for which they were made, in the Kingdom of God.  The term “communion” is used in the abstract sense and means a spiritual benefit conferred in the Church, or the Mystical Body of Christ.  “And so the addition ‘the Communion of Saints’ signifies the inward spiritual union of the faithful as members of Christ’s Mystical Body with the other members of this Body, especially the elect and perfectly just, whose participation in the heavenly kingdom of God is absolutely certain, and through whose intercessions help may be given to the faithful still wayfaring on earth” (Kirsch, The Doctrine of the Communion of Saints in the Ancient Church (Tr. McKea), 268).

2.  Veneration of the Saints

In venerating the Saints of God and especially the Mother of God, we give them due honor because of the supernatural excellence we recognize in them as derived from God himself through the merits of Jesus Christ.  It is therefore to the honor and glory of God that is ultimately directed all the veneration paid to his servants.  Strictly speaking a like honor might be paid to saintly men and women which they are still living on this earth.  It is, however, the custom of the Church not to venerate the just until she has declared by infallible decree that they are in definitive enjoyment of their eternal reward in heaven.  In English we are accustomed to speak of “honoring” or “venerating” the Saints, while the cult of “adoration” is reserved for God alone.  This distinction–for the rest, a convenient one–may be regarded as roughly corresponding to the Latin theological terms dulia: the honor paid to the Saints, and latria: the worship paid to God alone.

Mary is particularly honored because of the special greatness of the favors she received from God.  She is what God made her, and as such we recognize her.  All her graces on earth and her glory in heaven are celebrated in relation to her unique privilege: her Divine Maternity.  By reason of her unique supernatural excellence the special veneration which we pay to her is called “hyperdulia.”

In honoring her and the Saints of God the Church would have us celebrate with veneration their holiness which they owe to the merits of Jesus Christ; obtain their prayers–which avail only in so far as by the divine ordinance they intercede in virtue of the grace they have received from Christ the Head of the Mystical Body, and in view of his merits; and finally set before ourselves the example of their virtues, the exercise of which is due to the grace of God through which they were united to the Mystical Body, and so imitated the model of all virtues, Jesus Christ himself.  The veneration of the Saints is thus directed to the glory of God, who is wonderful in his Saints, and therefore in his Saints is duly honored.

So eminently reasonable is this practice, so perfectly in accord with the doctrine of the Mystical Body, that we are not surprised to find that from the earliest times Catholics have paid honor to the Saints.  We may see it especially in the commemoration of the Martyrs.  Thus when Faustus the Manichean objected to the practice St. Augustine replied: “Faustus blames us for honoring the memory of the martyrs, as if this were idolatry.  The accusation is not worthy of a reply.  Christians celebrate the memory of the martyrs with religious ceremony in order to arouse emulation and in order that they may be associated with their merits and helped by their prayers.  But to none of the martyrs do we erect altars as we do to the God of the martyrs; we erect altars at their shrines.  For what bishop standing at the altar over the bodies of the martyrs ever said ‘We offer to thee, Peter, or Paul, or Cyprian?’  What is offered (i.e., the sacrifice) is offered to God who crowned the martyrs, at the shrines of the martyrs, so that the very spot may remind us to arouse in ourselves a more fervent charity both towards them, whom we can imitate, and towards him who gives us the power to do so.  We venerate the martyrs with the same love and fellowship with which holy men of God are venerated in this life . . . but the martyrs we honor with the greater devotion than now, since they have happily gained the victory, we may with the greater confidence praise those who are blessed in their victory than those who in this life are still striving for it” (Contra Faustum, 1 20, c. 21).

3.  Intercession of the Saints

With regard to the intercession of the Saints let it suffice to note with St. Thomas that “prayer may be offered to a person in two ways, either so that he himself may grant it, or that he may obtain the favor from another.  IN the first way we pray only to God, because all our prayers should be directed to obtaining grace and glory, which God alone gives, according to the Psalmist (83): ‘The Lord will give grace and glory.’  But in the second way we pray to the angels and Saints, not that through them God may know our petitions, but that through their prayers and merits our petitions may be effective.  Hence we read in the Apocalypse (viii 4) that ‘the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the Angel.’  And this is manifest also from the method which the Church uses in praying; for we ask the Trinity to have mercy upon us, but we ask the Saints to pray for us” (II, Iiae, Q. lxxxiii, art. 4).

4.  Relics and images

Closely associated with the veneration of the Saints is the honor paid to their relics and images.  The principle underlying the veneration of relics is thus set out by St. Thomas: “It is manifest that we should show honor to the saints of God as being members of Christ, the children and friends of God and our intercessors.  Wherefore in memory of them we ought to honor every relic of theirs in a fitting manner: principally their bodies which were temples and organs of the Holy Ghost dwelling and operating in them, and as destined to be likened to the body of Christ by the glory of the Resurrection.  Hence God himself fittingly honors such relics by working miracles at their presence” (III, Q. xxv, art. 2).

A similar reason justifies the veneration of their images.  The images recall the Saints to our minds, and the reverence we pay to them is simply relative, as the images themselves, considered materially, have no virtue in them on account of which they should be honored.  The honor paid to them passes to the rational persons, the Saints, whom the images represent.  The purpose of the practice is explained by the second Council of Nicaea in its decree concerning sacred images: “that all who contemplate them may call to mind their prototypes, and love, salute and honor them, but not with true ‘latria,’ which is due to God alone. . . . For honor paid to the image passes to the prototype, and he who pays reverence to the image, pays reverence to the person it depicts” (Denzinger, 302).

5.  Indulgences

A final application of the doctrine of the Mystical Body may be found in Indulgences (Cf. Essay xxvii: The Sacrament of Penance). The matter is explained by St. Thomas as follows: 

“The reason why indulgences have value is the unity of the Mystical Body, in which many of the faithful have made satisfaction beyond what was due from them.  They have borne with patience many unjust persecutions, whereby they might have expiated many temporal punishments if they had deserved them.  The abundance of those merits is so great as to surpass all the temporal punishment due from the faithful on earth, and that particularly owing to the merit of Christ.  That merit, although it operates in the Sacraments, is not limited to the Sacraments in its effectiveness: but its infinite value extends beyond the efficacy of the Sacraments.  Now, as we have seen above (Q. xiii, art. 2), one man can make satisfaction for another on the other hand, the Saints, whose satisfactory works are superabundant, did not perform them for some one particular person (otherwise without an indulgence he would obtain remission) but in general for the whole Church, according to the words of St. Paul (Col. i 24), ‘I rejoice in my sufferings on your behalf, and make up in my flesh what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ, on behalf of his Body, which is the Church.’  And so these merits become the common property of the whole Church.  Now the common property of a society is distributed to the different members of the society according to the decision of him who is at the head of the society.  Consequently, as we should obtain the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, if another had undertaken to make satisfaction on our behalf, so too do we obtain it when the satisfaction of another is applied on our behalf by him who has authority to do so” (Summa Theol., III, Suppl. Q. xxv, art. 1).



One of the most striking phenomena of the present development of the Church’s life in the course of the last few years is the appeal made to the minds of the faithful by the doctrine of the Mystical Body.  Books are being published in every tongue setting out its implications, especially in its bearing on the practice of frequent Communion, and of assisting at Mass.

The time is ripe for it.  For as far as the Church at large is concerned, Protestantism is of the past, however much it may linger on in these islands.  It has left us a legacy for which future generations will be grateful.  The last four hundred years have witnessed a remarkable development in the working out and clear formulation of the revealed teaching concerning the Church, and more particularly of the teaching concerning the visible headship of the Church.  The great disadvantage of the controversial treatment of any doctrine is that it involves the stressing of the controverted point to a disproportionate extent, and there is a consequent lack of attention paid to other truths.  Not that those other truths are entirely lost to sight–the remarkable correlation of revealed truths, each involving and leading up to the others, which so impressed Newman, is sufficient to prevent such an oversight: but the truths which are not actually under discussion attract less attention and study, and consequently what is involved in them is not made fully explicit nor is the connection which actually does exist between them always clearly seen.

Now Catholics and Protestants alike agree that Christ is the Head of the Church–the struggle arose and has continued on the question as to whether the Pope, as Christ’s Vicar on earth, was the visible Head of the Church.  But even that argument was largely verbal: since the very constitution of the Church was in dispute, and the character of the Headship differed fundamentally as conceived by both sides.  That point, however, remained in the background, and did not attract the attention it deserved.

A second obstacle stood in the way of the development of the doctrine of Christ’s Headship of the Mystical Body–involving, as it does, the full Catholic doctrine of Sanctifying Grace.

Baianism, Jansenism, and Cartesianism are all bound up with erroneous or heretical teaching concerning sanctifying grace.  The influence of Cartesianism was particularly disastrous on the philosophical setting of Catholic teaching: its rejection of the distinction between substance and accidents cut away the basis of the traditional treatment of sanctifying grace and the virtues, and not a few eighteenth-century theologians took to the simple method of ignoring the supernatural accidents of the soul as mere mediaeval subtleties, and that unfortunate attitude of mind made its influence felt well into the nineteenth century.  This statement admits of easy historical verification: consult the textbooks in use in theological seminaries in the early nineteenth century and you will be amazed at the indifference or, at least, the astonishing reserve with which the all-important doctrine of sanctifying grace is treated.  Actual grace and all the interminable controversies to which it gave rise absorb all their energies.  A sad practical result followed: the clergy being insufficiently instructed in these important doctrines were incapable of instilling them into the faithful, of bringing them to realize what the supernatural life is, and so were unable effectively to resist the onset of naturalism.  The heavy penalty of this neglect is now being paid in many Catholic countries on the Continent.

Fortunately, happier days have dawned.  These anti-Protestant polemics, necessary as they may be, do not absorb all our energies, and the stimulating and consoling truths of our supernatural life and destiny are being studied more and more, so that we may hope for a fuller development of the truths involved in Christ’s Headship of his Mystical Body.

We know that the Church is a perfect society; we analyze all that that statement involves, we realize the Church’s complete and entire independence of the State within her own sphere.  We have defended every detail of her visible organization against non-Catholic assault.  But let us be on our guard against imagining that because we have grasped every element of her visible and of her moral constitution which Christ willed should be in order that his Church might utilize all that is best in man’s human nature–that we understand Christ’s Church through and through.  For there still remains the most potent element of all in the supernatural constitution of the Church, that divine, all-pervading, all-guiding and directing influence interiorly exercised by Christ upon every individual member, and upon all the members collectively, bringing the individual soul into harmony with himself, and with all faithful souls, so that, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (iv 15-16): “We may in all things grow up in him, who is the Head, even Christ.  From whom the whole Body, being compacted and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the Body unto the edifying of itself in charity.”

We have to strive to realize more vividly Christ’s living influence in the world today, and the need in which we stand of it, to realize, too, the wonderful way in which Our Lord meets this need by making us, and preserving us as members of his Church, members of that Mystical Body of which he is the Head.

Edward Myers.

Essay  XVIII


Essay  XX



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