MYSTICAL BODY OF CHRIST
Monsignor Canon Edward Myers
THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH
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
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.
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.
Visible and invisible elements in the Church
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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).
The relation between them
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.
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
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.
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.
II. THE DOCTRINE
The teaching of Christ
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).
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.”
The teaching of St. Paul
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.”
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).
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.
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
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.
A twofold solidarity
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
III. THE DOCTRINE
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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
Meaning of the Mystical Body of Christ
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.
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.
Vital influence of Christ
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).
is the internal influence he exercises through his grace in our souls.
There is, moreover, the external influence he exercises through his
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.
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.
Likeness of members to Head
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.
Union with Christ by charity
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.
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.
Christ lives in the Church
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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
IV. THE MYSTICAL
BODY AND REDEMPTION
The Fall and Redemption
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.”
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.”
St. Thomas on redemption and the Mystical Body
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:
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).
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).
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).
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).
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
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.”
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).
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).
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.”
Body and Soul of the Church
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
THE SACRIFICE OF THE MYSTICAL BODY
Redemption and sacrifice
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).
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.
The Mass the sacrifice of the Mystical Body
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).
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
Christ, Head and Members, offers the sacrifice
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,
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.
Christ, Head and Member, the victim
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).
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.
The sacrificial attitude of mind
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.
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.
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.
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
THE MYSTICAL BODY AND HOLY COMMUNION
Union with Christ consummated by Holy Communion
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.
Nature of this union
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).
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.”)
The sacrament of the Mystical Body
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.”
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).
The Eucharist and Baptism
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:
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).
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.”
Union of the faithful
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).
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS AND ITS CONSEQUENCE
Meaning of the term
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).
Veneration of the Saints
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Intercession of the Saints
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).
Relics and images
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).
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).
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:
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.