Happy Feast of Corpus Christi (also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) where we celebrate the true presence — body, blood, soul, and divinity — of Christ in the Eucharist. We have such a gift in the Eucharist as it is through this sacrament, not a mere symbol contained in bread and wine that we receive and are nourished by Christ Himself according to His own words: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
Before we get into a deeper examination of what the Eucharist does for us, I want to explore another aspect of the Body of Christ, which the Church refers to as the Mystical Body of Christ. It is a mystical union of Christians into a spiritual body, with Christ as the head, animated by the Holy Spirit. In other words, each of us is a member of Christ’s mystical body, and as such, we are united to one another under the head of Jesus, forming His diverse, yet unified and complete, body. The Holy Spirit then provides each of us with various gifts by which we continue to carry out Christ’s mission and work here on earth. St. Paul, on more than one occasion, uses the analogy of a body to illustrate the purpose and function of the earthly Church. For example, he says to the Romans:
For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith, if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom 12:4-8)
In his book, Theology and Sanity, author Frank Sheed says we should not think of the Church as an organization, but rather as an organism. A human body has many cells, organs, systems, and parts. While each has its own role to play in the life of the body, all of the parts work together for the good of the body as a whole. So too, we as members of the Mystical Body of Christ ought to use our unique gifts for the good of the whole body, which is ultimately ordered to the salvation of each of its members. For this reason, none of us exist in isolation, responsible only for our own salvation. Rather, we are a community of members united under the one head, Jesus Christ.
In His infinite wisdom, God further makes this point by placing each of us in a family, which is a microcosm, or analogy, for how this larger Mystical Body of Christ operates as a community. Within a nuclear family, we see a mother, a father, and children. Each member of the family has his or her own role within the family. For example, in the traditional sense, the father works to provide for the family, while the mother’s primary responsibility is care for the immediate needs of the children. The children’s roles predominantly consist of being students of the various aspects of life under the mother and father so as to eventually be productive members of larger communities and society. Of course, while we see many more variations in the roles of family members, these days, nevertheless, everyone has a role within the family. Even more, each member of our families has been given unique gifts by God with which they individually contribute to the good of the household. One person may be a particularly good cook. One may be good at organization, while another manages finances well. Our children each have different personalities and bring their various gifts like joy, sweetness, conviction, or tenacity to the table.
Then, naturally, the family becomes the first school of Christian life and virtue. The family is where we first practice charity, forgiveness, discipline, temperance, and prudence. The family is a small mystical body of Christ that is ordered to the common good of the family, which then enables and encourages each individual member to grow in virtue and conform themselves to Jesus. To this end, as Catholics, it is also of supreme importance that the family be the school of the Faith. There has been a dangerous trend where parents, out of a desire to not “force” their children to be active in the Church so as to not alienate them from it, decide to wait for the children to choose their own spiritual paths. We seem to have little problem teaching our children to keep their bodies healthy by eating fruits and vegetables, brushing their teeth, and getting a good night’s sleep. We teach them to keep their minds healthy by sending them to school and encouraging them to read good books without saying we are “forcing” them. Why would parents choose to not apply the same level of discipline with regard to their children’s spiritual health? God gave us families, precisely for the purpose of helping us walk with Him.
Now, how does the Body of Christ in the Eucharist relate to all of this? In a family we use food and meals for both nourishment and unification. We feed our children healthy food, so they may properly grow, but we also do it over a shared family meal where we can talk about our day or share our ideas. A husband and wife may share a dinner out, away from their children, in order to foster and strengthen the intimate bond between them as the foundation of their family unit. Just as our individual bodies need food to properly function, so too, do our communal bodies. Therefore, we, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, enjoy a shared meal together in the Eucharist, which provides us with supernatural nourishment and unification under the head of Jesus. The supernatural characteristics of Christ’s Mystical Body mean that it cannot be nourished by mere bread and wine operating as symbols. Rather, the mystical body is powered by supernatural grace, which necessarily must be Christ Himself in the Eucharist. Sheed says, “But this new life of sanctifying grace is Christ Himself living in us: the only food that could feed a life which is Christ must itself be Christ. And what we receive in the Eucharist is Christ.” Then, through this shared meal in which we receive Christ Himself, we receive the grace for our spiritual body to have the strength to operate properly, ordered to the good of the entire body which is salvation for each member.
This week, read the Bread of Life Discourse, John 6:32-71. As you read it, notice how many times Jesus doubles down on His command that He Himself, His flesh and blood, are the bread of life. Notice that He never uses the word “symbol.” Also, note that many of His disciples leave Him over what they call a “hard” teaching. If they had understood the Eucharist to be a symbol, what would be so hard about it? And certainly, why would it be worth leaving Him over it? Finally, notice that, as they leave, Jesus does not stop them, nor does He tell them that they misunderstood and that He was only speaking metaphorically. Know that Jesus really meant it when He said that in order to have eternal life, we must necessarily consume Him in the Eucharist, not in some symbolic bread.
Meditate on the Mystical Body of Christ and how your immediate family is a small refection of it. Then, meditate on the truth of the Eucharist and how it distributes sanctifying grace through the members of Christ’s Body for the good of all.
You can listen and pray along with the Chaplet of the Precious Blood here.
June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the feast on June 16th. You can find the chaplet here.
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