Friday, May 31, 2013

What Kind of Body of Christ Do We Receive in the Eucharist?

This upcoming Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). This celebrates our Catholic Faith that Christ is "really real" in the Eucharist, referring to his Real Presence under the appearances of the Consecrated Bread and Wine. In this Sunday’s bulletin I briefly write about this and the subject of transubstantiation.
What I am interested in exploring here is the question "what kind of Body of Christ do we receive in the Eucharist?" (I am assuming that when we speak of his Body, we usually mean also his Blood). It helps me to list the ways "the Body of Christ" are used in the New Testament and by the Catholic Church:
First, there is the body which the Son of God took in the womb of the Virgin Mary as Christ Jesus, who is fully human and fully God. This body was like ours in that it grew in maturity and thus was changeable, had an earthly life needing food and water, and was limited by time and space, as well as being mortal: capable of suffering and dying. Let’s call this Jesus’ "earthly body or flesh and blood."
Second, there is the Risen Body of Christ. On the future day of Resurrection our bodies will be like his: a body which is ours, yet which is radically transformed from this earthly life. The Risen Body of Jesus is the Body he has now and forever. It does not change in any way as a Risen Body. It does not have an earthly life needing food or water. It is not limited by time and space, nor is it mortal: there is no physical suffering in the Risen body, neither death. This Risen Body would not bleed.
It is important to remember that the risen Body of Christ (or ours) is not a resuscitated body; it’s not like Jesus died and then came back to an earthly life. A Risen Body is transformed into a reality that transcends this earthly reality of ours. So neither is the Resurrection just a "reassembling" of all the material of our body, even after it has turned to dust. It is, again, a different reality.
St. Paul describes it this way: "[Our body is first] sown [i.e., born] a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one." (1 Corinthians 15:44) But certainly Paul doesn’t mean that we will have no material body or only one of pure spirit (such as God is Spirit and not matter). No he says that we will be like Christ (verse 49) and of course Christ bodily rose from the dead. But the point is that this Risen Body is not like our natural and earthly bodies in certain ways. The commentary in the Revised New American Bible observes:
"[1 Corinthians 15:42-44 shows] "The principles of qualitative difference before and after death [15:36-38] and of diversity on different levels of creation [15;39-41] are now applied to the human body. Before [the Resurrection of the dead]: a body animated by a lower, natural life-principle (psyche) and endowed with the properties of natural existence (corruptibility, lack of glory, weakness). After [the Resurrection of the dead]: a body animated by a higher life-principle (pneuma; cf 1 Cor. 15:49) and endowed with other qualities (incorruptibility, glory, power, spirituality), which are properties of God himself."
Now I have spent more time describing how a Risen Body differs from our natural body because we really don’t know in this life, and have no way of knowing scientifically, exactly what a Risen body is. It doesn’t belong to this world, but to "the life of the world to come." But also, it is the Risen Body of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist.
There is one final way that the term "Body of Christ" is used: we speak of the "Mystical" or "Ecclesial" Body of Christ, i.e. the Church united to the risen Christ. This refers to the union of the Risen Christ with the members of his Church, which is called his Mystical Body. The word "mystical" is used with a number of nuances: "it is called mystical body, because it is neither a purely physical nor a purely spiritual unity, but supernatural...The relation of the faithful with Christ is mystical, not physical." (See more here) It also refers to a union which is sacramental and involves the sacraments, also called "the mysteries":
"Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called "mystical" because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments - "the holy mysteries" - and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all." (Catechism # 2014)
I don’t want to make this entry too long or who will read what I write? So I am going to comment more on these matters in the next several weeks; the subjects of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist and the Mystical Body of Christ are very inspiring to me, stimulating a number of ideas, and subjects I have spent a lot of time researching and thinking about. So you also come to know me better by what moves me.
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