Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Kind of Body Do We Receive In the Eucharist? It Is the Risen Body of Christ

In my last entry I pointed out that it is not Christ’s mortal flesh and blood we receive in the Eucharist; he does not exist in our earthly state anymore. We receive his spiritualized Risen Body. So when we say we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we are not cannibals eating mortal flesh (the definition of cannibalism), but communicants, receiving in Eucharistic Communion the Risen Body of Christ into our lives.
What is a Risen Body Like?
Now what has fascinated me for many years is what a Risen body is like. We have no way of scientifically investigating this because we are dealing with a reality that goes beyond our earthly knowledge. The First Letter of John captures this mystery by saying; "Dear friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known [manifested]. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2)
Still, by looking at the New Testament teaching on the subject, especially based in the Resurrection Accounts about Jesus in the Gospel, we have some idea of what a Risen body is like. The Catechism conveniently sums up this teaching under the heading "The Condition of Christ’s Risen Humanity":
Catechism #645 [Citation] states that the Risen body of Christ is the same body in which he was crucified, but it now possesses "the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills." It says the Risen body of Christ is no longer confined to this earth but belongs "to the Father’s divine realm."
Catechism #646 [Citation] states "Christ's Resurrection was not a return to earthly life...In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus' Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is ‘the man of heaven’."
The Isenheim Altarpiece  by  Matthias Grunewald
The artist shows the Risen Christ's Body to be similar
yet different from an earthly body
St. Paul wrote about the Risen body being "a spiritual body" (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-56 HERE and my last blog entry  HERE paragraphs 6&7). He did not mean that the Risen Body of Christ wasn’t still a body. As cited above, it is the same body of Jesus that suffered and died on the Cross, yet it is in a different state of being now. His body doesn’t return to an earthly life. His spiritual body means a Spirit-filled body, a real body but transcending time and space.
That’s about all we can say with certainty. The rest is speculative. What I wonder about is the material component of the Risen body. The human person is a union of matter and spirit (soul):
Catechism #365: "The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature."
In the Resurrection we are talking about the human person not ultimately losing this unity of body and soul. Our destiny is not to be only souls in heaven. In the Resurrection there will be a transformation of both soul and matter, retaining the essential unity of the human person as spirit and matter.
But what does this matter become in the Resurrection? It seems that in the Risen state we are talking about a body that consists of "Risen matter." His Risen body is physical, but as I keep repeating, not of earthly physicality. We need a new kind of word for this and what some have proposed is the term "transphysical." The prefix "trans-" in this term would mean "transcending" or beyond" the physical of this life. Even Pope Benedict XVI used this term in one case I know of, in speaking about the Resurrection.
I have also researched the term "spiritualized matter" and need to read more about this from a Catholic and Christian perspective. There are lots of New Age and nonChristian claims for "spiritualized matter," but they don’t concern me. A spiritualized matter in the Christian sense means a Spirit-filled matter, a matter totally under the influence of the Holy Spirit in a way that our mortal bodies are not. The Holy Spirit will somehow, in a manner that is mystery here on earth, transform our flesh, our material bodies, to not be limited by space and time or mortality. "As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power" (Catechism #1127).
Such musings help us, I think, to avoid the crude misconception that we are eating Christ’s mortal or pre-Resurrection flesh and blood in the Eucharist. It also reminds us that the Resurrection and the things of God incorporate the realities of this life and yet transcend these same realities because we are talking about a different dimension of reality.
I am reminded of an episode from the original Star Trek TV series called "In the Wink of an Eye." In it the crew of the Enterprise keep hearing this buzzing sound around them after visiting a certain planet. We eventually come to learn that what they are hearing is a group of aliens who live at a much higher acceleration in time than humans do. The crew cannot see these aliens. But Captain Kirk, through the action of these aliens, becomes accelerated also. Now from his perspective, the Enterprise crew members are moving so slowly that they seem to be at a standstill, and now Kirk can see the aliens, who move so quickly that the human eye cannot perceive them. Eventually all things are made right.
This episode stays with me all these years because it opens the imagination to think about possible realities we would not be able to see in our limited human state. I’m not saying that the Risen life is an accelerated existence, but for us it is real and it exists in a state that far surpasses our perception. Nevertheless, it is in the Eucharist that we receive this divine reality in Communion with the Risen Body and Blood, of the entire Christ.
There is still more to consider about the Body we receive in the Eucharist, which I will share next week.