Thursday, June 13, 2013

What Kind of Body Do We Receive In the Eucharist? The Body of Christ the Church

Here we come to a most wonderful teaching of our Catholic Faith. I’m speaking about the Church as the Body of Christ, or more formally known as the Mystical Body of Christ. If you haven’t read the previous two blog entries about the Body of Christ in it’s three states, then I invite you to do so. To sum it up again, there is the "historical" or what I often refer to as the earthly body of Christ. This is the body conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit when the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us (the Incarnation).
This earthly body was transformed after the death of Jesus in his Resurrection. It is now a glorified Body not limited by space or time nor subject to pain or death anymore. It is a transformed Body, so much so that Christ is called "the man of heaven" now. (See Catechism #646 HERE)
There is one more dimension of Christ’s body since his Resurrection: Christ no longer exists as an individual as we think of this reality on earth, but he is a person in Communion with others. His Communion first has always been as the Second Person of the Trinity, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit; we cannot understand the Son of God apart from the Communion and Union of the Trinity. But in his risen humanity he is also united to his Body the Church in a real spiritual (i.e., Based in the Holy Spirit) union. The sacrament of married union is a sacrament of the relationship and union of Christ with his Bride the Church.
Orthodox Bishop John Zizioulas writes: "Christ, although a particular person, cannot be conceived in Himself as an individual...In other words, when we now say "Christ" we mean a person and not an individual; we mean ...Christ’s personal existence as a body or community." (Being As Communion, pp.110-111)
This is none other than the teaching of the New Testament, particularly when St. Paul teaches that through the Holy Spirit (thus in a spiritual way) we are united to the Body of Christ, his Church. St. Paul makes a further distinction when he says Christ is the Head of the Body the Church. So just as in marriage, the two become one, yet remain two, so Christ unites himself to his Body the Church without sacrificing his unique being or the unique being of each of his members. (Go HERE for a comparison of the Scripture texts on this subject)
St. Augustine and many early Church Fathers referred to this union of Christ as Head and his Body the Church as "the Whole Christ’ (in Latin Totus Christus; see, for example Catechism #795 HERE). So Christ has his earthly human body which is now transformed into his Risen Body; and to his Risen Body he unites us, baptized into his Body the Church, the Whole Christ.
Catholics (and the Orthodox Church) have always held onto this communal or communion view of Christ and his Church. In the Catholic world view one cannot have only Christ and not his Body the Church. There are a lot of Catholics that try to live that way ("not practicing"), but it is like they live a handicapped life, apart from the life-giving sacramental life Christ gives us in the Church, especially in the Eucharist.
It is the Whole Christ, then that we receive in the Eucharist. Or to put it another way, when we receive Christ in the Eucharist, truly and really, we also receive one another. Not in the same way as Christ  Present substantially or in his essence, but rather we receive his relationship with each of his members and so we receive this relationship also with one another as one in Christ.
I could be misunderstand as reducing the Eucharist to just a social bonding with one another, little different from a fraternity or club. That is not at all what I mean. I follow the Catholic teaching , articulated by St. Augustine:
"If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: `Amen’…Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your `Amen’ may be the truth." (Sermon 272)
"There you are on the table [the altar], there you are in the cup." (Sermon 229)
"If you receive them well, you are that which you receive."(Sermon 227)
At every turn the Christ we receive in the Eucharist and all his benefits and reality become ever more wondrous and awesome to think about!