The Mass and the Mystical Body

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Mystical Body of Christ

 

The Mystical Body of Christ (His Church) participates in each and every Mass, and consists of:
yellowdot.gif (100 bytes)The Church Triumphant and Angels (in Heaven)
yellowdot.gif (100 bytes)The
Church Militant (on Earth)
yellowdot.gif (100 bytes)The
Church Suffering (in Purgatory)

 

The Mass and the Mystical Body

by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

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We can better understand our union with Christ, and especially our union with Him in the sacrifice of the Mass, if we have some idea of the Mystical Body of which Christ is the Head and we the members. As the members of our own body constitute a living organism in the natural order - all physically united; so the Head and members of the Mystical Body constitute a living organism in the supernatural order, all united through grace.

 

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Saint Augustine speaks of the Mystical Body of Christ as the “whole Christ.”  Not that the individual physical Body of Christ was in any way incomplete; but He became man precisely to become one with us, not merely taking on our human nature, but sharing with us His divine nature in such a way that we, as members of His Body, share in the fruits of all that He did.

This oneness with Christ in the Mass is not just a figurative or symbolic expression. It is a reality, since - through grace - we share in His divine life, His knowledge, His love, according to the degree of our growth in grace and charity; for only in that measure is the soul open to the influence of the Holy Spirit. To express this in another way, the spiritual effects of the Eucharist are obtained in the measure that we are free from the attachment to venial sins; for as Saint Thomas explains: “The fire of our desire or love is hindered by venial sins, which hinder the fervor of charity. . . . Therefore, venial sins hinder the effects of this sacrament. . . (Yet venial sins) do not completely hinder the effect of this sacrament, but merely in part” (III, 79,8).

When we receive our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, we are united with Him in a twofold way:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)through the substantial presence of His Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine - which is only temporary;

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)and through the deeper and more intimate and lasting oneness with Him through the grace infused into the soul in the reception of this sacrament.

This latter union is by far the more important, for, as we saw, it is an increased sharing in the very life, and love, and truth that Jesus is. Thus we are united with Jesus at Mass, both in offering the sacrifice, and receiving the sacrament. And the more we give of ourself in union with Christ in the sacrifice, the more the Lord gives of Himself in the sacrament.

As long as we are in the state of grace, Christ lives His divine life in us, we in Him, and He in us. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, abides in Me and I in him” (John 6:57). We abide in Him as members of His Mystical Body, and He abides in us through grace. When we cooperate with His graces and inspirations He lives His divine life in us as the primary cause of our good acts; we are but the secondary cause, cooperating with the graces received. We can, of course, fail to cooperate with His graces preferring our will to His.

 

Through Him, With Him, In Him

How do we offer adoration and reparation, thanksgiving and praise to the Father during the Mass? The words of the Mass at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer give us the answer. We make this offering “through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” so that “all glory and honor is Yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” It is through Christ, our Mediator with the Father, with Him, as co-offerers of this sacrifice, and in Him as members of His Body that we offer the Mass; and this is done through the action of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son to continue and bring to completion the work that Christ began. Our Blessed Lord not only paid the price of our redemption, but merited for us every grace the Holy Spirit brings to us. Our offering in the Mass is pleasing to the Father more than we can ever know, for it is offered to the Father by His only-begotten Son, in union with His own total oblation. That is why prayers and petitions to the Father during the Mass are especially fruitful.

mass3.jpg (14803 bytes)Every good act of ours, then, is not ours alone; it is primarily the action of Christ in us. Our main contribution is that we have not let our selfishness stand in the way. Awareness of that should protect us from pride, from attributing solely to our own talents and strength the good that we do, or rather the good that Christ does in us with our cooperation. This is true of every supernatural act of faith, hope, love, contrition, thanksgiving, chastity, fortitude, etc.

While the sacrament of Baptism brings to all the faithful a share in the priesthood of Christ, giving them a special capacity of participating in the sacrifice of Christ through the Mass; only to those who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders has been given the power to act in the person of Christ, calling down the action of the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Through that sacrament Christ, the High Priest, empowers the ordained priest to offer the sacrifice of the Mass in His name for the whole Church; while the faithful, along with the invisible High Priest, participate in the offering “through Him, with Him and in Him.”

 

The Mass Is Our Sacrifice

Because of this wonderful mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ and our oneness with Him as His members, all that He did on Calvary is ours to offer to the Father, is reputed to us as if we ourselves had undergone the passion, as Saint Thomas explains:

“The head and members are one mystic person; and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His members” (III,48,2, ad 1). And again, speaking of the effects of baptism: “It is clear that the passion of Christ is communicated to every baptized person, so that he/her is healed just as if he/her himself had suffered and died . . . as if he/her themself had offered sufficient satisfaction for all their sins” (III, 69,2).

Consequently, in this sacramental representation of the sacrifice of the Cross, we offer, together with Christ, all that He offered for us on Calvary, along with all the good works He enables us to accomplish. Every meritorious act on our part is made possible by the grace won for us by Christ, and infused into the soul here and now by the Holy Spirit. That is why the Mass, in addition to adoration and reparation, should also be a fervent offering of thanksgiving to our Blessed Lord Who redeemed us, and to the Father Who sent Him.

The infinite adoration, reparation and thanksgiving of Christ offered to the Father on Calvary - is ours, then, to offer along with our own feeble efforts and to make up for our shortcomings. We offer:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)His obedience to make up for our disobedience,
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)His humility to make up for our pride,
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)His poverty of spirit to make up for our attachment to the world,
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)His purity of Heart to make up for our attachment to the flesh, etc.

eucharist_angel.jpg (16107 bytes)Our oneness with Him in the Mystical Body allows us to do this, for all that He did in His sacred humanity, is ours to offer to the Father.

This is brought out clearly in the prayer the angel taught to the three children at Fatima, while prostrating before the eucharistic presence of our Blessed Lord:

    "Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He Himself is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of you the conversion of poor sinners."

 

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

The sacrifice of the Mass in its traditional concept is divided into the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And this latter has three essential parts:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)the offertory - the offering of the victim;
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)the consecration - the immolation of the victim;
littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)and the communion - the reception of the divine victim under the appearance of bread and wine.

We will briefly consider these three essential parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

 

The Offertory

The Mass is the offering of the whole Christ to the Eternal Father (CCC 1368). Each of us should be offerers along with Christ, not merely in a general way, but through a renewal of the gift of ourself, the surrender of our will to the Father in all that He asks of us or allows in our life, our burdens, our trials, etc. Relying on the help of God's grace, we do what we can to cope with these challenges seeing them in the light of His guiding and purifying Hand. We offer all this along with our good works and prayers, not only for our needs but for the needs of others, to fill up what is wanting in other members of the Mystical Body. The very association of our offering with that of Christ makes our offering pleasing to the Father.

eucharist7.gif (34364 bytes)As the priest offers the paten with the host that will become the Body of Christ, we can - in spirit - place on the paten our own body with its aches and pains, along with the fatigue and hardships we experience in the fulfillment of duty. We can place there our good works in recognition that they were accomplished only with God’s help, and in petition that they be purified of their imperfections. We can place there our needs of body and soul, and those of others for whom we pray. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this:

Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of the Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with His offering. (CCC 1368).

eucharist10.jpg (34212 bytes)When the priest offers the chalice of wine that will become the Blood of Christ, we can, as spiritual writers suggest, offer - in spirit - a drop of our own blood, a symbol of the sacrifices we have to make to keep God’s commandments, to fulfill our God-given duties, and to bear the crosses He allows.

And if all that Christ did, as Head of the Mystical Body, is ours to offer to the Father, so also, and for the same reason, all that the saintly members of His Body (i.e. Church Triumphant) did is ours to offer. We can, in a word, offer the whole Church with the lives and good works, the sacrifices and sufferings of all its members - for all its members who are in need (i.e. Church Militant and Church Suffering). The more all-embracing our offering and concern, the more perfect it is, and the more it resembles the all-embracing offering and love of Christ. One may not be able to reflect on all these details each time he attends Mass, but they indicate ways of making one's participation in Christ’s sacrifice more complete and more fruitful.

 

The Consecration

When we refer to the consecration of the Mass as the immolation of the victim, this does not mean that the sacrifice of Calvary is repeated, that Christ dies again. At the words of the priest our Blessed Lord becomes present as the risen Christ in His glorified Body no longer capable of suffering and death. As Saint Paul explains, “Christ having risen from the dead, dies now no more, death shall no longer have dominion over Him” (Romans 6:9). The sacrifice of Calvary is not repeated, but is made present, Christ, the High Priest and Victim offering again the same total oblation of Himself to the Father for our sake (CCC 1362). As Father Marie-Joseph Nicolas, O.P. expresses it: “The consecration of the two species is a symbolic immolation, but the symbolism is sacramental and contains what it signifies. The Mass is a sacrifice, because it signifies and at the same time contains the whole reality of the sacrifice of the cross” (A New Look at the Eucharist, p.60). The Mass does not add anything to the sacrifice of Calvary, but rather applies its fruits to us in the measure that we are open to the action of the Holy Spirit, that is, that we are willing to sacrifice our will that God's will be done.

 

The Communion

eucharist3.gif (9262 bytes)When one receives our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, there is no limit to the amount of grace that each reception of the sacrament can bring. That is, there is no limit on the part of the sacrament; for in this sacrament we receive Him Who is the fountain-head of all grace, Whose divine life is infinite love, infinite truth, infinite wisdom. And this divine Guest wishes to share His gifts with us more than we can ever know. That which limits the amount of grace received is the limited capacity of each individual soul receiving Him, depending on the extent that one's heart is free from enslavement by the world and its attractions. If, for example, one wishes to draw water from the ocean, the amount of water he can carry away depends not on the ocean which is limitless, but on the capacity of the vessel he uses. We find a parallel to this with one receiving Holy Communion, for the capacity of each soul differs, depending on the detachment of the heart from the enticements of the world, the flesh and the ego - all of which determines one's capacity to sacrifice his own will that God's be done, which in turn indicates how much the soul is open to the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Catholic theologians distinguish two ways in which each of the sacraments give grace:

  1. ex opere operato, that is, by its own intrinsic power, independently of the one receiving it. And it does this in the measure that the recipient of the sacrament does not place obstacles in the way. Those obstacles, as we saw above, can be the attachments to worldly satisfactions that can to some extent enslave the heart (the will) keeping it from total surrender to God's will. (Council of Trent, VII, Can.8).
  2. ex opere operantis, that is, according to the disposition of the one receiving the sacrament. To insure this is not neglected, the immediate preparation to receive our Blessed Lord is important for it gives rise to sincere acts of faith, of contrition and of surrender to God’s will. These acts - with the help of actual graces - enlarge the capacity of the soul to receive an increase of the divine life of Him Whom we receive.

We can see from this how important it is not to let our reception of our Blessed Lord become mere routine, both as to preparation beforehand and thanksgiving afterwards. Usually if there is little preparation there will be little thanksgiving, with a corresponding little increase of grace.

 


by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and Saint Thomas Aquinas

 

Left to ourselves alone, all the time allotted to us in this world would not be enough to pay the infinite debt of gratitude we owe to the Father; and an entire eternity will be occupied in thanking Him for the benefits received. Yet, we have in the Mass an adequate means of paying that debt, for Christ offered His sacrifice of reparation and thanksgiving in our place. And this sacrifice can be offered with Christ again and again. We begin to see the infinite riches of the Mass, which is the center around which the whole of our Christian life should revolve, and from which we are meant to receive the strength and inspiration to follow in Christ's footsteps.