Article 70 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 787-796 THE CHURCH – THE BODY OF CHRIST
Many people in our current culture try to de-divinize Christ by suggesting that, at best, his mission and ministry was that of a noble humanitarian. I recall overhearing a non-Christian once remark, “Jesus was a good person.” No doubt we have all heard similar “compliments” directed toward non-practicing Christians, Jews, Moslems or even atheists. Within such a worldview, we shouldn’t be surprised when Jesus Christ himself is described as a humanitarian. Perhaps it stems from a superfic i a l r e a d ing of the New Testament. The Gospels tell us that Jesus provided great relief to the sick and suffering of his day. He went out to the multitude in their suffering. He also knew what it was to suffer pangs of hunger. So he gave them food by a miracle lest they faint on their way. But what is sometimes overlooked is Christ’s chief concern for the needs of the soul. His feeding of the 5,000 on a few loaves and fi shes was meant to keep body and soul together (see Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:115). Likewise, he gives us the food of the Eucharist to keep our soul together and to keep the Body of Christ on earth together! “No wonder,” the Catechism asserts, “[(Jesus] proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours” (ccc 787). As Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56). Throughout his teaching, “Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings” (ccc 787). Even when his earthly life concluded, Jesus sent his Spirit to remain with us until the end of time (John 14:18). “By communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his body those brothers and sisters of his who are called together from every nation” (ccc 788).
Have you ever wondered whether your love for Christ would be stronger if you had seen him as he walked the earth? Perhaps you desired, in your imagination, to have been one of the multitude whom Christ fed by his astounding miracle? (Matthew 14:13-21). “Then,” you say, “I could really have loved him with my whole heart, with my whole mind and soul, and with all my strength” (see Matthew 22:36–37).
No doubt the people who saw Christ in the fle s h w e r e v e r y fortunate. But we are far more fortunate. In addition to being fed by the Eucharist, which is the principal and most powerful means of preserving and developing the union of our soul with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we are intimately united to him “as members of Christ’s body” (ccc 790).
The Catechism summarizes our membership into the Body of Christ by noting three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ: 1.) the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; 2.) Christ as head of the Body; and 3.) the Church as the bride of Christ (ccc 789). The unity of all members of the Church with each
other as a result of their union with Christ is especially the case because of the sacrament of baptism “which unites us to Christ’s death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which really sharing in the body of the Lord, … we are taken up into communion with him and with one another” (ccc 790). As St. Paul reminds us: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).
Secondly, Christ “is the head of the body, the Church” (Col 1:18). The Catechism affirms that “in everything he is preeminent, especially in the Church, through whom he extends his reign over all things” (ccc 792). In fact, “Christ provides for our growth: to make us grow toward him, our head, he provides in his Body, the Church, the gifts and assistance by which we help one another along the way of salvation” (ccc 794). In short, the Christus totus or “whole Christ” is the Church or “the head and the members” (ccc 795).
Thirdly, the Church is the Bride of Christ. The Catechism states: “The unity of Christ and the Church, head and members of one Body, also implies the distinction of the two within a personal relationship. This aspect is often expressed by the image of bridegroom and bride” (ccc 796). There are different ways to conceive this idea. St. Paul spoke about each of us faithful members of Christ’s Body as “a bride betrothed to Christ the Lord” (see 1 Corinthians 6:15-17; 2 Corinthians 11:2). Other passages in Sacred Scripture speak about the Church as “the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb” (see Revelation 22:17; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 5:27).
What makes the mystery of the Church even more complicated and diffi cult to understand is that Christ may speak “in his role as the head [ex persona capitis] and in his role as body [ex persona corporis]” (ccc 796). What does this mean? In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read: “The two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31-32). In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: “So they are no longer two, but one fl esh” (Mt 19:6). Quoting St. Augustine, the Catechism explains: “They are, in fact, two different persons, yet they are one in the conjugal union, . . .as head, he calls himself the bridegroom, as body, he calls himself ‘bride’” (ccc 796).
Is it any wonder that the Church is, above all else, a mystery?
Father Hillier serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen