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Mystici corporis Christi Revisited

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The divine Redeemer is most closely united not only with His Church, which is His Beloved Spouse, but also with each and every one of the faithful, and He ardently desires to speak with them heart to heart, especially after Holy Communion." ~ Pope Pius XII, Mystici corporis Christi/1943

In today’s Gospel (Luke 14:15-24), Jesus teaches us by way of parable that there are many obstacles and distractions one must overcome in order to cross over into the Kingdom of Heaven. One by one, those who are invited to this “great dinner,” a metaphor for the Heavenly Banquet, offer up excuses for declining this most intimate of invitations, one in which God invites us to enter into sacred and divine communion with him, to make him the very center of our lives. Sadly enough however, so many opt to pursue that which will one day be moth-eaten and rusted (James 5:1) forgoing that which is eternal.

We see this made manifest in the alarming number of fallen away Catholics, those who abdicate their role as members of the mystical body of Christ. Those who essentially walk away from Jesus, who is present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Rest assured if they truly knew the man they were abandoning, no such error could ever be made. But therein of course lies the tragic Catch 22. You must encounter Jesus in the Eucharist in order to grow in your relationship with him. Neglecting the Sacrament prevents that seed from ever given even the slightest chance to germinate. Pray every day for fallen away Catholics, that they may re-assume their roles as vibrant members of the mystical body of Christ.

On the topic of the mystical body of Christ, Paul in our 1st Reading today (Romans 12:5-16) explains how the many members of a thriving church community in turn work together to form the “one body in Christ” so as to glorify God and spread His message of healing and redemption. This scriptural image of the church, drawn from the teachings of Christ and Saint Paul both here and elsewhere (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27, etc) illustrates her unity with Christ, her relationship to him, and the interdependence of her members upon each other. The church is not merely a community of members as it were, gathered singularly around Christ but instead united in him, in his body. As the mystical body of Christ, the Church extends Christ’s work of salvation throughout time. The faithful play diverse roles in the Church just as various body parts have diverse functions (cf. LG 7). Rather than harm the body, this serves its unity. (Cf. CCC 776, 846, 1111).

This very notion of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ was popularized and expanded upon by Pope Pius XII in his 1954 Encyclical Mystici corporis Christi. In this groundbreaking work, the Pontiff spoke of the mystical union of all Christians into a spiritual body with Jesus Christ as their head.

Ten years later, the Second Vatican Council issued the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” or Lumen Gentium (1964; “Light of the Nations”), which reflected the broader, universal nature of the mystical body by stating that all persons are members of the church, at least potentially, because Christ came to offer salvation to everyone.

CS Lewis, himself fascinated by this topic, took it a step further, going on to assert that everything that is joined to the immortal head of the Mystical Body of Christ will share his immortality. Lewis insisted that if we do not believe this truth “we might as well relegate the Christian faith to the museums”. Neither individuals nor communities can inherit eternal life unless they belong to the Mystical Body of Christ.

The secular world is blind to this truth.

We need to return to and reflect upon this truth, that the Church founded by our Lord Jesus truly is indeed his Mystical Body. It must permeate our way of thinking, guide our actions and choices, and indeed be our source of strength. For as CS Lewis would go on to conclude as it relates to this teaching ”the Church will outlive the universe, and because of this, the individual person within it will outlive the universe.”