Sermons on the Church - The Mystical Body of Christ
In my last instruction on the Mystical Body I explained the meaning of the word "Mystical". We saw that the Church is not the physical body of Christ, for it is in heaven. Nor is the Church a mere moral body in which the bond of unity comes from the individual members of the group united for a common purpose.
No, the Church is more than a moral body for her bond of unity comes from without, it being the grace of the Spirit of God, not the union of our individual wills. Let us consider the reasons for believing that the Church is the Body of Christ. In other words, is this doctrine that the Church is a Body, of which Christ is the Head, a mere theory on the part of Catholics or is it taught in Sacred Scripture and Tradition?
Our Lord addressing His heavenly Father in some of the most beautiful words ever heard on this sinful planet of ours, confirmed a forthcoming union of His new Body and Himself: "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, I have also sent them into the world. That they may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou has sent Me and hast loved them as Thou hast loved me." The new Body was then to be one with Him as He and the Father were one.
Indeed, there are so many proofs from the Gospels to show this unity between the Master and His followers that it is difficult to choose the most forceful. St. Luke records Our Lord as saying to the seventy-two disciples whom He sent to preach in His Name: "He that hears you, hears Me; He that despises you (he that rejects you), rejects Me." Again St. Matthew records Our Lord saying: "Whosoever receiveth one such little child in My name, receiveth Me." And we are told that when we perform any act of kindness or charity for the love of Christ it is the same as doing it unto Him.
But the most forceful example Our Lord used to show the intimate unity between Himself and the members of His Church is His metaphor of the vine and branches. "I am the vine; you the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him the same beareth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing." It is an amazing metaphor! Have you ever studied a vine and its branches, examined them closely, intensely? I did in preparation for this sermon. The branches are so intertwined that the vine can be discovered only with the greatest difficulty. The branches depend upon the vine for their nourishment. Then there are the dead branches so symbolic of the dead members of the Mystical Body who are not living the life of grace. How very much like the Church today! No finer comparison of the unity that exists between Christ and the Church can be found than the metaphor of the vine and its branches.
Turning to St. Paul - the story of his conversion shows the unity that exists between Christ and the members of His Church. He was a fiery Jew; proud of his ancestry, a Jew of the Jews, a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" as he himself tells us. He had received authority from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to go to Damascus and bring back in chains any Christians he might find in that city. On his journey he was struck down as by a bolt of lightning. And falling on the ground he heard a voice saying to him: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" When St. Paul asked, "Who art thou?" He was told, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest."
It was the genius of St. Paul that first discovered the analogy of the human body as an example of the union of Christ and His Church. He first called the Church "the body of Christ." In his letter to the people of Galatia he tells us; "For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are One body: so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free."
As St. Paul so clearly puts it, "For the body also is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, because I am not the eye, I am not the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God hath the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where would be the body? But now there are many members indeed, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need thy help; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you. Yea, much more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body are more necessary . . God indeed hath set some in the Church: first, the apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers .. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?"
St. Paul uses many other examples to show the unity of Christ and His Church: for example, he reminds us that the Church is God's Building, the foundation stone of which is Christ and in which we are a kind of living stones fitted into that temple.
One proof from Tradition--a thousand might be drawn. All of the doctrines of the Church flow from this teaching on the Mystical Body.