Tag Archives: symbol

The Mystical Body of Christ – October 30, 2015

A real symbol is both a symbol and a reality. It symbolizes a reality, but it also has the real presence of the reality it symbolizes. The symbol, in a real symbol, is so intimately identified with the reality of it that the symbol makes present the reality. It is more than just a representation. The symbol and the reality are one. Yet, even though the symbol and the reality are inseparably bestowed, they are also identifiably distinct from each other. The best illustration of a real symbol is the human body. The human body is the real symbol of the soul. It both symbolizes the reality of the soul and it actually makes present the essence of the soul, or the reality of self. In St.Thomas’ words, the soul is the substantial “form” of the “matter” of the body. (Summa, I, q.76, a.1, a.4) When we think of a human person, we think of a united being of body and soul, forming one human substance. We know that the human person is more than a physical body. It is also a rational, immaterial, and immortal soul created directly by God that lives on after the death of the body. The body and soul are distinct. Nevertheless, the body is not simply a cocoon possessed by the soul. Rather, the body individuates the soul, permanently. The two principles, body and soul, are forever linked and conformed to each other. Man is a composite being, in which body and soul are separated at death, but reunited, in eternal form, in the final Resurrection. (CCC 366) The corporeal matter of the body and the spiritual form of the soul make one human person. As the Catechism teaches, “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united; but rather their union forms a single nature.” (CCC 365) Human nature is the body and the soul together. Therefore, the body is the real symbol of the soul, because it symbolizes the soul and also makes the soul present in reality.

The Church is the real symbol of Jesus Christ. The Church symbolizes the continued presence of Christ in the world, and it also makes present Christ in reality. Just as the soul animates the body of a person, so too, the Holy Spirit animates the body of the Church. (CCC 797) As the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, or “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” makes clear, the Church is a body (MCC, 14), and specifically, the Body of Christ. (CCC 805) She is both visible and invisible, and human and divine. (CCC 779) She is the physical symbol of a hidden reality. In that sense, the Church is like a sacrament. (CCC 775) She is the visible sign in communicating God’s invisible grace. She is the efficacious instrument, and real symbol, of Christ’s redemption by which man is reconciled with God. (CCC 780) The Holy Spirit “forms,” as it were, the “matter” of the body of the Church. Just as the body is formed in the likeness of the soul, so too, we are formed into the likeness of Christ. We are recreated in His image. (Rom.8:29) This is begun at Baptism and continues in a lifelong process, so that we “may become daily more and more like to our Savior” (MCC, 56), and are being “transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Cor.3:18) This self-communication of Christ to His believers is primarily through the sacraments, where we are “united in a hidden and real way to Christ in His passion and glorification.” (LG, 7) In Baptism, we are conformed to His likeness; in Confirmation, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit; and in the Eucharist, we are brought into communion with Him and with each other. Christ is as intimately connected with His followers as the soul is with the body. Lumen Gentium puts it this way, “For by communicating His Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as His body those brothers of His who are called together from every nation.” (LG, 7) The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. (CCC 779) It is for this reason that when the risen Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus, who is on his way to persecute and kill members of the Church, Christ says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) Christ is actually present, under veiled form, in His community of believers, the Church. As Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them.” (Mt.18:20)

Hidden divine realities are often times expressed in the world through symbolic reality, as has been discussed in regards to the soul and the Church. In a similar way, Christ is the real symbol of the eternal Word of God. In His humanity, Christ symbolizes, in bodily form, the manifestation of the divine and eternal Word, but He also is, in reality, the Son of God. In a similar fashion, within the Church, grace is primarily conferred on us through the symbolic reality of the sacraments. This is most especially true in the Eucharist. Christ is symbolically present under the veiled species of bread and wine, but Christ is also actually present in reality in the Eucharist. At consecration, with the transubstantiation, His body and blood, soul and divinity truly become present, even though our “eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk.24:16) Christ is the primordial sacrament from which grace is bestowed upon the Church; itself, a type of analogous sacrament; which, in turn, confers grace upon us in the actual sacraments themselves. Sanctifying grace flows from Christ, to the Church, and to the sacraments. We, the community of believers, initiated and sustained by the sacraments, are thence drawn into the symbolic reality of Christ. We become symbols of Christ and manifest His real presence in our lives. We are taken up into the mysteries of His life. (LG, 7) As such, we, the Church, who are the Body of Christ, are drawn into close union with Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Body. (MCC, 81) St.Paul reveals this to us saying, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor.10:17) Since we all partake of the one Eucharistic “bread,” we are united into communion with Christ, and consequently, with each other. (LG, 7) This is a constant theme of the New Testament. As St.Paul teaches the Romans, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom.12:5) The effect of the Eucharistic sacrament, or in Thomistic terms, “the Res Tantum,” or the “final reality” produced by the sacrament, is our unity with God and with each other, i.e., the coalescing of the Mystical Body of Christ. As Jesus Himself testified, “Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood abide in Me, and I in them.” (Jn.6:56) We are made one in the symbolic reality of Christ’s Body.

To this point, the main purpose of the Church is to be the “sacrament of the inner union of men with God” and the “sacrament of the unity of the human race.” (CCC 775) In Gethsemane, Jesus prays to the Father for the Church’s communion with God and with one another, or in other words, for the Communion of Saints, “so that they may be one, as We are one.” (Jn. 17:22) As part of this oneness, the Church’s mission is to take care of each other, and not just corporeally, but also, spiritually. God wills that the Church take part in the redemptive mission of Christ, and become “as it were, another Christ.” (MCC, 53) Christ’s redemptive work merited superabundant grace for us, of which the Church contributed nothing. (MCC, 44) Yet, Christ’s passion and death “merited for His Church an infinite treasure of graces.” (MCC, 106) God could have chosen any way possible to distribute those graces, but He chose that the Church should take an active role in the work of redemption; thus, conferring a special dignity upon His members. The magisterium teaches “not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. This is a deep mystery..” (MCC, 44) This deep mystery pervades every member of the Body of Christ. For, Christ wills that His Mystical Body, we, the Church, carry on His salvific mission here on earth until the end of the world. It is an utterly serious responsibility, for “the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances” of her members. (MCC, 44) We can petition God to apply our own prayers and mortifications, our “spiritual sacrifices,” in union with the infinite grace of Christ’s Passion, towards the salvation and sanctification of other souls, and in particular, on behalf of sinners. We can be co-redeemers. Again, this is not from anything we have done or earned or merited. We can do nothing without Christ. All grace is from Him. Christ simply wills that we should share in His work. The encyclical says we must offer our “prayers, works, and sufferings” every day to the Eternal Father. (MCC, 109) In this way we resemble Christ (MCC, 47) in our intercession and mediation for the whole human family. Being one body, we must have “the same care for one another.” (1 Cor.12:25) As individual members of the Mystical Body of Christ we must be rustled up from our slumber with a “supernatural charity” for the good of all men. (MCC, 97) We can do this by remaining faithful to the Church. When we abide as members united in His Mystical Body, He too abides in us by the Holy Spirit. We become a living symbolic reality, where Christ is truly present in the world again.

Baptism, Initiation into the Common Priesthood – October 15, 2015

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:19-20)

“Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship.” (CCC 1280)

The sacrament of Baptism initiates us into the mystery of Christ. It is the essential rite to eternal life, and the beginning point of the whole Christian experience. (CCC 1213) In Baptism, God first demonstrates His self-communication to us. It imprints His indelible mark upon our souls configuring us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The character of Christ is irrevocably sealed upon our minds and souls, configuring us to a new and eternal spiritual reality. (CCC 1272) It transforms who we are. A permanent ontological change takes place to our very being. Just as a material object or person is visibly sealed with a mark, defining who or what it is, or whose property it might be, so too, in Baptism, God marks our immaterial souls invisibly and permanently, claiming us as His own. It sets us apart. It can only be done once, and nothing can undo it. It is a necessary transformation. Jesus attests to it, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn.3:5) Baptismal water is a graced sign, a real symbol, which efficaciously applies the invisible grace it signifies. It does in reality, the sign it points to. We are washed of Original Sin, purified of all of our sins, and regenerated to eternal life. It consecrates us into the sacramental character of Christ’s paschal mystery, impressing upon us His saving grace of the Cross. (SC, 6) We are sealed with Christ’s imprimatur, conforming us to the God-man. (2 Cor. 1:21-22) He alone conquered sin, and death itself, so that by faith and grace, we too, who are flesh and blood mortals, may partake in His supernatural life. Baptism is necessary because Christ alone overcame death. We need His divine life in us, so we too will rise to eternal life. Baptism anticipates our own resurrection. Through it, we are grafted into communion with the Easter mysteries. The mystery of Christ becomes alive to us, and in us. Christ in His life, and in His Passion and suffering, and all that He was in His eternal and divine humanity, begins to unfold and live out in our individual lives. When we are immersed into the water, we are brought into His death, and rising from the water, we are brought into His life and resurrection. (Rom. 6:3-4) As the Catechism says, “It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ.” (CCC 1239) We are made into a new living, Trinitarian reality; spiritually reordered towards the Father, configured to the Son, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We become adopted children of God, by faith and grace; baptized into the Son of God, we are made partakers in the divine nature by proxy, as He is in reality.

We are indeed remade into this new holy status as children of God, and temples of the Holy Spirit, and co-heirs with Christ. It makes us, first and foremost, Christian, and members of the Church, the Body of Christ, and gains us access to divine grace in the rest of the sacraments. It is our foundation for the supernatural life. But, it is also the first moment of a lifelong phenomenon of conversion. Baptism is more than just a single event, or a static state; it transforms us in such a way that we are perpetually drawn deeper into the living reality of Christ. It allows us to engage in the sacramental life and realize the mysteries of Christ in our being. It establishes a new dynamic in our consciousness, where our everyday circumstances are reinterpreted and contextualized within the divine humanity of Christ. Our humanity is elevated and divinized. We are afforded special offices. One of these is our incorporation into the common priesthood of the faithful, the baptized, and the ordinary. With a sacred chrism, the oil consecrated by the bishop, the newly baptized is anointed into Christ as “priest, prophet, and king.” (CCC 1241) We become sharers in Christ’s one eternal priesthood. As Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, says, “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.” (LG, 10) Even as Christ is the one true and eternal Mediator between God and man, He still graciously saw fit that we should also participate, to varying degrees, in His priestly office. As part of our baptismal right and dignity, we can exercise that priestly office by virtue of our association in Christ’s life, passion, and redemptive sacrifice.

But, what are our priestly functions? Scripture and the Church say we are to make spiritual sacrifices. We are to offer up interiorly all of our actions, words, deeds, suffering, successes, and all that we do, for the glory of God and for the intercession of souls. The magisterium teaches that the baptized should “present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (LG, 10 ) Every common thing in our ordinary existence can be extended towards God as a sacrifice in our common priesthood. We can offer up everything, including our prayers, sacrifices, fasting, bodily weaknesses, illness, even patiently enduring the things that annoy us, or nearly anything that may otherwise seem useless and worthless in the eyes of the world. God’s eternal priesthood is mediated in the implements of our material world. Our physical operations can have spiritual significance. We can exercise our priesthood, in such a way, that we can, in effect, “sacramentalize” all that we do. That is, we spiritualize our activity through faith and with the intention of offering reparation to God. This is how we become living sacrifices. As the magisterium explains, we can “exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (LG, 10) By ourselves, a branch separated from the vine, our actions have no spiritual power. But, united with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, our actions can be spiritually efficacious for reparation of our sins and the sins of others. This is our role in the communion of saints. We are mediators. Through initiation in Baptism and the imprinting of Christ’s priestly seal upon us, we become priests. We can use our willful intention to please God, in a particular activity, invoke the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and raise that up as a form of worship. So, we can, for illustration, use our being hungry on any given afternoon, or say, being stuck behind a slow driver in our morning commute, to invoke the Holy Spirit, and offer these annoyances up to God for the sanctification of souls. These are just two minor examples, but the possibilities are nearly endless. St.Paul explains these spiritual sacrifices. He says, I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col.1:24) Christ deemed us worthy to take part in His priestly ministry, and left for us a portion of the redemption to offer up to the Father. He made us a living Church, actively carrying on His mission. Christ’s presence and power remain hidden now sacramentally, just as it did in His life then when He walked the earth.  Some people today see just bread and wine, and not the body and blood of Christ, as before they saw just the carpenter’s son, and not the Son of God.  Christ continues His priestly mediation for the world today through us. In this vein, St.Paul is dutifully acting out his priestly character. He offers intercession and mediation for the Church, through his own sufferings, in unity with the sufferings of Christ. We are called to do the same. Christ has deputized us. He appointed us His priests. It is our role to live as mediators and intercessors here on earth in imitation of Him. We are to stand in the breach for those entrusted to us.  Baptism is everything, but it’s also just the beginning.