Eucharist: The Mystical Body
by John Gallen, S.J.
month we reflected on Jesus in his ministry of table-fellowship. We
noted how he carried out that ministry during the course of his public
life and how this table-fellowship with Jesus continues to this day.
We observed that Jesus is really and truly present in his body, blood,
soul and divinity in the sacrificial meal which is the celebration of
Mass todaythe sacrifice of the Mass that continues to make present
the sacrifice of the Cross, the whole paschal mystery of Jesus' death
some way to find contemporary words and thought patterns that will help
us deepen our appreciation of this holy mystery? How can we come to
a more precious grasp of the connection between what Jesus was doing
in his public ministry, described in the New Testament, and what Jesus
is doing now when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist
'One body in Christ'
The key to
our process of reflection is an image offered to us by holy Scripture.
St. Paul made rich use of an image that we have come to call the Mystical
Body of Christ. Paul writes: "Do you not know that your bodies are members
of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 6:15). Paul is suggesting that we are all
connected to Christ the way body parts are connected to the whole body.
And, he continues, this radical union that each one has with Christ
likewise connects the members with each other: "We, though many, are
one body in Christ and individually parts of one another" (Romans 12:5).
The body of Christ is a fundamental reality that connects us all with
Christ, and in Christ with one another.
Army has had a very provocative recruitment poster for some time. It
reads: "Be All That You Can Be." That pithy slogan suggests that potential
applicants to the Army have a rich treasury of gifts in their very persons,
and that it is important to get in touch with those gifts. Get in touch
with who you really are, and begin to live the richness of who you truly
are! The Army suggests it can help in the process.
is basically taking the same approach, pointing to the truth of our
self-identity in Christ. Paul wants us to realize who we really are,
that is, the body of Christ, joined to Christ and one another, alive
in the one life. If we are "to be all that we can be," we must recognize
that our calling transcends any possibilities that human imagination
can produce. It is the divine imagination that is at stake and at work
here, calling us to union and life with Christ and our vocation to be
Christ's presence in the world, "all that we can be" by the gift of
offered by therapists in our own day similarly goes straight to the
heart of this basic human insight: It is crucial to get in touch with
the fundamental reality of our being, our own selfhood, to discover
what is there and begin to address its implications for our life. St.
Paul grasped the same wisdom and brought its richness to his ministry:
"You are the body of Christ."
Christ present among us
It is this
body of Christ that gathers to celebrate the Eucharist. If we realize
who we truly are, we are thrilled to recognize that, by God's gift,
Christ is truly present in the members of his body who gather for Mass.
There are several manifestations of Christ's real presence at Mass,
as St. Augustine wrote centuries ago: "If then you are the body of Christ
and his members, it is your sacrament that reposes on the altar of the
Lord. It is your sacrament which you receive. You answer 'Amen' to what
you yourself are and in answering you are enrolled. You answer 'Amen'
to the words 'The body of Christ.' Be, then, a member of the body of
Christ to verify your 'Amen'" (Sermon 272).
words are compelling as they reveal what Christ does in us by transforming
us into members of his body. We remember St. Athanasius as he reflected
on the mystery of the Incarnation: "God became human so that humanity
might become divine." The humanity of God in Jesus Christ has gathered
us into himself and made us share in his own divine life. When the eucharistic
bread is offered to us with the words, "the Body of Christ," we are
stunned to realize that what is said of the transformed bread is said
likewise of the transformed recipient! In both cases, there is the real
presence of Christ. We answer "Amen" to what we ourselves are, as Augustine
Vatican Council's Constitution on the Liturgy (#7) reminds us
that Christ is present "in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the
person of his minister, 'the same one now offering, through the ministry
of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,' but especially
under the eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments,
so that when someone baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes.
He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the
holy Scriptures are read in Church. He is present, finally, when the
Church prays and sings, for he promised: 'Where two or three are gathered
together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them'" (Matthew 18:20).
of Christ's real presence surrounds us with divine love and transforms
our humanity more and more entirely into Christ. The fourfold real presence
of Christin the eucharistic bread and wine, the word, the minister,
and the assemblyis the steady commitment of the God who is Emmanuel,
From observer to actor
Some of us
grew up at a time in the Church's history when we thought that what
we did at Mass was to go there and, with sincerity and piety, watch
what happened. We were, as we put it, "assisting at Mass," prayerfully
focusing on what the priest said and did. We followed along from our
place in the pew, sometimes with the help of prayer books and missals,
or other devotional practices like the rosary. But the Mass was what
the priest did and what we followed. Now, in these days of liturgical
renewal which have just begun, we are recognizing that we do not go
to Mass to watch what happens. We go there to make it happen!
How is this
possible? Because we are the body of Christ, and what happens at liturgy
happens when and to the extent that we do it. As the Council taught
in its liturgy document, "every liturgical celebration, because it is
an action of Christ the priest and of his body the church, is a sacred
action surpassing all others" (#7). The celebrant at Mass is Christ
himself, and the sense of Christ that the Church means us to understand
is the whole Christ, head and members, all united in this priestly action
of prayerful worship.
It is for
this reason that the liturgical renewal has continually called for the
whole assembly's full, active, conscious participation in the liturgical
action. Everyone in the assembly is a member of Christ, united to Christ
in the one life and united to all the members of the body as we all
share that one life. Because liturgy is what Christ does, the whole
assembly, in its diversity of roles, is called to exercise its priesthood
by participating in the action of Christ as we give praise and thanksgiving
to the Father and surrender with Christ to the Father's transforming
power. Participation by everyone in the assembly is at the heart of
this vision that the Church has of liturgy.
any connection between the real presence of Christ in the assembly,
the body of Christ, and the real presence of Christ in the eucharistic
bread and wine? What is the relationship between what we call the Mystical
Body of Christ and the eucharistic body and blood of Christ?
'Plunged' into mystery
of the assembly, are by God's touch and our holy Baptism plunged into
the mystery of God, entirely transformed by the divine mystery into
Christ's Mystical Body. Our very persons are energized by this gift
of Christ-life that goes to the root of our deepest being, rising and
surging in us, carrying us to new places of vibrant vitality, bringing
our hearts to a new openness.
to see what we had never dreamt of seeing and hear words that we had
never imagined. New secrets of life's reaches are revealed to us. Transfigured
by the embrace of Christ's loving arms, fire leaps from our eyes and
holy energy from our fingers as we gaze upon the world with Christ's
tender affection and reach out to touch its struggling peoples. "Behold,"
says their Lord, "I make all things new," and we know that this mission
has been committed to our fragile and sinful hands. Our mission is the
transformation of the world and its people.
When we gather
for liturgy as this mystical assembly, that same divine power leaps
from our prayerful hands and the word spoken is Christ's own word. Turning
to one another, we offer "the peace of Christ" because, wondrously,
it is ours to give, not because of any merit of our own but because
of God's own gift. Everything we touch becomes alive with Christ. We
are alive with Christ! This life is ours to give, shared with Christ
himself and with each other. So bread is transformed into Christ's body,
blood, soul, divinity. Wine is transformed into Christ's body, blood,
soul, divinity. All this transformation is because of the powerful,
shimmering, vibrant and real presence of Christ really and truly present
in us, the members of his body, our priest leading us in praise and
thanksgiving. The ordained priest, necessary to the assembly and its
celebration, lovingly serves in this ministry of leadership.
that is touched is transformed and made new. When priest and people
take the bread and sweep it up into the arms of the mystical Christ,
the bread becomes the body of Christ, brought back again to us, the
members, as the eucharistic body of Christ. We say our "Amen" to what
we are! When the wine is taken into the arms of the mystical Christ,
living and real, so does this new wine become the real Christ, touched
and transfigured by Christ's mystical presence.
because Christ truly and really lives in us, his members. We "proclaim
the mystery of faith" as the mystical Christ, head and members, delivers
the divine presence to the world in this eucharistic meal and likewise
responds to the Abba in the wholehearted surrender that Jesus makes
to his Father. The connection between the Mystical Body of Christ and
the eucharistic body of Christ is thus circular. It is the mystical
body, head and members, that celebrates Eucharist and transforms bread
and wine into Christ. And that eucharistic bread and wine in the sharing
then makes us, members of the assembly, more and more completely into
the Christ that we are.
pray in the eucharistic prayer (IV), "look upon this sacrifice which
you have given to your Church; and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who
share this one bread and one cup into the one body of Christ, a living
sacrifice of praise." This prayer of petition is quite particular, asking
that the eucharistic sharing will prove fruitful for all of us who partake
of bread and cup in this celebration. We pray that the active power
of the Spirit be at work in this celebration and produce the unity of
the Mystical Body which arises from sharing in the eucharistic bread
presence of Christ in the members of the Mystical Body, produced by
the Holy Spirit, gathers up the bread and wine to transform us into
Christ's own body and blood. As the eucharistic bread and cup are then
shared in our assembly, the Holy Spirit draws us all into ever deeper
unity, making us one body. We are made into "living sacrifice," participants
in Christ's sacrificial death and rising, a new creation. Eucharist
is at the center of God's loving embrace of our world.*
Father John Gallen is founder of the North American Academy of Liturgy.
He holds a doctorate from the University of Trier in Germany.
War was raging in Europe. Chiara Lubich, then
a college student, often took refuge in a shelterup to a dozen
times each day. While bombs fell all around Trent, Italy, in
the mid-1940's, Ms. Lubich routinely encountered her classmates
and friends underground.
In that unlikely place and under those improbable
circumstances, a movement was born. As the young women huddled
together and prayed, they heard God speak to them in a new way
through the Gospels, particularly in Jesus' commandment "that
you love one another, even as I have loved you." It was as if
"we were reading them for the first time. God seemed to be explaining
them to us," Ms. Lubich would recall years later.
The call to love of neighbor that Ms. Lubich heard
anew spawned a revolution. She founded the Focolare movement,
whose members agreed to devote themselves to the spiritual and
corporal works of mercy. Today Focolare (which comes from the
Italian word for "hearth"), claims more than 100,000 committed
members and up to two million adherents in almost 200 countries.
And its founder, now an octogenarian, is an ambassador of goodwill
and faith known for inspiring millions of peoplethrough
her words and actionsto find God in all places, at all
times, in all people.
Over the decades, Chiara Lubich has had the ear
of popes, won countless awards, traveled the globe and gathered
into the Focolare movement a rich mixture of people committed
to universal brotherhood and sisterhood. Pope John Paul II has
recognized Focolare for its work in promoting family, community
and ecumenical activities. The movement Ms. Lubich founded continues
to attract followers from the Catholic Church, members of Protestant
denominations and persons of other faiths, including Muslims
Through it all the focus of Chiara Lubich has
never changed: unity among humankind, love of the poor, forgetfulness
of self, charity to all. As she sees it, her vocation is "to
bring God where he is in want." Divisions between and among
members of God's family are, she believes, "a gaping wound in
the Body of Christ."
The third millennium offers Chiara Lubich and
the Focolare movement a new challenge to build a world inching
ever closer toward unity among people of various religions,
cultures and nations.*
by Judy Ball
Pope John Paul II opens the 47th International Eucharistic Congress
in Rome on June 18, he will be fulfilling his wish to make Jubilee
Year 2000 a celebration of Jesus Christ who continues to nourish
us as living bread and calls us to renewal. The Holy Father
will also be following in the footsteps of popes dating back
to Leo XIII, who was pontiff in 1881 when the first International
Eucharistic Congress was held at the University of Lille in
designer of this year's Eucharistic Congress logo is Italian-born
Vito Patera, 29, a member of the Congregation of the Passions
of Jesus Christ. He has placed the logo of the Great Jubilee
at the center of his work. The Eucharist is represented by the
symbols of wheat and grapes, while the doves represent the continents
of the world. Taken as a whole, the logo is meant to evoke the
vital energy coming from Christ, the Bread of Life. The spikes
and branches extend toward the infinite as a sign of hope.
and closing ceremonies for the congress are to be held at the
Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral Church of Rome.
Until the early 1300's, popes resided there.