Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, No 'DD. 960' (1964).
The Great Doctrine of the
Mystical Body of Christ
Nihil Obstat :
JOSEPH P. NEWTH, C.C., Censor Theol. Deput.
Imprimi Potest :
+ JOANNES CAROLUS, Archiep. Dublinen., Hiberniae Primas.
of Saint Paul
The desert sun was sinking in a blaze of glory and all the western sky
was coloured golden. Although the day had been too hot for travel, the
group of horsemen had been riding since the dawn. As they rode along
the old Damascus Road, there was something feverish and excited in
The notorious Saul of Tarsus rode in front, and on his face was grim
determination. His jaws were set and his fierce eyes pierced the
gathering shadows of the night. The day was now far spent, and all was
darkening, but a new and glorious day was about to dawn.
Suddenly it came! A shaft of blinding light struck out from the
blackness of the night. Knocked to the ground, Saul lay in trembling
panic. Then from above there spoke a loud and solemn voice :
" Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me ? "
" Who are You, Lord ? " he murmured.
" I am Jesus Christ, Whom you persecute."
These mysterious words baffled Saul. Jesus Christ had long since been
crucified on Calvary. Christ was dead ! How then, could he be
persecuting Christ ? Are dead men sensitive to persecution ? He sat and
cudgelled his tormented brain, while his companions stood about in
Saul was blind. Those fierce piercing eyes of his were now clouded and
blank. He could not see the stars above him, or the moonlit hills about
him. He staggered to his feet and with assistance managed to mount his
horse. They then rode on in the moonlight, Saul being led like a blind,
But the voice kept on resounding in his ears. How could he be
persecuting Christ ? He had, indeed, persecuted the Christians with a
wild and savage fury, but never had he persecuted Christ.
And then a new and marvellous truth began to dawn upon him. His eyes
were blind, but yet he saw, in dim outline, a most tremendous truth. As
in a heavenly vision he saw the marvellous union which unites all
Christians with Christ. So complete is this union, that to persecute
the Christians is to persecute Christ Himself.
This intimate union of Christians with Christ now dawned upon Saul, but
over the years to come it was to take on a fuller vividness and assume
all the bright splendour of a great revelation. Saul was changed into
St. Paul, the Apostle. He arrived at Damascus, not as a cruel
persecutor of the Christians, but as an ardent champion for the cause
When his blindness was cured, his fierce eyes were blazing once again,
but now they blazed with flames of zeal. That loud, clear Voice kept
re-echoing down the years, to remind him that he was once a persecutor
of Christ. This tragic thought pressed him on to a passionate zeal that
was a force invincible, and kept before his mind that marvellous
mystery of the union of all Christians in Christ. In almost every
sermon he preached, and in every letter he wrote, he constantly
referred back to this wondrous mystery. This union in Christ was his
central idea, and the very hub of his thought. He set out to tell the
whole world about the Mystical Body of Christ.
Body is the Church
So close and so complete is this union of Christians with Christ, that
St. Paul calls the Church the "Body of Christ." Just as all the
different parts of a human body are united, and share in the life of
one body, so also are the Christians united in Christ. They all share
in the Life of Christ and form one living body.
The Mystical Body, therefore, is simply the Church. We Catholics are so
united to Christ that we form one body with Him. In his Epistle to the
Ephesians, St. Paul tells us that Christ is "Head over all the Church,
which is, indeed his Body." (1, 23).
When Our Lord departed from this world on Ascension Thursday, He did
not leave us orphans. We need not envy those friends of Jesus who lived
with Him at Galilee. We enjoy a union with Him which is far more
intimate than simple acquaintance. They walked in the pleasant company
of Jesus, but we are united as one Body with Him.
The Church makes it possible for Jesus to extend Himself and prolong
His influence to all time and to all men. Christ belongs to every age
and to every nation, for He is living on in the members of His Body.
The life of Jesus was not all spent between the Crib and the Cross.
Christ is our contemporary.
Good Friday is the birthday of the Mystical Body. When Jesus died on
the Cross, the Body was born and humanity began to live in Him. His
death brought forth an abundance of life !
Jesus Himself said: "When I am lifted up I will, draw all things to
myself." (John, 12 : 32). These words were fulfilled when, lifted up on
the Cross, He drew us all to Himself and united us all as one Body with
Himself. The aching arms of Jesus were stretched out to embrace the
whole human race.
See then, how Christ has loved us ! He desired, not only to die for us,
but also to embrace us all and unite us as one Body with Himself. Such
ardent love could not suffer separation. All true love tends towards
We are born into the Mystical Body at our Baptism. When the clear
Baptismal waters flow, the life of Jesus floods our souls. Baptism is
like a second birth, for it is then that our life in Christ begins. "
Amen, Amen, I say to you," says Jesus, "unless a man be born again, he
will not see the Kingdom of God." (John 3, 3).
There is a profound relationship between our Baptism and the death of
Christ on the Cross. It was at the moment of Christ's death on the
Cross that the Mystical Body was born. It is at the moment of Baptism
that we are born into the Mystical Body. In both instances there is a
birth. On the Cross the Body was born, while at Baptism we are born
into the Body.
" Do you not know," says St. Paul, "that all who have been baptized
into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" (Rom. 6, 3). The
Apostle's meaning is quite clear when we consider our birth into the
Body of Christ. By being baptized into Christ we are, indeed, baptized
into His death. It was that death that made it possible for us to live
In his Epistles, St. Paul uses the expression "In Christ Jesus," or its
equivalent, over one hundred and fifty times. We might call it his
favourite expression, and we need not wonder at this, for it is an
expression of deep significance. A person is said to be "In Christ "
when, by Baptism, he has become a member of the Mystical Body. It is a
truly marvellous thing, therefore, to be a Catholic, for a Catholic is
a person in Christ.
By heresy, apostasy or schism, we Catholics can cut ourselves off from
the Mystical Body of Christ. The Pope has the power to cut members off
by a decree of excommunication. Not all excommunications, however, have
this dire effect, since the severity of the penalty depends on the
intention of the Pontiff in each case.
Mortal sin will not cut a Catholic off from the Body unless, of course,
it is a sin of heresy, apostasy or schism. When a Catholic is in mortal
sin he is like a corrupt member of the Body, but he is still a member.
By a good confession he can have his sins forgiven, and the life of
Jesus Christ will flood his soul again.
Soul of the Body
The Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Mystical Body. Just as the human
soul gives life and unity to all the parts of a human body, so also the
Holy Spirit gives life and unity to the Mystical Body.
The late Roman Pontiff, Pius XII, in his Encyclical on the Mystical body,
elaborated on the role played by the Holy Spirit as Soul of the Body.
In the Encyclical, he said: "If we examine closely the Divine Principle
of life and power given by Christ, insofar as it constitutes the very
source of every gift and created grace, we can easily see that it is
nothing else than the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete."
In speaking of the presence of the Holy Spirit as Soul of the Mystical
Body, St. Augustine calls it a "corporate presence." Every member of
the Body enjoys this corporate presence of the Holy Spirit. Even though
a Catholic falls into mortal sin, he does not lose this corporate
presence, for he still continues to be a part of the Mystical Body.
This corporate presence is not the same as the Divine Indwelling which
always accompanies sanctifying grace. This Divine Indwelling is enjoyed
by all persons in the state of grace whether they are members of the
Body or not. The corporate presence is enjoyed by all members of the
Body, whether they are in the State of Grace or not.
This "corporate presence " is simply the presence of the Holy Spirit as
soul of the Mystical Body, ready to influence even the members who are
Doctrine of Love
The Mystical Body is a world-wide union of love. No wonder it was said
of the early Christians, "See how they love one another ! " They loved
one another because they saw Christ in each other. It is much easier to
love people when you see Jesus in them. "Extend your love over the
whole world," says St. Augustine, "for the members of Christ are to be
found everywhere in the world."
Because of our intimate union as one Body in Christ, it follows that
when we love one another, we are kind and generous to Christ. "Amen,
amen, I say to you, so long as you did it to one of these the least of
My brethren, you did it to Me" (Mat. 25: 40). By these words, Jesus
identifies Himself with His brethren.
The doctrine of the Mystical Body fills our hearts with a deep and
sincere love of the people. It throws a resplendent light upon
humanity, so that our attitude towards people becomes our attitude
towards Christ. It is, indeed, a doctrine for the people.
The members of the Body co-operate in all things and share all things.
Especially do they co-operate in prayer and in the Mass. The official
prayer of the Mystical Body is the Divine Office, which is, therefore,
a prayer of mighty power. A priest or anyone else praying the Divine
Office prays with the voice of the Mystical Christ. He prays through
Christ, with Christ and in Christ.
But it is not only in the Divine Office that Catholics co-operate in
prayer. Every pious "Hail Mary " benefits the entire Body. This is why
the Little Flower was able to do so much for the foreign missions even
though she herself never sailed away to savage lands. While spending
her days within the convent walls she was able to send a flood of grace
flowing out to the mission fields.
The Mystical Body needs an atmosphere of prayer in which to live and
breathe. The only way to live a life in Jesus Christ is to live a life
of prayer. When we realize that Jesus is living on in us, our devotion
is inflamed and we are always inclined to pray.
"With Christ I am nailed to the Cross," cries St. Paul, and all worthy
Catholics ought to be able to say the same. Just as Jesus lives on in
His members, so also He suffers on in His members. Christ is in agony
till the end of the world.
Since we are members of the Body of Christ, we must share in His
sufferings. As St. Bernard says, "We are members of a thorn-crowned
Head." Jesus is no mere spectator to our sufferings and neither are we
mere spectators to His. We share in His sufferings and He in ours. As
St. Paul says, "The sufferings of Christ abound in us " (2 Cor. 1 : 5).
All through the ages, the sufferings of Christ have abounded in the
Church, and this age is no exception. Catholics are suffering terrible
persecution in many lands. To suffer with Jesus should be our glory and
our joy, for suffering is the uniform of Christ. Suffering is the
uniform of the Mystical Body, which is the Church.
Doctrine of Purity
Modern life is sex-charged and sex-appeal is sprinkled over everything
like pepper and salt. The difficulty involved in trying to keep pure in
such surroundings is only too apparent. When a young man starts to move
about in this modern world he soon finds himself faced with grave
It is only too true that today sex is glamorized and the beauty of the
human body is commercialized The art of advertising has in many places
degenerated into disgusting display. Advertisers realize that a young
woman is the most beautiful thing in God's creation, so they snatch at
this beauty and abuse it for their own cheap business.
On this entire problem the Mystical Body casts a radiant light. The
human body is a sacred thing, for it is united to the Body of Jesus.
Our humanity has become a new humanity for Christ, for we are united to
Him, not only in our souls, but in our bodies also. To dishonour a
human body is to dishonour Christ Himself.
A boy, therefore, should have the greatest respect for the body of a
girl, and vice versa. Boys and girls would learn to respect each other
if they realized that their bodies are members of Christ. It is clearly
a terrible thing to bring impurity into the Body of Jesus. Impurity is
forever outlawed !
Many of our social problems arise from the fact that, while we make
great industrial progress, the dignity of man is often ignored. Human
beings are made a mere commodity on the market, even less valuable than
stocks and bonds. Human dignity is lost.
By being a member of the Mystical Body a man is so exalted that he
shares in the infinite dignity of Christ. Even the poorest man on earth
becomes a spiritual millionaire for he carries about with him all the
riches of Jesus. Even those who are forced to live in wretched city
slums do not have to drag out a dreary existence. By living the life of
Christ they are all caught up into the drama of divine adventure. Each
one of them can say with St. Paul, "For me to live is Christ " (Phil.
In modern times there is a tendency to break down class distinctions.
The basic equality of men is something which we like to insist upon. In
his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul speaks of the equality of men in
no uncertain terms. "There is neither Jew nor Greek ; there is neither
slave nor freeman ; there is neither male nor female. For you are all
one in Jesus Christ " (3: 28).
Here we have a remarkable unity and an even more remarkable equality.
So complete is our union in Jesus that even the distinction between the
sexes is minimized. In St. Paul's day, especially in the East, there
was a very marked difference between the social standing of the sexes.
Women were on a much lower level than men. St. Paul points out that the
Mystical Body tends to abolish such exaggerated distinctions.
An utterly classless society, however, does not exist, and cannot
exist. In society there is a basis for equality and also a basis for
inequality. Human beings are all equally human, but yet they differ one
from another. There is no monotonous sameness, and it is this variety
that gives zest to human life. If people were all the same, then life
would be dull indeed.
The Mystical Body is a marvellous expression of unity in variety. All
the parts of the Body are not the same yet they all form but one Body,
and all freely co-operate for the good of the whole. Here we have a
perfect harmony within variety. It is the blue-print of a perfect
Call Her " Mother "
Mary is the Mother of Christ, of the Whole Christ, both Head and
members. She is truly our Mother, because we are the Body of her Son.
We are, as St. Paul tells us, "made from His flesh and from His bones "
(Eph. 5 : 30).
Millions, therefore, call her "Mother," and rightly so. When we thus
address her as our Mother we are not playing a game of make-believe.
The Motherhood of Mary- is not a flight of fancy. It is firmly based on
truth and in reality.
It was on the Hill of Calvary that she gave us birth, and it was in
great pain and agony that she became our Mother. The Mystical Body was
born on Calvary and Mary was its Mother. She is the Mother of the Whole
When a Catholic Mother nurses her baptized baby, then it is just as
though she was carrying the Infant Jesus in her arms. Her love and
tender care is counted as having been given to Christ. "So long as you
did it to one of these, the least of My brethren, you did it to Me "
(Matt. 25: 40).
Every good Catholic home is like the little home at Nazareth, for Jesus
is there. He lives on in the members of His Body, and the family life
of Nazareth linger; still. It is the duty of every Catholic mother to
mould her children into the likeness of Christ.
Baptism is only the beginning of our life in Christ and not the climax.
The divine life of Jesus begins in us like a glowing spark, but over
the years that little spark will grow into a burning flame and finally
into a raging furnace which consumes us entirely in him. So intense can
this divine Life become that St. Paul cried out, "I live now, not I,
but Christ lives on in me" (Gal. 2 : 20).
When a Catholic mother, therefore, is exasperated by the bad behaviour
of her children, then perhaps it will console her to recall that the
Life of Jesus is indeed in them, however impeded. The purpose of her
maternal care is to develop the character of Christ in her children by
helping them to overcome themselves.
Mary, the Mother of Christ, is the model of all Catholic mothers, and
it is to her that they should look for light and guidance. Like Mary,
they, too, are mothering Christ.
The Church and Matrimony
The Sacrament of Matrimony symbolizes the union between Christ and the
Church. St. Paul tells us this when he writes: "A husband is head of
his wife, just as Christ is Head of the Church, being Himself Saviour
of the Body. But just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let
wives be subject to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your
wives just as Christ also loved the Church " (Eph. 5 : 22-25).
The union of husband and wife as "two in one flesh " is a symbol of
that marvellous union by which Christ and the Church are united in one
Body. Since there is only one Christ and one Church, so also there
should be only one husband and one wife. Otherwise the symbolism of the
Sacraments would be destroyed.
Divorce is violently opposed to the Sacrament of Matrimony because,
just as Christ and the Church cannot be separated, so also the bond of
marriage cannot be broken, except by the death of one of the parties.
In modern times matrimony is the most abused of all the Sacraments.
With Hollywood setting the pace, men and women are beginning to look
upon marriage as a brief adventure. With the least excuse they clamour
Very little knowledge of Sociology is needed to make us realize that
the health of a nation depends on the stability of the family. It is an
historical fact that great and powerful nations have crumbled in dust
because of the collapse of family life.
We Catholics, therefore, must stand firm if we are to avert the
avalanche of Godlessness which threatens to overwhelm the world.
Ignoring all this modern madness, we must uphold the Christian Family
and defend the Faith.
Food of the Mystical Body
A living body needs food, so Christ has provided lavishly for the
nourishment of His Mystical Body. He instituted the Blessed Eucharist.
The life of Jesus in us is nourished and strengthened in us when we
consume this Body and Blood. No other food could strengthen us in
Christ. Unless we eat the Flesh of Jesus and drink His Blood, then we
shall languish in spiritual hunger and perish from starvation.
"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man
and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats My
Flesh and drinks My Blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up
on the last day. For My Flesh is food indeed and My Blood is drink
indeed. He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in
him " (John 6 : 54-57).
The Holy Eucharist makes it possible for us to abide in Jesus and for
Him to abide in us. This Sacrament unites us to Jesus Christ in the
unity of His Mystical Body.
St. John Chrysostom, preaching to the people, says, "What is the
Eucharist ? Why was it given ? What is its purpose ? That we may become
one Body; members formed from His Flesh and from His Bones."
It is the Blessed Eucharist, therefore, that unites all Catholics into
the marvellous unity of the Mystical Body. The great effect of this
Sacrament is unity in Christ. As St. Augustine cries, "O Sacrament of
filial devotion ! O Symbol of Unity ! O Bond of Charity ! "
In our reception of the Eucharist we should remember that it is a
social Sacrament as well as a personal matter. We must open our hearts
in love to all the other members of Christ, with whom we are so
intimately united because so personally joined to Christ.
"If you would Would receive the Holy Eucharist with profit," says St.
Augustine, " then above all else, be yourselves what it symbolizes. Be
united to the Church ; be united among yourselves ; be the Mystical
Body of Christ."
of the Mystical Body
The Mass is the Sacrifice of the Mystical Body. It is Christ the Head,
Who, together with all His members, offers to God the Sacrifice of the
Altar. When Jesus offers Himself up as Victim, He does not separate
Himself from those who are united to Him in His Mystical Body. The Mass
is the Sacrifice of the whole Christ.
All the faithful, therefore, have a very real share in the Mass. It is
their own Sacrifice. They are not mere spectators looking on, but
rather they are actors in the drama. Because of our world-wide union in
Christ, with such dispositions we can all profit by every Mass
celebrated anywhere in the world.
The Mass is the same Sacrifice as that of the Cross. The Mass sets the
scene of Calvary in our midst. On the altar we see the drama of the
Cross extended down to us, with all its love, all its power and all its
pardon. Just as the Mystical Body is an extension of Christ down
through the ages, so also the Mass is an extension of Calvary.
The Mass is the same Sacrifice as that of the Cross, but it is offered
in a different manner. The drama of the death of Jesus was a drama
drenched in Blood. In contradistinction with Calvary we have in the
Mass a clean oblation. "From the rising of the sun, even to the going
down, My Name is great amongst the Gentiles, and in every place there
is sacrifice, and there is offered in My Name a clean oblation ; for My
Name is great amongst the Gentiles, says the Lord of Hosts " (Mal. 1:
This beautiful prophecy is marvellously fulfilled in the Holy Sacrifice
of the Mass. In many parts of the world, and at all hours of the day,
priests are offering up this clean Oblation on our altars. The Mystical
Body does not cease to worship God, to adore Him, and to glorify Him in
Every Catholic, therefore, should love the Mass, for the Mass brings
him closer to Calvary, and therefore closer to Christ. It was on the
Cross that the Mystical Body was born, and so, by going to Mass a
Catholic is returning to a source of life. He goes back to the scene of
humanity's re-birth, and plays an active part in it. All Christian
restoration is centred in the Mass.
Power of Catholicism
In the Apostolic Age, the power of Catholicism was very manifest. The
Faith resounded like a blaring trumpet, which shook the foundations of
the pagan temples. The twelve Apostles came like ardent flames into a
world of sensuality and sin. In every corner of that Roman world, they
preached Catholicism by which they smashed paganism to pieces. The
Faith came as a force that was mighty and all-conquering.
But our modern world is just as pagan as that Roman world and just as
sensual. Body-culture has now become a mania, to the neglect of the
soul. Many modern women make bodily beauty their life's work. All they
think about is glamour, money and sex, while the pattern of their life
becomes increasingly pagan.
The only cure for all this modern madness is the fullness of the Faith.
If our Catholic Faith were fully lived, then it would run all
irreligion from the modern scene, and stride this muddled world like a
Down through the ages, Catholicism has moulded the hearts and minds of
millions. It has formed and fashioned the cultural instincts of
civilization. The power of Catholicism is unparalleled !
"This is the victory which overcomes the world, our faith " (John 5:
4). In these few words we have a summary of all Christian history. The
story of the Catholic Church is the dramatic story of a conquering
Faith which, in the face of all opposition, has invariably triumphed,
even in the midst of seeming failure. Our Faith has overcome the world!
And even in these modern times, when the Church is being ground into
the dust by armoured heels, we can still see and feel the mighty power
of Catholicism, which in the end will most certainly rise victorious.
the World !
Religion alone can unite the world! The very foundation of lasting
peace is a spirit of love and mutual trust. This spirit can be fostered
only by religion. Both science and politics are helpless without the
all-pervading influence of religion.
The Mystical Body is a plan to unite the world. The incorporation of
mankind into the Body of Christ is, above all else a work of unity;
unity of all men with Christ, and unity of all men amongst themselves.
Christians are not a mere crowd. The unity of Christ has permeated
them, and united them into a corporeal oneness. Humanity becomes united
as one Body, one Church, one Christ, one World.
The doctrine of the Mystical Body is explosive, dynamic, expansive. The
modern world is unconsciously seeking this truth. Influenced by this
inspiring doctrine, men would soon learn to live together in harmony
and love. All the hard walls of hatred and discrimination would come
tumbling down like the ancient walls of Jericho. We would see a new
dawn : a new era.
We Catholics ought to be the most world-conscious people on earth. Let
us not confine our Faith to the four walls of a home! Throw back those
wide horizons and do not rest content until all the world is Christian.
The Mystical Body was meant to grow, and keep on growing, until it has
absorbed all humanity into itself. We must build up the Mystical Body!
We know no horizons in Christ!
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