THE MASS AND THE MYSTICAL BODYBy Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
We can better understand our union with Christ, and especially our union with Him in the sacrifice of the Mass, if we have some idea of the Mystical Body of which Christ is the head and we the members. As the members of our own body constitute a living organism in the natural order - all physically united; so the head and members of the Mystical Body constitute a living organism in the supernatural order, all united through grace.
St. Augustine speaks of the Mystical Body of Christ as the “whole Christ.” Not that the individual physical Body of Christ was in any way incomplete; but He became man precisely to become one with us, not merely taking on our human nature, but sharing with us His divine nature in such a way that we, as members of His Body, share in the fruits of all that He did.
This oneness with Christ in the Mass is not just a figurative or symbolic expression. It is a reality, since - through grace - we share in His divine life, His knowledge, His love, according to the degree of our growth in grace and charity; for only in that measure is the soul open to the influence of the Holy Spirit. To express this in another way, the spiritual effects of the Eucharist are obtained in the measure that we are free from the attachment to venial sins; for as St. Thomas explains: “The fire of our desire or love is hindered by venial sins, which hinder the fervor of charity. . . . Therefore, venial sins hinder the effects of this sacrament. . . (Yet venial sins) do not completely hinder the effect of this sacrament, but merely in part” (III, 79,8).
When we receive our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, we are united with Him in a twofold way: through the substantial presence of His Body and Blood under the species of bread and wine - which is only temporary; and through the deeper and more intimate and lasting oneness with Him through the grace infused into the soul in the reception of this sacrament. This latter union is by far the more important, for, as we saw, it is an increased sharing in the very life, and love, and truth that Jesus is. Thus we are united with Jesus at Mass, both in offering the sacrifice, and receiving the sacrament. And, as we saw in a recent issue, the more we give of ourself in union with Christ in the sacrifice, the more the Lord gives of Himself in the sacrament.
As long as we are in the state of grace, Christ lives His divine life in us, we in Him, and He in us. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in Me and I in him” (Jn. 6:57). We abide in Him as members of His Mystical Body, and He abides in us through grace. When we cooperate with His graces and inspirations He lives His divine life in us as the primary cause of our good acts; we are but the secondary cause, cooperating with the graces received. We can, of course, fail to cooperate with His graces preferring our will to His.
How do we offer adoration and reparation, thanksgiving and praise to the Father during the Mass? The words of the Mass at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer give us the answer. We make this offering “through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” so that “all glory and honor is Yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” It is through Christ, our Mediator with the Father, with Him, as co-offerers of this sacrifice, and in Him as members of His Body that we offer the mass; and this is done through the action of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son to continue and bring to completion the work that Christ began. Our Blessed Lord not only paid the price of our redemption, but merited for us every grace the Holy Spirit brings to us. Our offering in the Mass is pleasing to the Father more than we can ever know, for it is offered to the Father by His only-begotten Son, in union with His own total oblation. That is why prayers and petitions to the Father during the Mass are especially fruitful.
Every good act of ours, then, is not ours alone; it is primarily the action of Christ in us. Our main contribution is that we have not let our selfishness stand in the way. Awareness of that should protect us from pride, from attributing solely to our own talents and strength the good that we do, or rather the good that Christ does in us with our cooperation. This is true of every supernatural act of faith, hope, love, contrition, thanksgiving, chastity, fortitude, etc.
While the sacrament of Baptism brings to all the faithful a share in the priesthood of Christ, giving them a special capacity of participating in the sacrifice of Christ through the Mass; only to those who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders has been given the power to act in the person of Christ, calling down the action of the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Through that sacrament Christ, the High Priest, empowers the ordained priest to offer the sacrifice of the Mass in His name for the whole Church; while the faithful, along with the invisible High Priest, participate in the offering “through Him, with Him and in Him.”