We Christians often hear the phrase the Body of Christ. But what does that phrase really mean?
First of all, it means the physical body of Jesus that Mary conceived, gave birth to, and raised with Joseph. It means the body that walked the dusty roads of Galilee preaching, teaching, and working miracles. It means the body that was tortured, hung on the cross, died for us, and rose again. The Body of Christ is the body of Jesus.
But it means more than that. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of two more meanings. First the Body of
Christ refers to the Christian community, the body of believers, the Church. In his first letter to the Corinthians St. Paul says, “For in One Spirit we were all baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). And a little later he writes, “Now you are Christ’s body” (1 Cor. 12:27). The Catechism quotes St. Joan of Arc who said at her trial: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”
But we know that the Body of Christ extends beyond baptized Christians. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (now Kolkata) established a religious congregation, the Missionaries of Charity. In India they serve mostly non-Christians. Yet she saw in the poor and dying—mostly Hindus—the image of Christ. In fact she said, “For the Missionaries of Charity, the poor are Christ.”
The phrase Body of Christ also refers to the Eucharist. Every time we receive the host, the Eucharistic minister says,
“The body of Christ” to us, and we answer “Amen,” thus acknowledging Christ’s presence. As Catholics we believe that, at the Last Supper, Jesus gave us his body and blood as nourishment for our earthly journey. Every Mass is not
a mere commemoration of something that happened 2,000 years ago. No, every Mass makes present the sacrifice Christ offered once and for all on the cross (Catechism, 1364).
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Francis gave a homily on the Eucharist. He said the Eucharist is “the sacrament of communion which brings us out of our individualism to live together our journey in His footsteps.” This is one reason we gather together for Mass instead of staying home and worshiping God privately. Pope Francis also said that the Eucharist is meant to transform us. He then asked, “Do I let the Lord who gives Himself to me, guide me to come out more and more from my little fence to give, share, and love Him and others?” That’s a good question for Lent!
At the end of his book, The Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, says some wise things about the Eucharist. He reminds us that the celebration of the Eucharist is a ritual. As such it consists of certain words or
actions that we do at virtually every Mass: make the sign of the cross, ask forgiveness of sins, listen to scripture, consecrate the bread and wine, receive communion, etc. Because of their repetitiveness, rituals can sometimes become boring. In this regard Rolheiser gained an insight from a recovering alcoholic friend who goes regularly to his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The friend said the meetings are always the same. The same things are said over and over again. Everything’s predictable. But then he said, “I don’t go to those meetings to be a nice person. I go there to stay alive.”
Rolheiser sees a similarity between A.A. meetings and the celebration of the Eucharist. He says the Eucharist is more than coming together to pray. “It is also a ritual, a container, a sustainer, a coming together which keeps us, in many ways that we cannot explain rationally, from falling apart.”
I’d like to conclude this reflection on the Body of Christ with a song called “How Beautiful” sung by Twila Paris. At first glance the words seem to be describing Jesus on earth…”How beautiful the hands that served wine and bread…the heart that bled…the eyes that chose to forgive…” But the creator of the video chose to emphasize the Body of Christ as the the church, as the body of believers, as the human community. May the words of the song and pictures of people doing ordinary (and extraordinary) things give us all a greater appreciation of how beautiful Jesus is and how beautiful we are as the Body of Christ!
(At the end of this video, six other videos come up. If you want to hear the song again with different pictures, I suggest you click on the picture of Mother Teresa holding a child. This version is dubbed the “Catholic version” because it uses images of the historical Jesus and the Eucharist as well as images of people.)
Was there anything in this reflection or song that touched you today?
How do you experience the Body of Christ?