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Summary: The two real presences of Christ in the Eucharist are really one.

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January 24, 2011

St Francis de Sales

The Spirit of the Liturgy

The whole of the New Testament can be summarized in one sentence. In the words of Athanasius, God became human so that humans could become divine. The problem, of course, with that plan is that we are sinners. We are born with the original contamination we inherited from the beginning, and, if we live long enough, we ratify that weakened state by our own bad choices and actions. Our sin needs to be taken away and we need to be made holy before we can aspire to union with God. The one sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes that possible. And we celebrate that singular action each day when we re-present the sacrificed and resurrected body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ to share in this Eucharist. We hear the Word of God, accept that Word, and consume that Word so that we can be transformed by the Word into images of Christ.

The Holy Father echoes Henri de Lubac: “It has always been clear that the goal of the Eucharist is our own transformation, so that we become ‘one body and spirit’ with Christ” as Paul teaches in first Corinthians 6. There is a correlation of two ideas. The bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s substance. But the Eucharist comes to us to transform us, “to change humanity itself into the living temple of God, into the Body of Christ.”

Until the early Middle Ages, the Church spoke in two terms: corpus mysticum and corpus verum, literally “mystical body” and “true body.” But “mysticum did not mean ‘mystical’ in the modern sense, but rather ‘pertaining to the mystery, the sphere of the sacrament.” Remember that the word mysticum is originally a Greek word that in our language is translated “sacrament.”

“Thus the phrase corpus mysticum was used to express the sacramental Body, the corporeal presence of Christ in the Sacrament. According to the [Church] Fathers, that Body is given to us, so that we may become the corpus verum, the real Body of Christ. Changes in the use of language and the forms of thought resulted in the reversal of these meanings.” (87)

So today, when we talk about the “mystical Body,” we usually refer to the assembly of believers who make Christ’s presence known to the world, and who come together to celebrate Liturgy. When we talk about the “real presence,” we today are referring to the true presence of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. By the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, whom the Pope chose to write the Liturgy of Corpus Christi, he could sing Ave verum Corpus, and be talking pretty much exclusively about the Real Presence under the appearances of bread and wine.

Unfortunately, that means that we now talk about the “mystical Body” as if our collective union in Christ were something spooky and mysterious. When originally it meant the sacramental presence of Christ under the Eucharistic forms. The pope continues “people have drawn the conclusion from [this linguistic change] that a hitherto unknown realism, indeed naturalism, was now forcing its way into eucharistic doctrine, and the large views of the Fathers were giving way to a static and one-sided idea of the Real presence.”


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