From the Cardinal: The Mystical Body of Christ| June 14, 2024

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Vol. 5. No. 19 

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The Church teaches that life in Christ begins with baptism and is nourished by our frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. In his 1943 encyclical, “Mystici Corporis Christi” (The Mystical Body of Christ), Pope Pius XII writes: “If we would define this true Church of Jesus Christ … we shall find no expression more noble, more sublime or more divine than the phrase which calls it the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ” (#13).

The image of the Body of Christ celebrates the incarnation of the Word of God, his humanity and his real presence among us in the sacrament he gave us the night before he suffered and died for us. It also celebrates one of the most profound teachings of our Catholic faith—that all baptized Christians have been united with Christ and have become his mystical Body, the Church. St. Paul teaches that Christ is the head of the Church, and we are all united to him. As such, we form one body unified in our diversity and dedicated to the supernatural growth and transformation of the entire world in Christ.

The Second Vatican Council and all recent popes have reinforced this teaching about the absolute unity of Christ and his Church and its powerful, sacramental expression in the Eucharist. Our unity as Christians is guaranteed by our participation in the life of Christ, which is accomplished once and for all at baptism and nurtured, restored and sanctified by our frequent reception of his Most Holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

St. Mark’s Gospel records the words used by our Redeemer when he first instituted this great sacrament:

While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God (Mk 14:12–16, 22–26).

Jesus has given us this precious gift of himself, and he has asked that we repeat his words often so that we can become in our own lives what Jesus is for us and for the world: people who care for the needs of all our sisters and brothers.

Through the corporal works of mercy, we care for the physical and material needs of others: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned and burying the dead.

But we are also called to satisfy hearts that are famished spiritually by means of what are called the spiritual works of mercy: sharing knowledge, giving advice to those in need, comforting the sick, being patient with others, forgiving those who hurt us, giving correction to those who need it, and praying for the living and the dead. We perform these works of mercy because we are the Body of Christ and because without us (every one of us), the Church cannot carry out its divine mission.

Pope Francis reminds us that we are missionary disciples who embody the love and mercy of Jesus Christ in our daily lives. The Eucharist feeds us, giving us the nourishment we need to love and forgive others, care for their physical needs and minister to their spiritual needs. Christ satisfied our hungry hearts—and our bodies, too—by means of the great gift of himself that is shared with us in the sacrament of his body and blood.

As noted in the October 2023 Synod Synthesis Report (see selection below), “The celebration of the Eucharist, especially on Sunday, is the first and fundamental form by which the Holy People of God gather and meet.” We gather as a pilgrim people who are formed by God’s Word, nourished by the body and blood of Christ, and then sent out into the world as missionary disciples of Jesus.

As we continue our synodal journey, let’s be especially thankful for the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ and for the many ways we are blessed as members of Christ’s body. Let’s pray that the Lord will continue to work miracles that satisfy the spiritual and material needs of all. Let’s be Christ for others—missionary disciples who pray for the grace to help satisfy the hunger of all our sisters and brothers in Christ.

Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer, 

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. 
Archbishop of Newark  

Image by USCCB

A Synodal Church in Mission: Synthesis Report

e) The celebration of the Eucharist, especially on Sunday, is the first and fundamental form by which the Holy People of God gather and meet. When this is not possible, the community although desiring the Eucharist gathers to celebrate a Liturgy of the Word. In the Eucharist, we celebrate a mystery of grace which is given to us. By calling us to participate in his Body and Blood, the Lord forms us into one body, with one another and with Himself. Beginning with Paul’s use of the term koinonia (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17), the Christian tradition has treasured the word “communion” to indicate at the same time full participation in the Eucharist, and the nature of relationships among the faithful and among the Churches. While it opens us to the contemplation of the divine life, to the unfathomable depths of the Trinitarian mystery, this term also refers to the ‘everydayness’ of our relationships: in the simplest gestures by which we open ourselves to one another the breath of the Spirit genuinely breathes. This is why communion, which springs from the Eucharist and is celebrated in it, configures and directs the paths of synodality. 

f) From the Eucharist we learn to articulate unity and diversity: unity of the Church and multiplicity of Christian communities; unity of the sacramental mystery and variety of liturgical traditions; unity of celebration and diversity of vocations, charisms and ministries. Nothing shows more than the Eucharist that the harmony created by the Spirit is not uniformity and that every ecclesial gift is intended for common edification.


k) If the Eucharist shapes synodality, then the first step we should take is to celebrate the Mass in a way that befits the gift, with an authentic sense of friendship in Christ. Liturgy celebrated with authenticity is the first and fundamental school of discipleship. Its beauty and simplicity should form us prior to any other organized formation program. 

l) A second step refers to the widely reported need to make liturgical language more accessible to the faithful and more embodied in the diversity of cultures. Without calling continuity with tradition and the need for better liturgical formation into question, deeper reflection is needed. Episcopal Conferences should be entrusted with a wider responsibility in this regard, according to the Motu Proprio Magnum principium.

m) A third step consists in the pastoral commitment to widen community prayer beyond the celebration of Mass. Alternative forms of liturgical prayer, as well as practices of popular piety, in which the distinctiveness of local cultures is reflected, are elements of great importance in fostering the involvement of all the faithful. They introduce the faithful to the Christian mystery and bring those less familiar with the Church closer to an encounter with the Lord. Among the forms of popular piety, Marian devotion stands out because of its ability to sustain and nourish the faith of many.

(Source: Synthesis Report)

A Message from Pope Francis: Words of Challenge and Hope  

(A selection from the homily given by Pope Francis on Sunday, June 23, 2019, for the Holy Mass, Eucharistic Procession and Benediction for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).)

In the world, we are always trying to increase our profits, to raise our income.  But why?  Is it to give, or to have?  To share or to accumulate?  The “economy” of the Gospel multiplies through sharing, nourishes through distributing.  It does not sate the greed of a few but gives life to the world (cf. Jn 6:33).  The verb Jesus uses is not to have but to give.

He tells His disciples straight out: “You give them something to eat” (Lk 9:13).  We can imagine the thoughts that went through their minds: “We don’t have enough bread for ourselves, and now we are supposed to think about others?  Why do we have to give them something to eat, if they came to hear our Teacher?  If they didn’t bring their own food, let them go back home, it’s their problem; or else give us some money to buy food”.  This way of thinking is not wrong, but it isn’t the way Jesus thinks.  He will have none of it: “You give them something to eat”.  Whatever we have can bear fruit if we give it away – that is what Jesus wants to tell us – and it does not matter whether it is great or small. The Lord does great things with our littleness, as He did with the five loaves.  He does not work spectacular miracles or wave a magic wand; He works with simple things.  God’s omnipotence is lowly, made up of love alone.  And love can accomplish great things with little.  The Eucharist teaches us this: for there we find God Himself contained in a piece of bread.  Simple, essential, bread broken and shared, the Eucharist we receive allows us to see things as God does.  It inspires us to give ourselves to others.  It is the antidote to the mindset that says: “Sorry, that is not my problem,” or: “I have no time, I can’t help you, it’s none of my business.”  Or that looks the other way…

In our city that hungers for love and care, that suffers from decay and neglect, that contains so many elderly people living alone, families in difficulty, young people struggling to earn their bread and to realize their dreams, the Lord says to each one of you: “You yourself give them something to eat.”  You may answer: “But I have so little; I am not up to such things.”  That is not true; your “little” has great value in the eyes of Jesus, provided that you don’t keep it to yourself, but put it in play.  Put yourself in play!  You are not alone, for you have the Eucharist, bread for the journey, the bread of Jesus.  Tonight too, we will be nourished by His body given up for us.  If we receive it into our hearts, this bread will release in us the power of love.  We will feel blessed and loved, and we will want to bless and love in turn, beginning here, in our city, in the streets where we will process this evening.  The Lord comes to our streets in order to speak a blessing for us and to give us courage.  And He asks that we, too, be blessings and gifts for others.

My Prayer for You  

Please join me in praying these words of Pope Francis for peace in our hearts and in our world.

Lord God of peace, hear our prayer! 

Keep alive within us the flame of hope so that with patience and perseverance, we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation. In this way, may peace triumph at last, and may the words “division,” “hatred,” and “war” be banished from the heart of every man and woman. Lord, defuse the violence of our tongues and our hands. Renew our hearts and minds so that the words that always bring us together will be “brother” and “sister.” And may our way of life always be that of Shalom, Peace, Salaam!