Project Canterbury

The Body of Christ

Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Fifth Annual Catholic Conference
Buffalo, N.Y., October 28th to 30th, 1930.

Auspices of the Central Conference of Associated Catholic Priests.

Milwaukee: Morehouse
London: A. R. Mowbray, 1930.

V. The Eucharist and the Body of Christ

Rector of St. Clement's Church, Philadelphia

EUCHARIST is the name given to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar under its twofold aspect of Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Mass, and in which, whether as Sacrament or Sacrifice, Jesus Christ is truly present under the appearances of bread and wine. Other titles are used, such as "The Lord's Supper," "The Holy Communion," "The Table of the Lord," but the ancient title Eucharistica, found in writers as early as St. Ignatius, St. Justin Martyr, and St. Irenaeus, has taken first place in the technical terminology of the Church and her theologians. The expression "Blessed Sacrament of the Altar," introduced by St. Augustine, is at the present time almost entirely restricted to popular writings. This extensive list of names, describing the great mystery from such a variety of viewpoints, is in itself sufficient proof of the central position the Eucharist has occupied from the earliest ages, both in the Divine worship and services of the Church and in the life of faith and devotion which enlivens her members.

The Church honors the Eucharist as one of her most exalted mysteries, since for sublimity and incomprehensibility it yields in nothing to the allied mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, to partly quote and partly paraphrase the Catholic Encyclopedia. These three mysteries, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist, constitute a wonderful triad, which causes the essential characteristic of Christianity, as a religion of mysteries far transcending the capabilities of reason, to shine forth in all its brilliance and splendor, and elevates Catholicism, the most faithful guardian and keeper of the Christian heritage, far above all pagan and non-Christian religions. The organic connection of this mysterious triad is clearly discerned, if we consider Divine Grace under the aspect of a personal communication from God. Thus in the bosom of the Blessed Trinity, God the Father, by virtue of the eternal generation, communicates His Divine nature to God the Son, "the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father," while the Son of God, by virtue of the Hypostatic union, communicates in turn the Divine nature received from His Father to His human nature formed in the womb of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary; in order that thus as God-man, hidden under the Eucharistic Species, He might deliver Himself to His Church, who, as a tender mother, mystically cares for and nurtures in her own breast, this her greatest treasure, and daily places it before her children as the spiritual food of their souls. Thus the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist are really welded together like a precious chain, which in a wonderful manner links heaven with earth, God with man, uniting them most intimately and keeping them thus united.

By the very fact that the Eucharistic mystery does transcend reason, no rationalistic explanation of it, based on a merely natural hypothesis, and seeking to comprehend one of the loftiest truths of the Christian religion as the spontaneous conclusion of logical processes, may be attempted by the most skillful and erudite theologian, and so very far less by one who like myself is neither scholar nor student. But even the attempt at such an explanation is not the purpose of this paper, nor would it have a place in the popular and practical appeal that we long to make through our Catholic Congresses.

In considering the Eucharist and the Body of Christ let us think first of the Eucharist, sacramentally, as verily and truly the Body of the Lord. We are all Catholics here. We are not here to argue. We are here to reiterate the truths of our holy religion, and to reaffirm our steadfast belief in them. We are here to restate the ancient platform upon which we stand, and from which we know that we and our successors will win the world for Christ and His Church.

A marked feature of the earliest statements concerning the Eucharist is their simplicity. St. Paul, writing before any of the gospel writers, simply says that the Cup is "a partaking of the Blood of Christ," and the Bread "a partaking of the Body of Christ"; that to eat or drink unworthily is to be "guilty of the Body and Blood," and that he who eats and drinks "without discerning the Lord's Body" eats and drinks "judgment." The earliest of the four gospels records our Lord's words at the institution of the Eucharist: "This is My Body"; "This is My Blood of the covenant which is poured out for many." The last of the four gospels represents our Lord as saying: "The Bread which I will give is My Flesh, for the life of the world." These are statements plain enough, but statements without explanation.

This simplicity is continued in representative writers of the second century. At the end of the first decade of that century, S. Ignatius of Antioch, without comment, describes the Eucharist as "the Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Which suffered on behalf of our sins, Which the Father in His goodness raised." In the middle of the same century St. Justin Martyr, writing at Rome, in his description of the Eucharist as part of the Service of the Church says that the Christians of his time have been taught to regard the Food received as "both the Flesh and the Blood of the Jesus who was made Flesh." Toward the end of the same century St. Irenaeus, writing in Gaul, calls the Bread the Body of the Lord and the Cup His Blood. The language of these writers is like that of the New Testament. It states simply and plainly. It does not attempt to explain. But it was not long before attempts at explanation were made, and these explanations lent themselves to a distinct cleavage of thought, around which some of the most heart-sinking and regrettable controversies have been waged within the Church and without it.

These simple and plain words above, quoted from the writers of the first and second centuries, show us the Eucharistic faith as we find it embodied in the practice of the early Church. Controversies forced the Church to define her position as to the Eucharist, and I can summarize it briefly in a paragraph of Dr. Barry's: "By the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist we mean that in consequence of the action of the Priest in consecrating the elements of bread and wine, and through the action of the Holy Spirit, the earthly elements become what they were not before, and become perfectly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. And inasmuch as Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the ever-adorable Trinity, who has permanently assumed human nature, wherever that human nature may be, He necessarily is. His humanity cannot be conceived in separation from His Divinity; and because He, whole Christ, is present on the Altar, and not some representation or symbol of Christ, He is entitled to that worship which is the right of God alone. All outward acts of worship which are proper to God only, and all prayers, may rightly be addressed to Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar." This is our belief and our practice.

But it is my duty in this paper to relate the Eucharist rather to the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; to treat with the Eucharist rather as Sacrifice than as Sacrament; to set it forth as the great act of worship in the Catholic Church and our bounden duty and service.

In the Eucharist or Mass we find the most perfect form of worship, for in this holy service we draw nigh to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the one mediator between God and man, the medium of all our communication with God who is Spirit, and with all the spirit world above us, where angels and archangels and all the company of heaven adore Him. We draw nigh to God in the Eucharist, not simply by having Him in our thoughts and memory, but by His special Presence in our midst. He is present, not only as the Holy Ghost is present by virtue of the unlimited and ubiquitous spiritual presence of Godhead, but in His Flesh and Blood, that is, in His God-united humanity; for Jesus Christ is not spirit alone, but also truly man, dwelling in a body. We draw nigh not only in the spirit of Christ, but through the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharist we worship God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The circumstances of its institution mark out the Eucharist as being of special obligation on all Christian people. Our Blessed Lord waited until the last culminating moments of His earthly life, that His words might gain the impressiveness of a last bequest, and performing with His own hands the act of worship which He desired us to continue, said: "Do this in remembrance of Me."

The reason why the Mass must be our chief act of worship is because He so commanded it. If we do not follow His direction we disobey Him. And the Church has always taught that we should fulfil our obedience by worshipping God in this His appointed way on every Sunday and every greater Holy Day--the Lord's service on the Lord's Day, for the Lord's children. If we go back in time to any period of history since the days of the apostles, we shall find amid all other changes that the Eucharist was the distinctive Christian service. It is something very ancient, something the same in all essentials from the days when "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the Breaking of Bread and the prayers." It is a witness and guarantee of the continuity of the Catholic Church. Today, all over Catholic Christendom, the Altar is the meeting-place of Christian people in their worship of God. The more we hold fast to Christ's command, "Do this in remembrance of Me," the nearer do we bring the day when Christendom shall be re-united in one body of love.

But why did our Lord single out this one act as the one we were to do in His remembrance? Because it was the representation of that "one, full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world" which He consummated upon the Altar of the Cross, when on that first Good Friday He reconciled sinful man to the Heavenly Father. Our Lord's Incarnation and ministry lead up to the climax of the self-offering of Calvary; there He died to take away the sins of the world; there He tasted death for every man; there He made the One Offering forever in atonement for all the sins of all men. There has never in the Church been any doubt of the nature of this offering, which has been prefigured for centuries in the sacrificial worship of the Old Covenant; it was a true and propitiatory sacrifice by which humanity in the Incarnate Person of the Son of God offered itself to the love of the Father. The essential meaning of sacrifice is that it is a gift--a gift made by man to God. The gift that God asks from us ultimately can be nothing but ourselves. All partial sacrifices lead up to and take their value from the one supreme and perfect sacrifice which is at once their fulfilment and their justification.

This one full perfect and sufficient sacrifice our Lord made for us, and He was able to make it on our behalf and as our representative because of His self-identification with us in His Incarnation. Man could make no perfect sacrifice for himself because of his imperfections. As Dr. Barry says: "No man but man could make a sacrifice for man because of the lack of relationship between God and man; but our Lord by becoming man, by assuming perfect human nature to Himself, gained the right and acquired the possibility of acting as the Head of the human race so that what He did was truly the act of man himself. His offering is the offering of humanity on humanity's behalf." Redemption thus made by Christ is offered to the individual, and must be appropriated by him if he is to have the fruit of it. All men are redeemed, but only such are saved as accept the redemption and conform to its conditions.

Dr. Barry's gift for short but complete summaries is so perfect that rather than fumble with phrases myself I am quoting another paragraph or two verbatim from The Holy Eucharist. "At the Ascension our Lord appeared in heaven in His perfect humanity and there presented the sacrifice of Calvary to the Father; and there thenceforth abides as sacrificed, as He appears in the vision of St. John The presentation of the sacrifice of our Lord is permanent fact. He has made one sacrifice and it never can be repeated; but there is no need for its repetition because it is a sacrifice forever, i.e., an unceasing sacrifice. The unceasing sacrifice is the ever-open door through which the sinner can approach God; through it we have unimpeded access to the Father. Inasmuch as it is offered for us individually, we seek its individual application to our souls. Think for a moment what this means. We realize our sin and the bar that sin is between our souls and the All Pure God. We seek for rescue, and we find that we have a Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has entered into the Holy Place on our behalf and there offers Himself for us, and offers us in Himself to the mercy and to the love of God. Wonderful is this privilege which has been bestowed upon us to have 'an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins.' "

"What then is the relation of this heavenly sacrifice--this perfect self offering of our Lord in our nature--to the offering of the Sacrifice of the Altar which is made morning by morning in the Church Militant? They are the same Sacrifice. There are not two sacrifices, not two Christs, and therefore what is done in the Church on earth is just exactly the same as is being done in the Church in heaven. On either Altar the selfsame Victim is presented, there in unveiled glory, here in veiled humility."

And it is not Christ alone who is offered, but all who are in Him, the members of His Body. In glory it is the vast company of the redeemed, who have washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb; here on earth it is the ever growing company of those who are in the way of being redeemed. The Head is not offered apart from the Body, but Head and Body are alike offered. The Head, our Lord Jesus Christ; and we who are very members incorporate in His mystical Body. So now we understand our Lord's command at the institution of the Eucharist, "Do this in remembrance of Me."

Since all who are members of Christ are included in this offering of their Head in the Eucharist, it is an act not limited to the Church here in earth, but includes all the faithful in Christ, wherever they are and under whatever conditions they exist. It is an act of the whole Body of Christ, and in it we are enabled to exercise actively our rights and to fulfill our duties as members in the Communion of Saints. Our love and interest take the form of mutual intercession, and especially of the supreme intercession of the Great Sacrifice. All barriers of time and space break down before the power of this Eucharist, and we understand that through it we are able to reach all other members of the Body.

The Mass for the Dead is not merely a means for aiding the dead through the increase of grace it brings them; it is a means for expressing our love for them, and of our continual remembrance of them; for we cannot but be certain that in some way they, who like ourselves, are living members of the Body of Christ, are also participants in the great act of worship which makes earth and heaven one.

The needs of the members of the Body of Christ are in themselves demands upon the activity of other members; and the chief demands upon us of the Church Militant made by those who have passed to the nearer presence of our Lord is the demand for our prayers. God makes us to depend upon one another, so it is His providential arrangement that they shall be aided by our prayers, and that the dead in Christ are helping together in prayer for us. All who are in Christ are spiritually active, and the activity of their prayers and their participation in the offering of the Holy Eucharist calls forth God's grace and blessing upon all those for whom they pray and make their intention at Mass.

And here, as Superior of the Guild of All Souls in this country, I am moved to urge upon the Congress the objects and work of our Society. It exists to promote prayers and Masses for the Dead. We must not think because propers for Requiems and prayers for the Faithful Departed have been inserted in our Book of Common Prayer that the Episcopal Church is converted to their use. Far from it. The Guild provides Priests, Parishes, and Missions with the proper equipment for more reverent funerals in our churches, for funeral Masses, and with literature on this very important and sadly neglected part of our Christian obligation. The Guild also insures remembrance for the departed, and every Priest member is obligated to remember its members in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There never was a time when there was a greater work for the Guild than now, and we must have your help to accomplish it.

And it is by means of this same act of worship, the Holy Eucharist, offered in joyful thanksgiving for the Saints in Glory that we enter into communion with them and become partakers of their intercessions. It is with "angels and archangels and all the company of heaven" that we approach the Holy Mysteries. We are one with them, and they with us, in this great sacrificial and worshipful act. Even though we may not often think of them, they must certainly think of us as members of the same Body. We must feel that the clearness of their knowledge and the intensity of their love wraps us about in an atmosphere which constantly aids us in the course of our pilgrimage. If we are to make a fruitful relation out of the bond which unites all who are in the Body of Christ, then surely we must make our relation to the citizens of heaven, the members of the Church Triumphant, more vivid and more vital. This can be done to a very large extent, too, by the enrichment of our Parish calendars. Where the Mass is said every day, the Parish's contact with the Saints and the Hierarchy of Heaven can be greatly enlivened by using the proper commemorations on such days as are unprovided for in the Prayer Book, Certainly if we keep the days as demanded by our authorized book, no one can fault us for such enrichment. We much need the width of spiritual outlook which includes all the provinces of the Kingdom of God, and the realization of what our membership in Christ means and that it enables us to embrace all the members of that Body in the passion of mutual love. We shall understand the mystery of the fellowship when in our prayers and our assistance at Mass it has become as natural for us to ask for the intercessions of the Saints in Glory as for those of our friends here on earth.

If what I have said this afternoon truly describes the Eucharist, then I am convinced that there cannot be any ultimate doubt as to the necessity of unity in the visible organization of the Church. The representation of one Act performed in one place, Calvary, by one Person who is Himself, in virtue of that Act, the center of unity for all creation, cannot possibly be made visible here on earth apart from one visible union of those who are in Him. The oneness of the Act of Sacrifice, no matter how frequent its performance at one and the same moment, nor how distant the altars of its presentation, requires between its many ministers the official link of the one Priesthood; while the Person of the Sacrifice requires that this one Priesthood be in fact His own in which He offered Himself on Calvary, as Fr. Mabry has pointed out in his paper. And the complete unity of will and heart and mind that must mark all the worshippers, as between them and Christ, so between each one and all his brethren, requires for its fulfilment an actual union in a visible society.

"In this way of unification through a Priestly order, that lies within the Mystical Body as its representative and minister, the Sacrifice is made one all down the ages; the succession of the Priesthood ensuring the unity of the Act. As between Altar and Altar today, so between generation and generation of worshippers, there exists one common Act, variously repeated yet always one, the Act of Calvary, which is the ground and basis both of the Sacrificial Presence in heaven and of our acceptable worship here on earth. Without the succession of an organized Priesthood no visible expression of the oneness of the Act would be possible; just as, without a visible Priesthood to extend and express Christ's Priesthood, our own efforts at sacrifice would lack all sanction and authority. Visible unity is necessary to the Mystical Body because it is the visible expression of the Christ still suffering and enduring within it; and also to the Mass because it is the united expression by Christ and all His people of this one ministry of suffering, service, and brotherly love to their Father in heaven" (Bishop Weston).

Our most earnest prayer must be that all Christians will one day see their way to meet us, in corporate worship, sacrifice, and communion, along St. Paul's "more excellent way." We must pray, that following the holy apostle's advice, they will recognize the apostolic ministry with its distinctions of vocation, and at the same time lay the stress not on it but on the Fellowship of which it is the base; and, in the power of God who is charity within man, move with us, as we with them, to a fuller appreciation of the atoning work of Christ. So that sinking all envy and jealousy in the Charity that "vaunteth not itself" and "envieth not"; renouncing all private and peculiar views that prove us to be really "seeking our own"; pardoning with mutual forgiveness one another's offences, past and present, rather than "taking account of evil"; and setting ourselves to endure, from within her, all in the Church that is displeasing to our taste and judgment, in His power who "believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things"; we may all of us arrive at that measure of unity in mind and heart which will qualify us to represent before our one Father in Heaven the Death and Passion of the one Christ, His Son and our Lord, and to take our full part in the visible, human expression of the unity in which the whole creation is gathered up to God by His Incarnate Word.


DR. J. G. H. BARRY, The Holy Eucharist.

BISHOP WESTON, The Fulness of Christ.

DR. DARWELL STONE, A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.

REV. M. R. NEWBOLT, Eucharistic Worship, Congress Book, No. 25.

REV. S. R. P. MOULSDALE, The Sacrifice of the Mass, Congress Book, No. 26.

FR. THORNTON, C.R., The Incarnate Lord.

DR. J. G. H. BARRY, Meditations on the Communion Office.

Project Canterbury