Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mystical Body of Christ: Pope Pius XII Encyclical

Sharing some highlights of Mystici Corporis Christi written in 1943.

...the greatest joy and exaltation are born only of suffering, and hence that we should rejoice if we partake of the sufferings of Christ, that when His glory shall be revealed we may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Our purpose is to throw an added ray of glory on the supreme beauty of the Church; to bring out into fuller light the exalted supernatural nobility of the faithful who in the Body of Christ are united with their Head; and finally, to exclude definitely the many current errors with regard to this matter.

If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ--which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church--we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression, 'the Mystical Body of Christ'--an expression which springs from and is, as it were, the fair flowering of the repeated teaching of the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Fathers.

Men may lose charity and divine grace through sin, thus becoming incapable of supernatural merit, and yet not be deprived of all life if they hold fast to faith and Christian hope, and if, illumined from above, they are spurred on by the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit to salutary fear and are moved to prayer and penance for their sins.

...our Lord is the Founder, the Head, the Support and the Savior of this Mystical Body. was on the tree of the Cross, finally, that He entered into possession of His Church, that is, of all the members of His Mystical Body; for they would not have been united to this Mystical Body through the waters of Baptism except by the salutary virtue of the Cross, by which they had been already brought under the complete sway of Christ.

...Christ our Lord sent the Holy Spirit down from Heaven, to touch them with tongues of fire and to point out, as by the finger of God, the supernatural mission and office of the Church.

...He wills to be helped by the members of His Body in carrying out the work of redemption.... But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. This is a deep mystery, and an inexhaustible subject of meditation, that the salvation of many depends upon the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ offer for this intention and on the cooperation of pastors of souls and of the faithful, especially of fathers and mothers of families, a cooperation which they must offer to our Divine Savior as though they were His associates.

Christ must be acknowledged Head of the Church for this reason, too, that as supernatural gifts have their fullness and perfection in Him, it is of this fullness that His Mystical Body receives....The knowledge which is called 'vision' He possesses with such clarity and comprehensiveness that it surpasses similar celestial knowledge found in all the saints of heaven. So full of grace and truth is He that of His inexhaustible fullness we have all received.

Holiness begins from Christ; and Christ is its cause. For no act conducive to salvation can be performed unless it proceeds from Him as from its supernatural source.
But in virtue of that higher, interior, and wholly sublime communication, with which We dealt when We described the manner in which the Head influences the members, Christ our Lord wills the Church to live His own supernatural life, and by His divine power permeates His whole Body and nourishes and sustains each of the members according to the place which they occupy in the body, in the same way as the vine nourishes and makes fruitful the branches which are joined to it.

...and while Christ alone received this Spirit without measure, to the members of the Mystical Body He is imparted only according to the measure of the giving of Christ from Christ's own fullness. But after Christ's glorification on the Cross, His Spirit is communicated to the Church in an abundant outpouring, so that she, and her individual members, may become daily more and more like to our Savior.

It is He [this Spirit of Christ] who, through His heavenly grace, is the principle of every supernatural act in all parts of the Body....[Pope Leo XIII, Divinum Illud] 'Let it suffice to say that, as Christ is the Head of the Church, so is the Holy Spirit her soul.'

...We desire to make clear why the Body of Christ, which is the Church, should be called mystical.  This name, which is used by many early writers, has the sanction of numerous Pontifical documents.  There are several reasons why it should be used; for by it we may distinguish the Body of the Church, which is a Society whose Head and Ruler is Christ...; and, that which is of greater importance in view of modern errors, this name enables us to distinguish it from any other body, whether in the physical or the moral order.

In a natural body the principle of unity unites the parts in such a manner that each lacks in its own individual subsistence; on the contrary, in the Mystical Body the mutual union, though intrinsic, links the members by a bond which leaves to each the complete enjoyment of his own personality.

But if we compare a mystical body with a moral body, it is to be noted that the difference between them is not slight; rather it is very considerable and very important.  In the moral body the principle of union is nothing else than the common end, and the common cooperation of all under the authority of society for the attainment of that end; whereas in the Mystical Body of which We are speaking, this collaboration is supplemented by another internal principle, which exists effectively in the whole and in each of its parts, and whose excellence is such that of itself it is vastly superior to whatever bonds of union may be found in a physical or moral body. As We said above, this is something not of the natural but of the supernatural order; rather it is something in itself infinite, uncreated: the Spirit of God, who, as the Angelic Doctor [Aquinas] says, 'numerically one and the same, fills and unifies the whole Church.'

Just as our composite mortal body, although it is a marvelous work of the Creator, falls far short of the eminent dignity of our soul, so the social structure of the Christian community, though it proclaims the wisdom of its divine Architect, still remains something inferior when compared to the spiritual gifts which give it beauty and life, and to the divine source whence they flow.

...Christ as Head and Exemplar of the Church is not complete, if only His visible human nature is considered..., or if only His divine, invisible nature...but He is one through the union of both and one in is it with His Mystical Body since the Word of God took unto Himself a human nature liable to sufferings, so that He might consecrate in His blood the visible Society founded by Him and 'lead man back to things invisible under a visible rule.'

When, wherefore, we call the Body of Jesus Christ 'mystical', the very meaning of the word conveys a solemn warning.  It is a warning that echoes in these words of St. Leo: 'Recognize, O Christian, your dignity, and being made a sharer of the divine nature go not back to your former worthlessness along the way of unseemly conduct. Keep in mind of what Head and of what Body you are a member.'

Here, Venerable Brethren, We wish to speak in a very special way of our union with Christ in the Body of the Church, a thing which is, as Augustine justly remarks, sublime, mysterious and divine.... 'He (Christ) is the Head of the Body of the Church,' the unbroken tradition of the Fathers from the earliest times teaches that the Divine Redeemer and the Society to which His Body form but one mystical person, that is to say to quote Augustine, the whole Christ. Our Savior Himself in His sacerdotal prayer [John 13-17] did not hesitate to liken this union to that wonderful unity by which the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son.

But if the bonds of faith and hope, which bind us to our Redeemer in His Mystical Body are weighty and important, those of charity are certainly no less so. If even in the natural order the love of friendship is something supremely noble, what shall we say of that supernatural love, which God infuses in our hearts? 'God is charity and he that abideth in charity abideth in God and God in him.' 

How many children of the Church, on fire with this heavenly flame, have rejoiced to suffer insults for Him, and to face and overcome the hardest trials, even at the cost of their lives and the shedding of their blood. For this reason our Divine Savior earnestly exhorts us in these words: 'Abide in my love.' And as charity, if it does not issue effectively in good works, is something altogether empty and unprofitable, He added immediately: 'If you keep my commandments you shall abide in my love; as I have also kept my Father's commandments and do abide in His love. And love one another as I have loved you.

And from here, the encyclical becomes yet more mystical in its teachings of the Mystical Body of Christ.  'Remain in My love.' Christ in the womb of Mary, even then embracing all members of his His Mystical Body by His redeeming love.

Christ is in us through His spirit, whom He gives to us and through whom He acts within us in such a way that all the divine activity of the holy Spirit within our souls must also be attributed to Christ....This communication of the Spirit of Christ is the channel through which all the gifts, powers, and extra-ordinary graces found superabundantly in the Head as in their source flow into all the members of the Church, and are perfected daily in them according to the place they hold in the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Thus the Church becomes, as it were, the filling out and the complement of the Redeemer, while Christ in a sense attains through the Church a fullness in all things.

...the mystical Head, which is Christ, and the Church, which here below as another Christ shows forth His person, constitute one new man, in whom heaven and earth are joined together in perpetuating the saving work of the Cross: Christ We mean, the Head and the Body, the whole Christ.

The encyclical continues with more explanation of divine mysteries, given to anyone but some more than others.  Why?  It has to do with our desire and by His grace.  Faith. Hope. LOVE.

In that celestial vision it will be granted to the eyes of the human mind strengthened by the light of gory, to contemplate the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in an utterly ineffable manner, to assist throughout eternity at the processions of the Divine Persons, to rejoice with a happiness like to that with which the holy and undivided Trinity is happy.

The encyclical moves into the Sacraments, and both the Eucharist and Penance [emphasis on frequent and of all venial sins] are highlighted; but of course we must have baptism and confirmation, the necessities of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.  Then we have Holy Orders for the dispensing of Sacraments, and Marriage for the perpetuation of humanity and of souls. And Pope Pius XII writes of the divine will as well as the importance of prayer to Christ as Head of the Mystical Body, of the Church, as Son of God the Father, one with the Father.  We are exhorted to love the Mystical Body in thought, word and deeds.

At this point we are instructed: Nor does it suffice to love this Mystical Body for the glory of its divine Head and for its heavenly gifts; we must love it with an effective love as it appears in this our mortal flesh--made up, that is, of weak human elements, even though at times they are little fitted to the place which they occupy in this venerable body....As the vastness of the charity with which Christ loved His Church is equaled by its constant activity, we all, with the same assiduous and zealous charity must love the Mystical Body of Christ.

Our united prayer should rise daily to heaven for all the members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ....and from a heart overflowing with love We ask each and every one who 'do not belong to the visible Body of the Catholic Church.'...For even though by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church.

Among instruction on graces and mortification, Pope Pius XII teaches of Mary, the Queen of Martyrs, the Mother of all members of Christ who more than all the faithful filled up those things that are wanting in the sufferings of Christ...for His Body, which is the Church;' and she continues to have for the Mystical Body of Christ, born of the pierced Heart of the Savior, the same motherly care and ardent love with which she cherished and fed the Infant Jesus in the crib.

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