The Mystical Body
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We call Pentecost Sunday the birthday of the Church. But just as an unborn child comes to life within its mother long before birth, the Church "came to life" before Pentecost, while Jesus still walked the earth. That is because Jesus was the Founder of the Church.
How did Jesus found his Church? First, he called twelve of his apostles to share his life and mission in a more special way than the others who believed in him. "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:19).
Jesus carefully explained his message to these apostles. He gave them extra instruction that others did not receive. Jesus also gave the Twelve a chance to practice preaching the Good News. He used to send them ahead into towns and villages to prepared the people for his coming visits. he gave them the power to heal the sick and to cast out devils.
From among the Twelve, Jesus chose Peter to be leader of all: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. I will entrust to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in Heaven. (Mt 16L18-19) Peter became the first Pope, the supreme teacher and leader of the whole Church.
The Mystical Body of Christ
Another name for the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, "Mystical" means it is not a physical body, but a spiritual one. The Church is Christ's presence in the world. Through Baptism, each of us becomes joined to Christ. We are united so closely to him that we can compare this unity to the way the parts of a body are joined together.
Christ is the head of the Mystical Body. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Mystical Body. Just as our own bodies cannot live and act without our souls, so the Holy Spirit gives the life of sanctifying grace to the church.
As for the rest of us, we are members, or parts, of Christ's Mystical Body. Like the parts of your own body, we "parts" of Christ's Body have many different jobs to do. Using this idea of the Church as a body Saint Paul told the early Christians to be happy with the job God gave to each of them and not to envy the job of someone else: It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit. Now the body is not one member, it is many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body", would it then no longer belong to the body? If the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body", would it then no longer belong to the body? If the body were all eye, what would happen to our hearing? If it were all ear, what would happen to our smelling? As it is, God has set each member of the body in the place he wanted it to be. If all the members were alike, where would be body be? There are, indeed, many different members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I do not need you", any more than the head can say to the feet, "I do not need you." (1 Cor 12:13-21)
The True Church
We know that there are other churches, which are not part of the Catholic Church. These other Christian churches started years ago. At certain times in history, some Christians misunderstood some teaching of the Catholic Church or some part of the Bible. They started their own church, which they believed had the true faith. These people did not understand that Jesus promised to keep his Church free from error until the end of the world. Christians who are not Catholic share much of our faith. All Christians love and respect God's Word as it comes to us in the Bible. All believe in Jesus Our Savior. But only the Catholic Church has the whole faith. We should pray that one day all Christians will be joined together in the faith.
The Communion of Saints
We have been speaking about the Church on earth. But faithful members of Christ's Mystical Body do not leave it when they die. Those in Heaven still belong to the Church, and they help the Church by praying for God's people on earth. Souls in Purgatory are not yet with God in Heaven, but while they are waiting they also are able to pray for us. We can help them, too. Our prayers and sacrifices will shorten their time in Purgatory. When the souls for whom we have prayed reach Heaven, they will be happy to repay us by praying for us.
As you can see, all the members of Christ's Church, whether on earth, in Heaven, or in Purgatory are joined together in friendship and a desire to help one another. This is what we mean when we day in the Creed, "I believe in the Communion of Saints."
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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