The Church is the Body of Christ

Last weekend, our second reading was an extensive selection from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 12:12-30) St. Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate to the Corinthians that while a body has many parts, it is all still one body. Growing up, (If we’re being honest, even sometimes when I was still in seminary!) readings like this one would make me roll my eyes and grumble, “ugggg, more Paul and his paragraph long sentences! What is he even talking about anyway?!”

There are always many layers to Sacred Scripture, but this section is almost certainly intended by St. Paul to teach the Corinthians about the Church. In seminary, we have an entire course to study the Church herself. We try to answer questions like, “What is the Church?” It’s harder than you’d think! One of the most ancient answers to “What is the Church?” comes from this weekend’s second reading: “you are Christ’s body.” (1 Cor 12:27) St. Paul then discusses the various roles and gifts people might have in within what he calls the Church.

When we recognize what St. Paul is doing in this passage, it can help us see how profound this reading is. It isn’t a teaching about biology or even about normal human relationships. St. Paul is telling us that the Church is the Body of Christ. We find this image of the Church in the earliest Church Fathers all the way through the most modern theology books.

This reading from tells us that the baptized are all united as one body, as the body of Christ. What we do impacts the whole body, the whole Church. This is one reason why confession exists. My sin doesn’t cause problems for just me. Because I am a member of the Body of Christ, my sin hurts everybody else in the Church. When I bring that sin to confession, not only am I healed, but the wound my sin has inflicted on the Church is healed too. It’s not all bad news, though. Being united as one body also helps us to understand why intercessory prayer and good works are so important, even if I don’t necessarily need them for my own soul. I can offer the graces from my prayers and good works to lift up the entire Body of Christ. Our unity as one Body of Christ also helps us to understand why divisions in the Church are so painful. When we fight amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are harming ourselves just as much as we are harming the other.

The early Christians called the Church the Mystical Body of Christ, which many of us might think refers to the Eucharist. There is certainly a link between the two. The Greek text of the Gospels uses the same word (soma) in the Last Supper accounts as in these letters from St. Paul. We probably shouldn’t read too much into that, but we can’t ignore it either. There is a real and tangible connection between the Eucharist and the Church. The Eucharist is the sacrament which renews the covenant God made with us at our baptism. When we entered that covenant, we agreed to set aside Satan, evil, and the things of this world and to pursue God, virtue, and the things of Heaven. God promised that he would remain our Father and that we would be his children, united through the Son. The Eucharist is a visible reminder of this covenant we made with God, a tangible way to perceive our commitment to unity as one Church and Body of Christ.

The Lord sent his Spirit upon us so that we might receive salvation through the Son. The Son saved us by making us a part of his Body. Each of us has a different part to play in the Body of Christ. Let us strive to always build our brothers and sisters up, so that the Church, the Body of Christ may be a strong, visible sign of the unity we have with God and the salvation that Christ won for us.

st peters basilica facade against unrecognizable citizen silhouettes at night
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