The Mystical Body & the Mass for souls deprived of the Holy Sacrifice

Rev. John Brucciani

During this time of sacramental abstinence, forced upon us by the outbreak of the coronavirus, it is good to reflect an often neglected truth about Holy Mass.

The Mass is the centrepiece of the Church's devotion and the principle and assurance of its life. Its institution on Holy Thursday allows us, Christ's faithful, to come to the foot of the Cross and make Christ our own propitiatory Victim for our sins and those of mankind.

Thanks to the Mass, each and every ransomed soul can offer in his person and for his own profit Christ the Victim. The Mass is the active offering by the Church of the Victim of Calvary hidden in the transubstantiated bread and wine, and the appropriation of the infinite merits of the Redemption by the priest and by the faithful.

At Mass, it is the Mystical Body that is acting. Christ offers Himself through the ministration of his living members acting not merely in the name or place of Christ, but in His very Person. That is why we are able to approach God's throne with confidence. We know that our offering is most acceptable to God because made by God and worthy of Him.

We must never forget that through baptism we are living members of an organism whose Head is the risen Lord. Just as the actions of the Head become those of its members, so too the action of its members, when in accord with the will of the Head, become the actions of the Head. Christ chose to offer Himself once on Calvary, but He instituted a memorial whereby He might continue His oblation through space and time so that its fruits would be available to all, everywhere.

This memorial—the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—He gave not only to His apostles but to all the members of His Mystical Body. The Mass is not a new sacrifice different from that of Calvary. It is offered by the same High-Priest, Christ, and it contains the same offering, Christ. It is different only in its mode and manner. The visible Christ now offers Himself invisibly and through the ministration of the members of His Mystical Body.

We must not forget that, as members of Christ's Mystical Body, we are participants of the grace of Jesus Christ, and mystical blood courses through our human veins, raising us to the rank of the divine. We are incorporated into Christ, becoming "one flesh and one spirit" with Him, which is why He bids us to eat and drink of Him.

The Church as Christ's Mystical Body, then, is the offerer of every Mass. She offers through the ministration of priests, who are divinely consecrated agents to act in Her name. Hence, in every sacrifice of the Mass, no matter whether the priest is alone or in the presence of many faithful, it is the Church as one Body which offers through his priestly ministry.

As St. Peter says, the Church is composed of "a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2:5). All who are baptised have what theology calls an inchoative priesthood, for they participate in the life and power of Christ, who was Victim and Priest and are united with Him in His act of Redemption. As the Apocalypse says: "He has made us to our God a kingdom and priests."

Fr. Martin D'Arcy. S.J. writes:

This sublime dignity which belongs to the faithful is not always realised as it should be, for the laity are prone to forget that the Masses which are being celebrated throughout the world are being offered by them as members of the Mystical Body, and the fruit of these Masses is increased or diminished by the degree of holiness they possess.


It is sad that Catholics are not more aware of their intimate participation in the Mass. The prevalence of the phrase “to hear Mass” is an indication how little they appreciate their privilege, for it suggests a service in which they have as little part as an audience listening to an oratorio, and the result is that a congregation is dissociated from its very life, while the Mass becomes for the slack a Sunday obligation, and for the pious an opportunity of practising their private and favourite devotions. This is not as it should be. And, again, how few Catholics encourage that supernatural sense that they are co-operators in the daily mystery of the altar as it is celebrated in every land and at every hour. Virtue goes out from them, for they are one with that company of the Saints, which continues the Redemption to the end of time. Their lives are supernaturally a perpetual intercession; their strength is that of the Mystical Body, in which abides the spirit of the Redeemer, the glorious Victim. Hence the voice of the Church in the liturgy of the Mass is answered by the unceasing affirmative, Amen, inaudibly spoken in the depths of a soul living in sanctifying grace, and each Christian is invisibly present at the sacrifice of the Victim on earth as he will, in glory, be present at the adoration of the Lamb in heaven.

An appreciation of this truth should make a great difference to our outlook on our present impossibility of attending Mass, especially next week during the sacred Triduum. We should remember that we are supported through the day invisibly by the priestly members of the Mystical Body who offer the sacrifice in the name of every grace-living member of the Church, albeit privately. The priest is never alone in the chapel or at the altar. He comes invisibly flanked by the ranks of the faithful whose offering he presents to God.

That the Mass is the corporate action of the Church is indicated in various passages of the liturgy. The priest speaks in the Canon of the Mass of the gifts which "he offers to God for the Holy Catholic Church, for the Pope and Bishop of the diocese and for all true believers who keep the Catholic and Apostolic faith." Again, just before the Consecration he asks God to receive the offering which "we thy servants and thy whole household make unto thee”, and immediately after the Consecration, the liturgy speaks of the plebs sancta—“the holy people”—in the following terms:

We thy servants, as also thy holy people, do offer unto thy most excellent majesty of thine own gifts bestowed upon us . . .

These considerations offer scant consolation for the very real sense of loss that the faithful may feel at not being able to attend Holy Mass. We should remain, however, fixed and firm in our Faith which tells us that the invisible world of grace is indeed invisible but no less real. Now is a time to reflect and deepen our Faith by pondering over some of its more abstract truths.

The temporary impossibility of attending Holy Mass does not necessarily affect the spiritual resonance and fruitfulness of Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection in us. We must go with Faith to the throne of grace, and this you do every time your priests celebrate Holy Mass. We keep you very much in our prayers and intentions at God's altar and beg Him to impart the fruits of the sacrifice to those absent in body but present in spirit.

May the risen Saviour grant you all a greater share than usual in the fruits of His Resurrection.

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