ROME, ITALY – AUGUST 28, 2021: The detail of fresco of Holy Trinity in the church San Francesco Saverio by Sebastiano Conca (1680 – 1764).

+Third Sunday in Advent+

In the series on marriage, the fact was stressed that those who violate Canon Law and are married outside the Church are no longer members of the Mystical Body of Christ because they have become at least material heretics. This is true because one cannot belong to a Church which pretends to be Catholic but has no pope and cannot legitimately procure one. The definition of a schismatic fits Traditionalists to a “T.” A schismatic is defined by Rev. Ignatius Szal as: “…one who, having received baptism and still retaining the name of Christian nevertheless refuses obedience to the Supreme Pontiff,” (while yet recognizing him as the head of the Church) “or refuses to communicate with those members of the Church subject to him.” In the strict sense, Szal noted, the following elements also are essential for schism to exist:

“One must withdraw directly (expressly) or indirectly (by one’s actions) from obedience to the Roman Pontiff and separate oneself from ecclesiastical communion with the rest of the faithful; one’s withdrawal must be made with obstinacy and rebellion; in relation to those things by which the unity of the Church is constituted; yet despite this formal disobedience the schismatic must recognize the Roman Pontiff as the true pastor of the Church” (Communication of Catholics with non-Catholics, Catholic University of America Canon Law dissertation, 1948).

Traditionalists are individuals who are baptized and retain the name Catholic. They recognize the pope as the head of the Church and pay him lip service. They will not acknowledge that those who pray at home legitimately object to their position and they dismiss them as cranks. They deny the necessity of the papacy by recognizing men as bishops who are not even validly consecrated according to the laws and infallible teachings of the Church, which Traditionalists stubbornly and consistently refuse to acknowledge as binding. They have denied the necessity of the papacy for the Church’s existence, indirectly withdrawing themselves from such obedience by refusing to honor the Church’s teaching that doubts regarding the validity of the Sacraments require them to remove themselves from these bishops. More to the point, Canon Law actually requires that they denounce them.

Those now members of Traditionalist sects could study and arrive at certitude regarding their actual position and convert, but this doesn’t often happen. All of us at one time were material heretics if we ever attended the Novus Ordo or a Traditionalist chapel. And yet, thankfully, even though they must consider themselves as such, there has been no formal decision made in their case, giving time at least for repentance. As explained in the marriage blogs, there are ways to mitigate this censure and prepare ourselves for absolution as best we can, as detailed in Canon Law. It requires public penance and a three-year probationary period as a pray-at-home Catholic, but it is the best we can do to return to the Church without valid bishops or the pope to receive us. We must humble ourselves and rely entirely on God’s mercy. Without the hierarchy we are in much the same position as those who have no one to baptize them, or who are truly invincibly ignorant and love God according to their best lights, but remain in other non-Catholic sects. We must become members of Christ’s Mystical Body by desire, praying He always will count us as such if we obey His laws, the teachings of His Vicars, do penance for our sins and do our best to help others find Him.

That Catholics do not go to greater lengths to make certain they are at least members of this Body by desire can be attributed to the fact that they refuse to adopt the pray-at-home position and know so little about the beauty and the living reality of this Body, representing Christ’s continued existence and operation on this earth among men. Some of this material has been covered already in our site articles HERE and HERE. But more needs to be said about the living reality of this Body that binds Catholics to Christ and to one another. This is the union that will exist unto the consummation, for as Pope Pius XII infallibly defined in Mystici Corporis Christi: “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.” Christ and His Vicar are the invisible and visible heads of this Body, but when there is no visible Head, Christ alone rules His Church. Below we will read more about the workings of this wondrous Body from approved theologians.

The Theology of the Mystical Body by Emile Mersch S.J., 1951

“…Christ ‘s humanity was both an empirical thing and a mysterious reality… The Church will likewise be an empirical thing and a mysterious reality.

“First it will be an empirical, concrete, visible, tangible thing like all human realities that prolong themselves in some form of continuation, for it is a human institution, a human society. And it is a society quite visibly and tangibly. Its sociology and Canon Law can be written down, it has its clearly defined members and its definite seat. It is the Church of Rome as Jesus Christ was Jesus of Nazareth. As a society it is perfect in its kind with a firm and well-delineated structure as befits a thing that is the perpetuation of the God-man. Secondly the Church will be an invisible reality; a life of thought, love and grace that is infused into souls; a divinization and an adoptive sonship which in the unity of the only-begotten Incarnate Son is diffused throughout all mankind so deeply as to be inaccessible to natural consciousness; and which in the depths thus reached unifies mankind in itself and attaches it to God.

“The two aspects of the Church — the visible and the invisible — are often called the soul and the body of the Church. This manner of speaking may have disadvantages and they are brought out in our day, but it greatly facilitates certain explanations. Hence we may profitably devote some consideration to it. The body of the Church as we see at once is the external aspect — the empirical society which is the Church of Rome. The word body does not have here the precise sense it has in the term mystical body. FOR THE EXPRESSION ‘MYSTICAL BODY’ DESIGNATES THE MYSTERIOUS AND INTERIOR ELEMENT OF THE CHURCH. Even for those who identify the Church Militant with the Mystical Body, it does not designate the external aspect of body except so far as it is the outward manifestation of the interior soul which consists in such a mystery.

“The soul of the Church must clearly be the factor that makes this society a living Organism. It is the first general principle of a collective and unified life in all the members. This factor can be nothing else than the grace which causes all these members to be living members of Christ —the divinizing grace that is infused into all by one and the same Christ. Or else we may say that it is Christ, the Son of the Father regarded as the principle of life and the whole supernatural Organism. Because of this confusion, a certain universal principle and a genus of such as have grace as Saint Thomas says a universal principle for bestowing grace on human nature” (end of Mersch quotes). 

The Mystical Christ, (Rev. John C. Gruden, S.T.L., 1938)

“Bishop Myers clarifies this difference between the Church and moral bodies in the words: ‘What makes Christ’s Mystical Body so very different from any moral body of men is the character of the union existing between Christ and the members. It is not a mere external union; it is not a mere moral union, it is a union which, as realized in Christ’s Church, is at once external and moral, but also in that primarily internal and supernatural. It is the supernatural union of the sanctified soul with Christ and with all other sanctified souls in Christ. The term Mystical Body is used to convey the idea that the Church is not merely a social organization, but an organism, a communion, a body: the living spiritual or supernatural body of Christ.

“The term mystical or mystic calls attention to the fact that in mere natural or moral bodies the relationship between the members and their head and the relationship between the members one to another is moral only or juridical, whereas the relationship between Christ and the members of the Church, members of His body, is quasi-physical and organic. The bonds that unite Christians to Christ and to one another are organic, physical, sacramental, although supernatural and invisible. The Church is not only ‘a complicated but smoothly functioning administrative machine’ it is more than that; Christians and Christ form a body of a special kind, neither physical nor moral, which lives and grows by a vital force descending from the head, Jesus Christ, to the members. ‘Christ the head, in His members’ says Bishop Myers ‘constitute a unique entity which is designed by a unique name: the Mystical Body of Christ’” (p. 64-65).

“The following are the leading ideas necessary for a correct grasp of the relation which obtains between the Mystical Body of Christ and the communion of saints:

“A. The Mystical Body (p. 160-161)

  1. The Mystical Body of Christ is the Church militant, the “Church” or “ecclesia” in the strict sense, a visible society, both human and divine, with a visible hierarchical organization established by Christ, and with a visible, juridical, or moral head, the pope, the vicar of Christ and successor of St. Peter in the see of Rome.
  2. Its invisible, principal, juridical and sole mystical head is Jesus Christ, the God-man, gloriously reigning in heaven. The Incarnate Word is also its exemplary cause, that is, the union of the visible with the invisible elements, of the natural with the supernatural, of the human and divine, in the supernatural organism of the Mystical Body is patterned after the model of the hypostatic union between the human and the divine nature in the person of the incarnate Word.
  3. The formal internal cause, the Soul of this unique organism, is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit dwells in this body as its informing principle consolidating all the members of the visible society into a unified organism, joining them by mystical, quasi-physical, or sacramental bonds to their mystical head, Jesus Christ.
  4. The members of this body are all baptized earthly pilgrims (viatores) who have not separated themselves from it either by the loss of faith or excommunication.
  5. The immediate end or purpose of the Mystical Body is to be the medium of salvation for men of all nations and of all times, to be the means whereby the merits of Christ’s redemption are applied to them, to be the sacrament or the mystery through which divine life is imparted to them that they may secure for themselves the life of glory in the world to come. The remote or final end is the same as that of all creation, that is, to manifest the glory of the only begotten Son who is the substantial image of the Father. Jesus Christ is glorified in his brothers, members of his Mystical Body, and God the Father is glorified “in his beloved Son.”

“B. The Communion of Saints

  1. The communion of saints is an invisible society, a “Church” or “ecclesia” in the broad sense, a moral body.
  2. Its invisible, moral, or juridical head is the glorified or exalted Christ.
  3. The formal cause of the communion of saints is grace, the work of the Holy Spirit to whom sanctification of creatures is ascribed by appropriation. The Holy Spirit also personally dwells in individual souls belonging to the communion. He is present in the communion of saints as a spirit, but not as its soul, for he is not its informing principle. The Holy Spirit may, indeed, be spoken of as the soul of the communion of saints, if the term “soul” be used in the broad sense, as equivalent to “spirit.”
  4. The members of this communion are the saints in heaven (saints in the strict sense, comprehensores), and the souls in purgatory, in other words, the Church triumphant and the Church suffering. Members of this communion are also the saints in the broad sense, that is, all the faithful, even though they be sinners who actually belong to the Church militant. There are, however, others who are outside the pale of the Catholic Church, who have not been baptized or who, even though baptized, profess a false religion through invincible ignorance. Pagans and Protestants may belong to this class. They, too, may be in the state of sanctifying grace, hence there seems to be no reason for excluding them from the “communion of saints.”
  5. The object of the “communion of saints,” its proximate purpose, is not to be the medium of salvation, but rather a means of participation by all the members in the spiritual treasures held in common. This participation imports the distribution, interchange, and application of the spiritual gifts, graces, and fruits of meritorious works to all the members in need of the same. The remote or final end is the praise and glory of the Father through the Son.
  6. At the end of time the Mystical Body will have achieved its fullest development, it will have attained “to the full measure of the stature of Christ,” and in the glory of heaven the pleroma of Christ will be fully realized. Then the Mystical Body of Christ, the kingdom of God upon earth, the Church militant, will be transformed into the kingdom of God in heaven, or the Church triumphant, namely, that communion of saints in which not only the souls of men, but their bodies also, will, “through Christ our Lord,” share in the glory of the Triune God (Eph. 4:13).

“The Church is a living organism, a body; the mystic body of Christ; hence, if the analogy of the human body as applied to the Church is to be regarded as more than a mere figure of speech, the Church must be informed by an animating principle, a soul. Besides the many or multiple external visible elements, clergy and laity, hierarchical structure, sacraments, sacramentals, etc., the Church must possess an inner element which, intimately united to the visible elements, must be the formal cause of the unity and identity of the organism, formal cause, too, of its own peculiar life which is supernatural and divine. In the Church must dwell a spirit which is not only “spirit” but “soul” in its restricted meaning, which, intimately or quasi-substantially, united with the visible and invisible elements of the Church, “elevates” them to a higher level of being and makes of them the Church; a spirit which through intimate union with the visible and invisible elements be- comes the formal cause of the union between the head and the members and ultimately the source of the manifold life and activity of the “organs,” as well as of the ordinary “members” of Christ’s Mystical Body.

“The theory of two Churches, however, is not exclusively Protestant. Svetlov, a modern Russian “orthodox” theologian, defends it. From the comparison of the Church with the human body he concludes that the invisible Church can exist independently of the visible Church. The human soul, he argues, can live without the body and independently of it. Similarly the soul of the Church, that is, the invisible Church, can exist independently of the body or the visible Church. Here we have an instance of the wrong use of the analogy of the human body. Analogies have their value, but they also have their danger. The value of analogies is that they clarify concepts; their danger is that they may be pushed too far. The Church may not be compared to the human soul existing independently after its separation from the body, but rather to the living human body informed and vivified by the soul.

“The true picture of the Church presented in Sacred Scripture and tradition is that of a unique visible organism, with a human and a divine side, visible and invisible aspect, comprising natural and supernatural elements. The invisible elements which, figuratively speaking, we call the soul of the Church, form together with the visible elements, its body, one undivided and indivisible whole, informed and vivified by the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit.This living visible organism, of which the Holy Spirit is the soul in the real but mystical sense, is the Mystical Body of Christ, or the mystical Christ (p. 167).

“Henry Cardinal Manning…writes: ‘The Church is a mystical person, and all its endowments are derived from the Divine Person of its head, and the Divine Person who is its Life. As in the Incarnation there is a communication of the divine perfections to the humanity, so in the Church the perfections of the Holy Spirit become the endowments of the body. It is imperishable, because he is God; indivisibly one, because he is numerically one; holy, because he is the foundation of holiness; infallible both in believing and in teaching, because his illumination and his voice are immutable, and therefore, being not an individual depending upon the fidelity of the human will, but a body depending only on the divine will, it is not on trial or probation but is itself the instrument of probation to mankind. It cannot be affected by the frailty or sins of the human will, any more than the brightness of the firmament by the dimness or the loss of human sight. It can no more be tainted by human sin than the holy sacraments, which are always immutably pure and divine, though all who come to them be impure and faithless. What the Church was in the beginning it is now, and ever shall be in all plenitude of its divine endowments, because the union between the body and the Spirit is indissoluble, and all the operations of the Spirit in the body are perpetual and absolute.’

“This function of the Holy Spirit in the Mystical Body of Christ, a function so important and so vital, should not be overlooked in any adequate definition of the Church. We suggest as the briefest definition: “The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ animated by the Holy Spirit,” or “The Church is a living, supernatural organism whose Mystical head is Christ, gloriously reigning in heaven (the exalted Christ) and whose soul is the Holy Spirit.” (End of Gruden quotes)

And this from Mystici Corporis: “To this Spirit of Christ, also, as to an invisible principle is to be ascribed the fact that all the parts of the Body are joined one with the other and with their exalted Head; for He is entire in the Head, entire in the Body, and entire in each of the members. To the members He is present and assists them in proportion to their various duties and offices, and the greater or less degree of spiritual health which they enjoy. It is He who, through His heavenly grace, is the principle of every supernatural act in all parts of the Body. It is He who, while He is personally present and divinely active in all the members, nevertheless in the inferior members acts also through the ministry of the higher members. Finally, while by His grace He provides for the continual growth of the Church, He yet refuses to dwell through sanctifying grace in those members that are wholly severed from the Body. This presence and activity of the Spirit of Jesus Christ is tersely and vigorously described by Our predecessor of immortal memory Leo XIII in his Encyclical Letter Divinum Illud in these words: Let it suffice to say that, as Christ is the Head of the Church, so is the Holy Spirit her soul.

If we are making amends and doing penance as Canon Law prescribes — praying and studying our faith to be forgiven for the sins of schism and material heresy — we can hope to qualify as those not wholly severed from the Body. We can yet be counted as members of Christ’s Body and the continuation of His Church on earth. In the next part of this study, the intended continuation of Christ’s Mystical Body will be explained and readers will see that what has happened to the Church in these times, the loss of the papacy, Mass and Sacraments, will actually assist the faithful in seamlessly transitioning to the New Jerusalem in Heaven.

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