The Church; The Mystical Body of Christ
Examining the Nature of the Church enables us to have a profound understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ.
The most striking words with regards to the doctrine of the Mystical body can be found in the book of Acts as we read (Acts 9:1-5) "But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting..."
We note that Christ said to Saul, that he (Saul) was actually guilty of persecuting Christ Himself, since to persecute the Church is to persecute Christ as the Church is indeed his mystical body. If one-steps on your foot does not your mouth cry out? In like manner is it with Christ and his Church. We are his members, who with the angels and saints of heaven make us the mystical body of Christ. As St. Paul put " "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." - 1 Cor 12:12-14
In Sacred Scripture we find a great number of metaphors are employed precisely in order to affirm and clarify this doctrine of the Mystical body in order allow us to obtain a greater insight into both the nature and meaning of the Church and the implication it ought to have on us.
The Church is referred to as the Spouse of Christ;
Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.... For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
We see them same in both the Gospels (John 3:29 & Matt 9:15) and the Apocalypse (19:7, 21:3, 22:17). From this we can readily conclude that Christ loves, nourishes, rules, guards and sacrifices for his Church, as husband ought to do for his wife. It can also be said in retrospect that the Church (as like any wife is to her husband) is subject to and dependent upon Christ and begets him Children unto eternal life.
The Church is referred to as the Kingdom of God;
Matt 18: 23 "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants". (Cf. Also Matt 22:2, 16:19)
The King referred in these instances is God Himself who like any King, rules orders & defends his subjects while at the same time he rewards the just and punishes the unjust.
Church is referred to as a Sheepfold; Luke 12: 32 "Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom." (Cf. Also Matt 15:24, 1 Peter 2:25;54). The Shepard is there to care for his flock is as Christ is there to care for, feed, lead and watch over his Church.
The Church is referred as the Mountain of God.
Hebrews 12:22 "But you are come to Mount Sion and to the city of the living God" (Cf. Also Matt 5:14, Gal 4).
The term mountain is used to affirm that the Church is indeed like a mountain that is strong and immovable, visible and stable, as she shall endure until the end of ages.
The Church is referred to as the "Domus Dei", the house of God and the foundation and Pillar of Truth.
1 Timothy 3:15 "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (Cf. Also 1 Peter 2:5, Eph 2:19-20, Matt 16:18, Gal 6:10). This term is most apt on account of the fact that the Church is indeed a family a "house" and hence the household of God in which case God Himself shelters His flock and units it. For this reason those who leave the Church do not divide the Church but rather separate themselves from it while the house remains in complete unity and order without them since it is founded on God and not on men!
The bond of unity that unites us in Christ ought to be stronger than that of the flesh for as St. Paul affirms: "Let us work good to all men, especially those who are of the house hold of faith".
The Importance of this Doctrine
The importance of this doctrine is found in the fact that it elaborates for us the great mystery of the Church and it's role in salvation history as the instrumental cause of salvation. It is not the Church that saves us, but Christ who saves us through the Church which He founded as the means (instrument) of Salvation.
Although it is true that Christ does not need us nor the Church, nevertheless it is clear from Scripture that Christ has chosen and founded the Church for the application of his redemption & for the Glory of the Church which He likewise uses as a means to Glorify Himself.
Just as the body is made up of un-equal unified heterogeneous parts that are substantially one, while all having their importance in procuring the health and well being of the body, so to do all members of the Church (although unequal) have their role in laboring for the salvation of souls, which is the purpose of the Church.
The Church like any society is also a moral body, namely by the fact that although it is not substantially one like a physical body, it nevertheless like any society has a unity of purpose and function and works for the common good of its members. However it must be kept in mind that the Church is Supernatural Society, (what we term "Totus Christus - the whole Christ) as it has a divine origin and continues to receive the graces of its founder (Jesus Christ, the Son of God) - Cf. Mystici Corporis paragraph 1060 - 1062.
Christ is the Head of the Church on account of His pre-eminence as it is He who rules the Church. St. Paul expressly states; " he hath subjected all things under his feet and hath made him head over all the church, - Eph 1:22
Christ bestows grace upon the Church both as God and Man. In His divinity He bestows grace on the Church authoritatively and instrumentally as Man (as His humanity was the instrument of His divinity).
Between Christ and His members there ought to be a resemblance as there is resemblance between the Head and the Body in the physical order so to in the supernatural order. In this instance the Saints of the Catholic Church are the best examples as their lives and works are living testimonies of Christ in the world.