A-Z of the Mass: Unity
On the road to Damascus the Risen Christ declared to Saul that in persecuting the Church he was persecuting his Lord (Acts 9:4-5). Paul’s later writings, particularly his first letter to the Corinthians, show Paul developing and exploring the implications of this revelation. The Church is one body, its different members bound together through and in Christ. This unity is achieved through faith and the sacraments. These two ‘supernatural agencies’ move forward hand in hand for the sacraments at once signify the grace which is the inheritance of faith, and cause and contain that same faith. Sacraments are perfect signs of God’s action which bring about the very things that they signify.
The Eucharist is the perfect sacrament of the Lord’s passion in as much as it contains the very Christ who himself suffered. When we consume this Christ, when we sacramentally receive his body and blood, we are signifying our unity with Christ and each other, and actually bringing about this same unity by binding ourselves to the sacrifice of the cross. The Church, according to St. Augustine, is one because it has one sacrifice. This one sacrifice is the sacrifice of Christ handed over bodily to the Church. Lumen Gentium described this gift as the ‘source and summit of the Christian life’. Whilst Eucharistic communion is not the whole of our communion with God, and does not do all the work of our spiritual life, it is a definite communion with the Christ who shed his blood for us, and a foretaste of the communion we will share with him in heaven.
The Eucharist is, then, the sacrament of unity. Unfortunately the schisms and reformations that have torn the body of Christ over the centuries have cloaked this fundamental character of the sacrament. The painful reality is that despite the ecumenical work of recent decades, when we come to the altar the various Christian denominations must go their separate ways. Whilst the sacrifice of the cross belongs to the whole world, its sacramental re-presentation cannot be separated from the Church, the mystical body of Christ, that offers this sacrifice. It is indeed a tragedy that not all Christians are in communion with one another, but the solution is to redouble our efforts to found our faith on truth, to found our faith on Christ. To paper over cracks superficially and pretend there is no problem is easier in the short term, but ultimately it will be counterproductive.