Language of the Body

As we continue our series on theology of the body, God’s plan for human sexuality, today we consider one of the most profound ideas of St. John Paul II: the language of the body.  St. John Paul taught that we communicate with our bodies, and we can either tell truths or lies with our bodies.  If I hug you, but always belittle you, that hug is a lie.  If I sell you my car and we shake hands on it, but conceal the damages of the car, then I’m telling a lie with my body.  And, if God has designed sexuality, as we talked about last week, then there’s a language to it given by God.  The love between husband and wife says something!

In the Second Reading, St. Paul applies the language of the body to the Mass.  The context is this: The Christian community in Corinth had some abuses surrounding the way they celebrated Mass.  Some were dressing improperly for Mass, going against Jewish custom.  Even worse was that there were divisions in the community.  At that time, when Christians were celebrating Mass in homes, they would have a regular meal beforehand.  However, what was happening was that the wealthy Christians were separating themselves from the poor Christians, and some were able to bring food while others had no food at all.  And St. Paul was very upset about this.

Why?  Because of the language of the Eucharist.  St. Paul says, “What should I say to you?  Should I commend you?  In this matter I do not commend you!  For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’” (1 Cor 11:22-25).  His point is that the Eucharist speaks the language of unity.  If you receive the Eucharist without loving your brothers and sisters, you’re not receiving the Eucharist worthily.  You’re telling a lie with your body.

He takes it even further.  The following is the reason why Catholics are so concerned about the Eucharist, hold it as our highest sacrament, and have very clear standards about receiving it: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.  Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.  [That line is the strongest.  Even many Protestants look at this teaching and realize that the Eucharist is more than a symbol.  If we don’t believe that the Eucharist is Jesus’ body and still take it, then we bring God’s judgment upon ourselves.]  For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died  [That’s an amazing teaching: That taking the Eucharist unworthily has caused the sickness and death of some.  Analogously, if people are allergic to penicillin, then something that normally saves lives can be harmful.  This is part of the reason why, if we’re in a state of mortal sin, receiving the Eucharist won’t help but hurt us.]” (1 Cor 11:27-30).

This reminds us of a principle in life: Treating something sacred like it’s something ordinary is a desecration.  If you damage a car, that’s not a desecration because it’s an object.  And if you damage a person, that’s much worse because a person is a subject, not an object.  If we take the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin, that’s worse, because it’s against Jesus Himself.

Now let’s connect the Eucharist with theology of the body.  Why?  Because, as Jesus Himself taught, He’s the bridegroom.  And St. Paul teaches that Jesus is married to the Church, which is His bride.  For us Catholics, the Eucharist is connected to marriage and sexuality because all three are about self-giving.  St. Augustine wrote this: “Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his nuptial chamber…  He came even to the marriage-bed of the cross, and there, ascending it, he consummated a marriage.  And when he sensed the creature sighing in her breath, he surrendered himself to torment for his bride in a communication of love” (Sermo Suppositus, 120:3).  

When Jesus died on the Cross for us, what was He saying with His body?  He was saying I love you freely, I love you forever, I love you totally, and I love you fruitfully.  These four qualities (free, faithful, total, fruitful) are the necessary qualities for marriage.  If someone is forced to get married, they’re telling a lie with their body.  If someone cheats on their spouse, they’re telling a lie with their body.  If someone has sex outside of marriage, they’re saying with their body, “I’m not fully committed to you.”  And if they use contraception, then they’re saying, “I’m holding something back from you.”  We’re going to try to bring this together more deeply next week.

Now, given that today is Corpus Christi Sunday, we need to remember that Mass is a wedding banquet!  What truths does Jesus speak with His body, when He comes to us during Mass?  He died for us, holding nothing back; it’s a total self-offering.  This is the most sacred moment of our day, week, and lives.

So, what truths should we speak?  First, we speak an interior truth whenever we go to Confession.  It’s necessary to be in a state of grace, with our mortal sins forgiven, before we take Communion.  That’s why it’s necessary to come to Mass every single Sunday.  If we don’t, we’re saying: I’ll receive Jesus’ body this week, but I’m not committed to respecting Him every week, even though He died for me.

Second, we speak our love for Him externally.  I think Deacon Andrew and I have to slow down the way we give Communion.  If Mass is slightly longer, it would be worth it, because that sign is important.

We should be concentrating, praying, joyful!  We should receive Jesus with care, not rushing and certainly not taking Communion while getting up—parents, please correct your children on this.  Thank you!

Whether we receive on the tongue or on the hand, the Church lets us decide.  Neither sign says that a person is holier than another. Nevertheless, as I point out every year, I favour receiving Communion on the tongue because of the sign value in our modern world.  There’s no other food that we normally take by receiving it from another person directly into our mouths.  When I was young, this said that Communion is not ordinary food.  And I’ve seen many Catholics see this when they’re young and grow up and know that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ.

If we do receive on the hand, show Jesus that He’s the King!  Make a throne for Him, like this!  Do it for Him!  Do it to remind yourself that we’re receiving God!  If you’re wearing a mask, you need to pull it down before receiving Communion, because too many people are manhandling Jesus and treating Jesus like He’s another object.  Parents, please remind your children how to receive, because many are running off with Jesus in their hand—it’s clear from their actions that they don’t know Whom they’re receiving.  We should help them!

Furthermore, let’s dress beautifully, as we discussed years ago!  We should be at our best in our hearts for Jesus, and dressing up helps remind us that this is a wedding banquet!  Insofar as it’s possible, we want to dress a step up, with something appropriate, respectful, and that makes us feel good.  Remember, it’s the language of the body: We’re saying to Jesus, “Thank You for dying for me,” and saying to ourselves, “This is the highlight of my life.”  And, during summer, we’re going to turn up the AC so powerfully that you’ll want to wear a suit and longer clothing!

St. John Paul II wrote the following, italics included, “The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption.  It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride” (Mulieris Dignitatem, 26).  This is why Dr. Christopher West tells the following story about his father-in-law.  “At Mass the day after his wedding, my father-in-law was in tears after receiving the Eucharist.  When his new bride inquired, thinking of the consummation of their love the night before, he said, ‘For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of Christ’s words, “This is my body given for you”’”.  He connected the language of the body in marriage with the language of Jesus’ body at Mass.

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