Updated: Dec 11, 2022
On this Third Sunday of Advent, our word for reflection is “unity.” When it comes to God and all His creations, there is nothing that isn’t connected, in some way, to everything else.
The members of the Body of Christ are unified under the head. Creation and nature, along with physics, biology, and other sciences, create a unified world in which every single thing relies on other things. Furthermore, God Himself is unified as a Trinity of three persons in one God. However, in this reflection, we’ll look specifically at the unity between the Incarnate Word born on Christmas and the Eucharist.
Jesus became a figure of unity in and of Himself at the moment of His conception in Mary’s womb. It was at this moment that the Word of God took on human flesh. At the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, the doctrine of the hypostatic union, or the union of God and human flesh, was clarified in order to correct the Nestorian heresy, which claimed that Mary only gave birth to the human nature of Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Cyril of Alexandria, who said, “the Word, uniting himself in his person the flesh, animated by a rational soul, became man.” The Catechism continues, “Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his conception…Mary truly became the Mother of God by the human conception of the Son of God in her womb,” (CCC #466). In other words, Jesus’ human and divine natures are equal in His personhood. This continues to be true in His resurrected body in heaven, now and for eternity. For God to unite Himself to man - who is a creature far beneath His divine greatness – to make God relatable to us and provide an opportunity for us to be united with Him in heaven, was truly an act of pure love.
From there, Jesus’ unity with His mother naturally follows. He was unified with her while she carried Him within her very body for nine months, a time in which she was a living tabernacle. Everywhere she walked, and everyone she encountered, was sanctified in her presence because she carried within her the Incarnate Word. We see the first instance of that happening in Luke 1:41-46, when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Just hearing Mary’s greeting caused Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit and John leaped with joy in her womb. After giving birth, Jesus and Mary remained unified as she cared for Him, nurtured Him, and taught Him in His human nature. Later, as an adult, Mary continued to be united to her Son as she facilitated the beginning of His public ministry with His first miracle at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). Remember, He told her that His “hour had not yet come,” but He went forward with the miracle anyway because she interceded with Him on behalf of the couple and He would not deny her. His hour came precisely because of His mother. Then, she continued to follow Him through His ministry all the way to the foot of the cross, where she stood during His crucifixion (John 19:25) and later in the upper room as she prayed with the disciples on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended to give birth to the Church (Acts 1:14). Mary’s will was, and continues to be, united to her Son’s will, and her mission united to His mission. As a result of this union, she always directs us to her Son in all her works as she said to the servants at the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you,” (John 2:5).
The Eucharist, which Christ instituted at the Last Supper, offers us several forms of unity. First, the Eucharist itself undergoes what is called transubstantiation which is when “…there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood,” (CCC #1376). “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained,’” (CCC #1374). The unity and entirety of Jesus Christ is before our eyes under the form of bread and wine. Even though this is what the Church has always taught, and continues to teach, many people have trouble believing in the truth of this reality. How is it that we believe that Jesus turned water into wine (one substance into another), performed many other miracles, and continues to perform miracles on this earth every single day, but we cannot believe He can perform this miracle in every Mass? We believe in the miracle of the virgin birth even though no one could confirm it with their eyes, only their faith, but we struggle with this transformative miracle we cannot see. “That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that ‘cannot be apprehended by the senses’, says St. Thomas, ‘but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.’ St. Cyril says: ‘Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie’” (CCC #1381). If you fall into the category of disbelief, heed these great saints’ words and trust that it’s true while always asking the Lord to help you understand. It will come.
Further, the Eucharist unifies all Catholics across space and time in every Mass. When we receive communion, we are in communion both with Jesus, and with our other brothers and sisters in Christ. This Sacrament is the bond that holds all of the members of the body together as a united body. When you receive communion, you are receiving the exact same body and blood of Jesus that someone on the other side of the world is receiving at the same time. Similarly, we unite with all those who have gone before us, either in purgatory or in heaven, who can see the same Jesus in the flesh that we see. Under the Eucharist, there is no division.
Finally, when we consume the Eucharistic Lord, we are each united to Jesus in an individual, personal, and intimate way.
Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” (CCC #1391, Jn 6:56)
When we consume Jesus in the Eucharist, we, like Mary, become human tabernacles as we carry Him in our physical bodies. As tabernacles, we conform ourselves to Christ, and become more like Him, while blessing others with His presence within us. While Mary nourished the infant Jesus through her body, He nourishes us in ours. This nourishment is real, both physically and spiritually, and we get our very life from it.
This week, spend time contemplating how Jesus’ flesh, both in the Incarnation and the Eucharist, is unitive. Consider how you are a living, breathing tabernacle carrying the Lord inside of you, and what that means for how you live your life.