Sometimes, a particular encyclical seems prophetic. Humanae Vitae is of that category, as is Humanum Genus. The encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ resonates with me this week, as we Catholics face a new awareness of the fragility of the Faith in many countries.
My comments are in blue here.
6. There is a special reason too, and one most dear to Us, which recalls this doctrine to Our mind and with it a deep sense of joy. During the year that has passed since the twenty-fifth anniversary of Our Episcopal consecration, We have had the great consolation of witnessing something that has made the image of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ stand out most clearly before the whole world. Though a long and deadly war has pitilessly broken the bond of brotherly union between nations, We have seen Our children in Christ, in whatever part of the world they happened to be, one in will and affection, lift up their hearts to the common Father, who, carrying in his own heart the cares and anxieties of all, is guiding the barque of the Catholic Church in the teeth of a raging tempest. This is a testimony to the wonderful union existing among Christians; but it also proves that, as Our paternal love embraces all peoples, whatever their nationality and race, so Catholics the world over, though their countries may have drawn the sword against each other, look to the Vicar of Jesus Christ as to the loving Father of them all, who, with absolute impartiality and incorruptible judgment, rising above the conflicting gales of human passions, takes upon himself with all his strength the defense of truth, justice and charity.
The real experience of Christians standing against the Nazi destruction of the Jews, and the new totalitarianism which included hatred of Christ's Gospel message and which prefered a neo-paganism, made many Christians, including leaders, come together in Germany and other places, decide to be strong together. Much was at stake, like today.
7. We have been no less consoled to know that with spontaneous generosity a fund has been created for the erection of a church in Rome to be dedicated to Our saintly predecessor and patron Eugene I. As this temple, to be built by the wish and through the liberality of all the faithful, will be a lasting memorial of this happy event, so We desire to offer this Encyclical Letter in testimony of Our gratitude. It tells of those living stones which rest upon the living corner-stone, which is Christ, and are built together into a holy temple, hr surpassing any temple built by hands, into a habitation of God in the Spirit.
This good Pope aided the Jews himself, and the cooperation of many brave people revealed a love of God embracing all humans in distress. The period of warfare and the time after the war witnessed great growth in the Catholic Faith, not only in numbers, but in the consolidation of study and the pursuing of truth. Sadly, communist and socialist infiltration also grew, and the corruption we see today in the curia must be seen as entrenched positions of anti-Catholicism near the heart of the Church, like a disease ready to spread. Modernism also became part of the thinking of many leaders in the Church, especially in the seminaries, which churned out liberal, even disobedient priests. As an old priest told me years ago, he and his friends joined the seminary in the 1950s to make the Church more Protestant, in order to create a Pan-Christianity which could stand up against both communism and socialism. Of course, this belief did not work.
8. But the chief reason for Our present exposition of this sublime doctrine is Our solicitude for the souls entrusted to Us. Much indeed has been written on this subject; and we know that many today are turning with greater zest to a study which delights and nourishes Christian piety. This, it would seem, is chiefly because a revived interest in the sacred liturgy, the more widely spread custom of frequent Communion, and the more fervent devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus practiced today, have brought many souls to a deeper consideration of the unsearchable riches of Christ which are preserved in the Church. Moreover recent pronouncements on Catholic Action, by drawing closer the bonds of union between Christians and between them and the ecclesiastical hierarchy and especially the Roman Pontiff, have undoubtedly helped not a little to place this truth in its proper light. Nevertheless, while We can derive legitimate joy from these considerations, We must confess that grave errors with regard to this doctrine are being spread among those outside the true Church, and that among the faithful, also, inaccurate or thoroughly false ideas are being disseminated which turn minds aside from the straight path of truth.
9. For while there still survives a false rationalism, which ridicules anything that transcends and defies the power of human genius, and which is accompanied by a cognate error, the so-called popular naturalism, which sees and wills to see in the Church nothing but a juridical and social union, there is on the other hand a false mysticism creeping in, which, in its attempt to eliminate the immovable frontier that separates creatures from their Creator, falsifies the Sacred Scriptures.
10. As a result of these conflicting and mutually antagonistic schools of thought, some through vain fear, look upon so profound a doctrine as something dangerous, and so they shrink from it as from the beautiful but forbidden fruit of paradise. But this is not so. Mysteries revealed by God cannot be harmful to men, nor should they remain as treasures hidden in a field, useless. They have been given from on high precisely to help the spiritual progress of those who study them in a spirit of piety. For, as the Vatican Council teaches, "reason illumined by faith, if it seeks earnestly, piously and wisely, does attain under God, to a certain and most helpful knowledge of mysteries, by considering their analogy with what it knows naturally, and their mutual relations, and their common relations with man's last end," although, as the same holy Synod observes, reason, even thus illumined, "is never capable of understanding those mysteries as it does those truths which form its proper object."
Naturalism and false rationalism created the atmosphere for the Irish vote on Friday. False mysticism created an environment of false love and false tolerance of sin. The framework of morality disappeared in Ireland, and, indeed, in Europe and America over the past forty years.
What was set aside was exactly "reason illumined by faith" which leads to study, prayer and the understanding of the true goal of all humans, union with God in heaven forever.
Of course, I love this following paragraph with the reference to perfection, which would include, moral perfection as well as mystical and rational assent to the Church's teaching on all subjects.
11. After pondering all this long and seriously before God We consider it part of Our pastoral duty to explain to the entire flock of Christ through this Encyclical Letter the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ and of the union in this Body of the faithful with the divine Redeemer; and then, from this consoling doctrine, to draw certain lessons that will make a deeper study of this mystery bear yet richer fruits of perfection and holiness. Our purpose is to throw an added ray of glory on the supreme beauty of the Church; to bring out into fuller light the exalted supernatural nobility of the faithful who in the Body of Christ are united with their Head; and finally, to exclude definitively the many errors current with regard to this matter.
To read a clear document on what the Mystical Body of Christ actually is will give us all hope.
12. When one reflects on the origin of this doctrine, there come to mind at once the words of the Apostle: "Where sin abounded, grace did more abound." All know that the father of the whole human race was constituted by God in so exalted a state that he was to hand on to his posterity, together with earthly existence, the heavenly life of divine grace. But after the unhappy fall of Adam, the whole human race, infected by the hereditary stain, lost their participation in the divine nature, and we were all "children of wrath." But the all-merciful God "so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son"; and the Word of the Eternal Father with the same divine love assumed human nature from the race of Adam—but an innocent and spotless nature—so that He, as the new Adam, might be the source whence the grace of the Holy Spirit should flow unto all the children of the first parent. Through the sin of the first man they had been excluded from adoption as children of God; through the Word incarnate, made brothers according to the flesh of the only-begotten Son of God, they receive also the power to become the sons of God. As He hung upon the Cross, Christ Jesus not only appeased the justice of the Eternal Father which had been violated, but He also won for us, His brethren, an ineffable flow of graces. it was possible for Him of Himself to impart these graces to mankind directly; but He willed to do so only through a visible Church made up of men, so that through her all might cooperate with Him in dispensing the graces of Redemption. As the Word of God willed to make use of our nature, when in excruciating agony He would redeem mankind, so in the same way throughout the centuries He makes use of the Church that the work begun might endure.
The pope refers almost immediately to grace, a theme on this blog. The truth of the Fall of Man and his need for redemption led to the Incarnation and the great act of mercy, Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross, which draws all people of good will to a life of freedom and justice. Grace comes through the merits of the Church, the visible Church, and we choose to cooperate or not cooperate with these graces of that Act of Mercy, Redemption. Through the Cross and through the Church, we have access to new life as brothers and sisters in Christ.
13. If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ—which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Roman Church—we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression "the Mystical Body of Jesus 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.
The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, a great mystery of love. He is the Head and we are the Body. The visible Church on earth is this body, as noted below and explained by Leo XIII. The heresy of the "invisible church" was clearly rejected over a hundred years ago.
To be a member of the Mystical Body means that we are one with Christ on earth in and through His Church.
14. That the Church is a body is frequently asserted in the Sacred Scriptures. "Christ," says the Apostle, "is the Head of the Body of the Church." If the Church is a body, it must be an unbroken unity, according to those words of Paul: "Though many we are one body in Christ." But it is not enough that the body of the Church should be an unbroken unity; it must also be something definite and perceptible to the senses as Our predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Satis Cognitum asserts: "the Church is visible because she is a body." Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely "pneumatological" as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are united by an invisible bond.
to be continued....