Most of us can easily come up with four ways of speaking about the body of Christ. Clear from Christology, and from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius as we pass from the third to the fourth week, is the distinction between earthly and risen body of Christ. In the Eucharist we receive the body of Christ. Most of us are familiar with the mystical body of Christ, on which Pope Pius XII wrote a famous encyclical. Thus four distinctive terms for the body of Christ: earthly, risen, eucharistic, and mystical. But how deep do these distinctions go? Our exploration will lead us to the position that there is but one body of Christ, but manifested and named differently.
First let us deal with the earthly body of Christ. Christ died in his earthly body. He rose from the dead, and the tomb was found empty. How the transition from earthly to risen body took place is a mystery beyond our ken. But there is deep continuity. For example when the risen Jesus showed himself to his disciples, Thomas was invited to verify his earthly wounds, especially the wound from his side which symbolizes the total outpouring for us of Jesus on the cross. And, more importantly, the total sacrifice of self that the earthly Jesus consummated in the cross remains as the essential disposition and dynamic of his risen state, indeed of his personhood within the Trinity. All the positive values of his earthly state are brought to their fulness in his risen state. The earthly state as earthly, however, is over, which means that we will speak not of four in one but three in one.
But now we are left with the task of bringing together risen, eucharistic, and mystical body of Jesus. How are they one? And what difference does this make to us in our lives as Christians?