A description of the soul's journey to full union with God

The sources of the interior life and its end (cont)


Ch 5: The Influence of Christ the Redeemer on His Mystical Body

The Blessed Trinity which dwells in every just soul is, as we have seen, the uncreated source of our interior life. But our sanctification depends also on the constant influence of Christ the Redeemer, who incessantly communicates to us, through the sacraments and outside of them, the graces He merited for us during His earthly life, and especially during His passion. Therefore it is fitting that we speak here of this sanctifying influence in general, and that we consider how it is exercised in particular by the greatest of all sacraments, the Eucharist.(1)


As the living instrument ever united to the divinity, source of all grace, Christ communicates to us the graces which he formerly merited for us. St. John says: "Of His fullness we all have received." (2)

Christ Himself tells this to us in a most expressive, symbolical manner: "I am the true vine; you the branches. . . . As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. . . . He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. . . . If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you." (3) Elsewhere Jesus likewise says: "Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." (4) By this He means that, if we ask especially for a living, more intimate, and pro­found knowledge of Him (which is given by the Holy Ghost) and for a purer and stronger love of Him, we shall be heard. Who would dare to say that Christ is not speaking here of the prayer by which His members ask for the infused contemplation of the mysteries of salvation? "In this," He adds, "is My Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become My disciples."

This beautiful figure of the vine and the branches is most expressive. St. Paul reverts to it under the form of the olive tree in which we are ingrafted.(5) He also gives another that is no less striking. Christ, he says, is like the head which communicates to the members the vital influx, which has its principle in the soul. The Church is the mystical body of Christ; Christians are the members of this body. He often repeats this statement: "Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member." (6) "But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly joined together by what every joint supplieth . . . maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity." (7) "And let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body." (8)

According to this doctrine, the Savior communicates to us the vital influx of grace (of which the source is God Himself considered in His divine nature), as the head communicates to the members the vital influx, the principle of which is in the soul. Clearly to understand this teaching, we must distinguish between the divinity and the humanity of Christ. Jesus, as the Word, dwells, as do the Father and the Holy Ghost, in the center, in the depths of our soul. He is closer to it than it is to itself; He preserves its natural and its supernatural life. By operating grace, He moves it to the deepest, most  secret acts which it could not produce by itself.(9) The humanity of our Savior, says St. Thomas,(10) is the instrument ever united to the divinity through which all graces are communicated to us. Just as in the sacraments, the water of baptism, for example, and the sacramental formula are the physical, instrumental cause of sacramental grace, in the sense that God, by making use of this water and this formula, communicates to them a transitory divine power to produce this grace, so also the humanity of the Savior and especially the acts of His holy soul are the physical, instrumental cause of all the graces we receive, either through the sacraments or outside of them.(11)

The sacred humanity of the Savior does not dwell in our soul. His body could not be in our soul; it is only in heaven (as in its natural place) and sacramentally in the Eucharist. But, although the humanity of Christ does not dwell in us, the just soul is continually under its influence, since by its intermediary every grace is communicated to us, just as in our body the head communicates the vital influx to the members. Since at every waking moment we have some duty to accomplish, Christ's humanity communicates to us from minute to minute the actual grace of the present moment, as the air we breathe continually enters our lungs. God, the Author of grace, makes use of Christ's humanity to communicate grace to us, as a great artist uses an instrument to transmit his musical thought to us, or as a great thinker uses his own style, his more or less rich language, to express himself. Thus the seven sacraments are like the strings of a lyre from which God alone can, by His divine touch, draw music. The Savior's humanity is a conscious, free, and superior instrument, ever united to the divinity in order to communicate to us all the graces that we receive and that Christ merited for us on the cross. Thus every illumination of the intellect, every grace of attraction, of consolation, or of strength, whether felt or not, actually come to us from the sacred humanity. For each of our salutary acts, it is a continual influence far more profound than that exercised over a child by the best of mothers when she teaches him to pray.

Outside the sacraments, this activity of the Savior transmits the lights of faith to unbelievers who do not resist it; to sinners, the grace of attrition, which invites them to approach the sacrament of penance. Especially through the Eucharist His influence is exercised, for the Eucharist is the most perfect of the sacraments, containing not only grace but the Author of grace; and it is a sacrifice of infinite value. This point must be insisted on here in speaking of the bases or the sources of the interior life.


The very terms that Christ used in the Gospel to describe this influence may be fittingly used here.

To draw greater spiritual profit from this influence and to thank the Lord for it, we may recall how, through love for our souls, Christ first promised the Eucharist; how He gave it to us at the Last Supper by instituting the priesthood; how He renews it every day in the Sacrifice of the Mass; how He wishes to remain among us by assuring the continuity of His real presence; and finally, how He gives Himself to us in daily Communion, continuing to do so until we last receive Him as holy viaticum. All these acts of divine generosity spring from one and the same love and are all ordained to our progressive sanctification. They deserve a special thanksgiving. Such is the true meaning of the devotion to the Eucharistic heart of Jesus. His heart is called "Eucharistic" because it gave us the Eucharist and still continues to do so. As people say that the air is healthful when it maintains or restores health, the heart of our Savior is called "Eucharistic" because it has given us the greatest of the sacraments, in which it is itself really and substantially present as the radiant source of ever new graces.

The words of the promise of the Eucharist, recorded by St. John (6:26-59), show us best of all what this vivifying influence of the Savior on us should be, and how we ought to receive it. First of all, Christ promised a heavenly bread. After the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, He said: "Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you. . . . My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world." (12) Then a number of those who had eaten their fill after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves exclaimed: "Lord, give us always this bread." Jesus answered them: "I am the bread of life. . . . You also have seen Me, and you believe not." (18) The Jews murmured, says St. John,(14) because He had said: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven." Jesus replied: "Murmur not among yourselves. . . . Amen, amen I say unto you: he that believeth in Me, hath everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give, is My flesh, for the life of the world. . . . He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed: and My blood is drink indeed. . . . The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." (15) Many did not believe and withdrew. "Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away? And Simon Peter answered Him: Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." (16) This promise of the Eucharist makes us glimpse all that this sacrament ought to produce in us, whether beginners, proficients, or the perfect.

The institution of the Eucharist shows us the import of this promise. It is thus related in St. Matthew, and almost in the same terms in St. Mark, St. Luke, and the First Epistle to the Corinthians: "And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to His disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is My body. And taking the chalice, He gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is My blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins." (17) The words of the promise are illumined. Peter was rewarded for having said with faith: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." At the Last Supper, Christ's word was more efficacious than ever; it was a transubstantiating word by which He changed the substance of bread into that of His own body that He might remain sacramentally among us. At the same moment He instituted the priesthood to perpetuate sacramentally, by means of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the cross until the end of time. Christ says, in fact, as St. Luke relates,(18) and as St. Paul states: "This do for the commemoration of Me." (19) The apostles then received the power to consecrate, to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, which perpetuates in substance the sacrifice of the cross in order to apply its fruits, its merits, and its satisfactions to us until the end of the world. In the Mass, the principal priest is Christ, who continues to offer Himself sacramentally. As St. Paul says, He is "always living to make intercession for us." (20) He does this especially in the Holy Sacrifice. By reason of the principal priest and of the victim offered, of the precious blood sacramentally shed, this sacrifice has an infinite value. At the same time, Christ offers to His Father our adoration, our supplication, our reparation, our thanksgiving, all the salutary acts of His mystical body.

Christ's love did not give us the Eucharist only once, but gives it to us daily. He might have willed that Mass should be celebrated only once or twice a year in some great sanctuary to which people would come from afar. On the contrary, not only one Mass, but numbers of them are celebrated continually, at every minute of the day, over the surface of the earth. Thus He grants to His Church the graces it needs at the various moments of its history. In the catacombs, later during the great barbarian invasions, in the iron centuries of the Middle Ages, the Mass was the source of ever new graces; it is still so today that it may give us the strength to resist the great dangers threatening us.

Moreover, Christ daily returns really and substantially among us, not only for an hour during the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, but to remain continually with us in the tabernacle, to be there "the companion of our exile, patiently waiting for us, eager to hear and grant our prayers" and unceasingly to offer there to His Father adoration of infinite value.

Finally, Communion is the consummation of the gift of self. Goodness is essentially diffusive, it attracts, it gives itself to vivify us and to enrich us spiritually. This is especially true of the radiating goodness of God and of His Christ. In Communion, the Savior draws us and gives Himself, not only to humanity in general, but to each one of us if we wish it, and in an ever more intimate manner if we are faithful. He gives Himself, not that we should assimilate Him, for this would reduce Him to our level; but that we may be made more like to Him. "The bread, which we break," says St. Paul. "is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?" (21) It is Life itself that we receive.

Communion ought to incorporate us more and more into Christ, by increasing our humility, faith, confidence, and especially our charity, in order to make our hearts like to that of the Savior who died out of love for us. In this sense, each of our Communions should be substantially more fervent than the preceding one, that is, as far as fervor of the will is concerned; for each Communion ought not only to preserve but to increase the love of God in us, and thus dispose us to receive our Lord on the following day with not only an equal but a greater fervor of will, although it may be otherwise as regards sensible fervor, which is accidental.(22) There should be, as it were, an accelerated progress toward God, which recalls the acceleration of bodies as they gravitate toward the center which attracts them. As a stone falls more rapidly as it approaches the earth which attracts it, souls should advance more rapidly toward God as they draw near Him and are more attracted by Him. We find this idea expressed in many forms in the liturgy, and especially in the Adoro Te of St. Thomas Aquinas:

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas

I adore Thee devoutly, 0 hidden Deity, who art truly hidden beneath these figures; my heart submits entirely to Thee, and faints in contemplating Thee.

Fac me tibi semper magis credere,
In te spem habere, te diligere.

Make me believe Thee ever more and more, hope in Thee, and love Thee.

0 memoriale mortis Domini,
Panis vivus, vitam praestans homini:
Praesta meae menti de te vivere,
Et te illi semper dulce sapere.

0 memorial of the death of the Lord! Living bread giving life to man, grant that my soul may live by Thee and ever taste Thee with delight!

Pie pellicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine.

Merciful Pelican, Jesus Lord, unclean I am, cleanse me in Thy blood, of which a single drop suffices to cleanse the entire world of all its sin.

Jesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Ora fiat illud, quod tam sitio:
Ut te revelata cernens facie,
Visu sim beatus tuae gloriae. Amen.

Jesus, whom I now behold beneath these veils, grant, I pray Thee, what so ardently I desire, that contemplating Thee face to face, the vision of Thy glory may make me blessed. Amen.

Should a soul thus live daily by the Savior in Mass and Communion, it would certainly arrive at great intimacy with Him, at the intimacy which is that of the mystical life. The gifts of the Holy Ghost would grow proportionately in it, and it would attain to an increasingly more penetrating and delightful contemplation of the great mystery of our altars, of the infinite value of the Mass, which is like an eminent spring of ever new graces to which all succeeding generations must come and drink, that they may have the strength to arrive at the end of their journey towards eternity. Thus the prophet Elias, overcome by fatigue, renewed his strength by eating the loaf that came down from heaven, and was able to wfllk even to Horeb, a figure of the summit of perfection.

Christ says to us in Communion, as He said to St. Augustine: "I am the bread of the strong. . . . Thou wilt not convert Me into thee, as the food of thy flesh; but thou shalt be converted into Me." (23) He who truly receives Christ in Holy Communion is more and more incorporated in Him, living by His thought and by His love. He can say with St. Paul: "To me to live is Christ and to die is gain," for death is the entrance into unending life.

The doctrine of progressive incorporation in Christ will manifest its marvelous fecundity to the soul that wishes to live by it.(24)

First of all, in order to die to sin and its consequences, we will recall what St. Paul says: "We are buried together with Him (Christ) by baptism into death. . . that the body of sin may be destroyed." (25) "And they that are Christ's have crucified their flesh, with the vices and concupiscences"; (26) this is the death to sin through baptism and penance. Then, in the light of faith and under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the Christian should put on "the new (man), him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of Him that created him. . . . Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God," adds St. Paul, "holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience. . . . But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection." (27) This is the illuminative way of those who imitate Christ, who adopt His sentiments, the spirit of His mysteries, His passion,(28) His crucifixion,(29) His resurrection.(30) This is the way of the contemplation of the Savior's mysteries which all the saints have lived, even those of the active life, while recalling these words of the Apostle: "Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ." (31)

This road leads to continual union with the Savior, according to the sublime words of the Epistle to the Colossians (3: 1-3): "If you be is.en with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead (to the world); and your life is hid with Christ in God." Then the peace of the Savior reigns in the soul that delights in saying to Him: "Lord, give Thyself to me, and give me to Thyself." In the saints, this union is like an almost uninterrupted communion. A glance, a movement of the soul toward Christ, tell Him our desires, present to Him our weakness, our good will, our disposition to be faithful to Him, and the thirst we have for Him. Such is the way of the loving contemplation of the great mysteries of Christ; it has its aridities and its joys. Those who experience it, see in it the normal prelude of the vision of heaven.

Some delude themselves, pretending to reach union with God without having continual recourse to our Lord. They will scarcely attain any but an abstract knowledge of God. They will not reach that delightful, living, quasi-experimental knowledge, as well as an elevated and practical knowledge, called wisdom, which makes the soul see God and His providence in the most insignificant things. The quietists fell into this error, holding that the sacred humanity of our Savior is a means useful only at the beginning of the spiritual life.(32) St. Teresa reacted especially against this point, reminding us that we should not of our own accord leave aside in prayer the consideration of Christ's humanity; it is the road which gently leads souls to His divinity.(33) We ought often to think of the immense spiritual riches of the holy soul of Christ, of His intellect, of His will, of His sensibility. By so doing we will come to a better understanding of the meaning of His words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He is the way according to His humanity; as God, He is the very essence of truth and life.



1. C . Emile Mersch, S.J., Le corps mystique du Christ. Etude de theologie historique, 1936; Morale et corps mystique, 1937. Ernest Mura, Le corps mystique du Christ, sa nature et sa vie divine d'apres saint Paul et la theologie, 2nd ed., 1936.

2. John 1:16. Cf. St. Thomas, IIIa, q.8: "Of the Grace of Christ, as He Is the Head of the Church" (in eight articles). Commentum in Joannem, 15: 1-7: "I am the vine; you the branches."

3. John 15: 1-7.

4. Matt. 6:33.

5. Rom. 11:17.

6. See I Cor. 12:27.

7. Eph. 4: 15 f.

8. Col. 3:15.

9. See Ia IIae, q.III, a.2.

10. See IIIa, q.43, a. 2; q.48, a.6.

11. The act of charity ever living in the heart of Christ can always be the physical, instrumental cause of the graces that we receive. It suffices, moreover, that the instrument convey the influx of the principal cause, as the transmitter passes on the human word.

12. John 6: 27, 32 f.

13. Ibid., 34-36.

14. Ibid., 41.

15. Ibid., 43, 47-52,55 f., 64.

16. Ibid., 68 f.

17. Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:25; Luke :15-20; I Cor. 11:23-25.

18. Luke 22: 19.

19. See I Cor. 11: 24 f.

20. Heb. 7:25.

21. See I Cor. 10: 16.

22. An excellent Communion may be made in great sensible aridity, just as the prayer of Christ in Gethsemane was excellent.

23. Confessions, Bk. VII, chap. 10.

24. On this point consult the works of Dom Marmion: Christ, the Life of the Soul; Christ in His Mysteries; Christ, the Ideal of the Monk.

25. Rom. 6:4, 6.

26. Gal. 5: 24.

27. CoI. 3:10,12,14.