The Expanding Universe - Ite Missa Est editorial
- 2022 Mar-Apr The Expanding Universe ♦ Restoring the balance ♦ New to tradition? ♦ How long the Eucharistic fast? ♦ Choosing a school for your children
- Ite Missa Est archive
The Expanding Universe
Recent editorials of the Ite Missa Est have lamented the narrowing existence of the technology-driven, rationalist, atheistic, materialistic, and increasingly authoritarian monoculture in which we find ourselves (The Shrinking Universe Nov-Dec 2021 and Going Chinese Jan-Feb 2021), and have pointed to living membership of the Mystical Body of Christ as the only way of true freedom. This editorial expands upon the meaning of living membership of the Mystical Body of Christ as the goal of the Christian life, how it may be acquired, its degrees of perfection and how it sets us free.
Doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ
The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ is developed with great clarity and beauty in Pope Pius XII's encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943). The term Mystical Body of Christ is an analogy that serves as both a definition and description of the Roman Catholic Church:
13. If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ – which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church  – we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression "the Mystical Body of 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 analogy is this: just as the individual members of a body are united by a natural animating principle (the soul) to contribute the common good of the living whole, so individual souls are united by a supernatural, animating principle (the Divine Life) for the common good of the Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ (see Table 1).
Living membership of the Mystical Body Christ
A man becomes a living member of the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism – usually sacramental baptism, but possibly by baptism of desire or even baptism of blood. At baptism, sanctifying grace elevates the soul to a new order of existence and adorns it with supernatural virtues (the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the moral virtues, chief of which are the cardinal virtues) and gifts (the seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost) so that he might live with a supernatural life and pose supernatural acts.
As long as he remains disposed to the supernatural life (by freedom from mortal sin), and as long as he is free from obstacles to pose supernatural acts (by freedom from vice), the man will grow in supernatural perfection – he will become more intensely or perfectly animated by the supernatural life.
Degrees of perfection in the supernatural life
The Fathers of the Church and theologians identify three degrees or stages in the advancement of souls in the supernatural life: the purgative way. the illuminative way and the unitive way. These are described in the Catholic Encyclopaedia as follows and summarised in Table 2.
1. Purgative Way
This is the way, or state, of those who are beginners, that is, those who have obtained justification but have not their passions and evil inclinations in such a state of subjugation that they can easily overcome temptations, and who, in order to preserve and exercise charity and the other virtues have to keep up a continual warfare within themselves.
2. The illuminative Way
The illuminative way is that of those who are in the state of progress and have their passions better under control, so that they easily keep themselves from mortal sin, but who do not so easily avoid venial sins, because they still take pleasure in earthly things and allow their minds to be distracted by various imaginations and their hearts with numberless desires, though not in matters that are strictly unlawful. It is called the illuminative way because in it the mind becomes more and more enlightened as to spiritual things and the practice of virtue.
3. The unitive way
The unitive way is the way of those who are in the state of the perfect, that is, those who have their minds so drawn away from all temporal things that they enjoy great peace, who are neither agitated by various desires nor moved by any great extent by passion, and who have their minds chiefly fixed on God and their attention turned, either always or very frequently, to Him. It is the union with God by love and the actual experience and exercise of that love. It is called the state of "perfect charity" because souls who have reached that state are ever prompt in the exercise of charity by loving God habitually and by frequent and efficacious acts of that Divine virtue.
The expanding universe
Man escapes the shrinking universe of the modern world, by launching into the infinite expanse of the spiritual universe. In this universe, he has complete freedom in so far as he directs himself to God. For the perfection of freedom is in the act of choosing good. It follows therefore that the greatest freedom is to be found in the act of choosing the greatest good which is God, not as a man choosing, but as man participating in God's infinite act of choosing Himself.
Now, this participation in God's infinite act of freedom is made possible by man's being a living member of the Mystical Body of Christ and is in proportion to the intensity of the supernatural life in him, such that, the more advanced he is in the spiritual life – the more he lives by supernatural charity – the greater freedom he has.
Time to escape
As we enter the season of Lent, now is the time to make a bid for freedom. Now is the time to break free from the shrinking universe which is the modern world by making a serious effort to advance in the spiritual life. We begin by having a firm intention. Then, with God's grace, we detach ourselves from sin and from all those things that are obstacles to freedom: material things, spiritual things (such as affection for family and friends) and our own will. Then, one by one, we take them all back again, but in a way which is ordered by supernatural charity to God, so that dying to the world this Lent, we may rise free with Christ this Easter as perfect members of His Mystical Body.
In Jesu et Maria,
Rev. Robert Brucciani