The Mystical Body of Christ is a reprint of a Fulton Sheen classic from 80 years ago! Let that sink in for a minute. In 1935, Pius XI was Pope. Vatican II was still roughly thirty years away, and World War II was on the horizon. Can a book this old still be relevant to the Church and culture today? Or is this merely a book that must be read in the context which it was written? Keep reading and find out.
Before one reads the text of The Mystical Body of Christ, we are treated to a Foreword by Bishop Robert Barron and an Introduction by Brandon Vogt. Both men work at Word of Fire Catholic Ministries and do great work for the Catholic Church. Immediately, after these two sections we dive into the words of the beloved Bishop Fulton Sheen. He explains in his introduction that there hasn't been a definitive study on the Church since the Reformation. He attributes this to a lack of persecution. You have no need to define yourself; defend yourself when someone isn't questioning, doubting, or persecuting you. It makes sense.
The book begins with an explanation of the Church through the lens of Jesus Christ. There is no better place to start than this, because the two cannot be separated. Sheen begins by explaining the three phases of the Life of Christ - the earthly life, the glorified life, and the mystical life. He then devotes an entire chapter to the Mystical Body of Christ. This is a long chapter with a lot of spiritual meat to chew on. I found myself reading and re-reading passages to try and digest the topic more fully, and I truly believe I could go back and re-read that chapter and still gain more and more from it. For example, Sheen instructs us that, "Christ and His Mystical Body make but one Mystical Person. A Mystical Person has a double existence: one in Himself as Head of the Mystical Body, and the other in the Body of the faithful who receive his Life." Read that several times and let it sink in. The following chapters then more fully discuss Christ as Head of the Body and the Holy Spirit as the Soul of the Church. Other chapters talk about infallibility, authority of the Church, priesthood, and Mary, just to name a few of the 28 chapters.
The chapter entitled "The Sacrifice of the Mystical Body" was a very beautiful chapter on Christ's Crucifixion. Sheen begins by explaining that before most men die, they prepare a last will or testament. Jesus instituted a memorial of His sacrifice in the form of the Eucharist. He goes on to explain that the Mass is more than a memorial service of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, but is instead the sacrifice on the Cross. Sheen also explains that the offertory of the Mass is a co-offering of Christ and us and the consecration is also a co-consecration of Jesus and us. Sheen goes on to say, "Calvary, then, is the source of Divine Life; the altar is the canal. Calvary is the Treasury of merit; the Mass is its application; Calvary is the reservoir of Grace; the Mass is the open flood-gates pouring it into our souls."
When I received this book, I was expecting some practical theology from the original television evangelist. However, this book was written well before his time on the airwaves, and when he was still a professor at Catholic University of America (CUA). Thus, this book provides an astonishing glimpse at his theological genius. Those who studied under him at CUA were blessed indeed, and all of us are blessed that he eventually shared his genius with the whole world. This book will take you some time to work your way through, but if you can persevere to the end of it, you will be all the richer. Five stars.
This book was provided to me for free by Ave Maria Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!