The mystical body of Christ

By Michele Chronister


Michele Chronister

We are all familiar with the passage from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which he presents the imagery of the body, in order to explain how we are all a part of the body of Christ. By the nature of our baptism, we are all so intimately united to Christ and each other that we are as united as the many parts of one body (with Christ as the head).

When we think of the way in which our physical bodies work, it is easy to understand how there can be no disunity between the members of the body - and even more so no disunity between the members and the head. All of the parts work together, and work under the direction of the brain. In just as intimate a way, the members of the mystical body of Christ need to work together, under his direction. Union with Christ and with the other members of his body (the Church) results in the health of us all.

What causes a lack of union? As people living in a world hurting from the Fall and original sin, we know well how our own sinfulness prevents us from being in union with each other. Our sin makes us judge each other, be jealous of each other, and lack compassion, patience, mercy or understanding.

What is it that makes union possible, despite all of that? The sacraments. In the sacraments, we receive grace that enables us to love each other as Christ loves us. We need the sacraments to be united in Christ’s mystical body. We need the freedom from original sin that Baptism brings, and the ongoing mercy received in Reconciliation. We need the Holy Spirit strengthening us in Confirmation. We need strengthening in our vocations through Matrimony and Holy Orders. We need the grace and healing of the Anointing of the Sick. And we need the Eucharist; for in it, Christ does the work of making us one with him and with each other.

This leads to our final point – the importance of each member of the body of Christ. It is unfortunate-but-indisputable that our modern world views the importance of an individual in light of his or her utilitarian value. When meeting someone new, most people will ask the question, “So, what do you do for a living?” but a person’s value as a human being is not determined by their job or by their contribution to the functioning of a society. A person’s value is intrinsic to them, as a human being and as a son or daughter of God. Children, for example, had little to no rights in the time of Christ, and they were viewed as being at the very lowest point in terms of social standing. Yet, Christ not only openly welcomed and blessed them, he encouraged others to do so and to imitate the example of the children and their childlike faith. Jesus also welcomed and embraced those who were sick or ailing in any way, despite the fact that they were also looked down upon by society.

God does not view our value in light of our accomplishments. He sees the depths of our value, as beloved sons and daughters of his heavenly Father. Every part of the body is important. We cannot believe this to be true and not welcome and value the membership of persons with disabilities in the life of the Church. Persons with disabilities are not “other” in the life of the Church. They are irreplaceable individuals, without whom the Church is lacking in some way. The mystical Body of Christ functions best when all of the members are thriving, valued, and loved. Not only do persons with disabilities fail to thrive if they are not welcomed into the Church, the rest of the Church fails to thrive, too. We need all the members of the Body of Christ in our churches if we are to thrive as a whole.

Michele Chronister is the author of Handbook for Adaptive Catechesis: Serving Those with Special Needs.  This article was taken from a lecture for the online course from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, “Celebration of the Sacraments With Persons with Disabilities” which can be found at