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Dear catholic.com visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, catholic.com would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find catholic.com helpful? Please make a gift today. Thank you. Wishing you a blessed Lenten season.

Jesus Is Christ. Christ Is Jesus.

Trent Horn

Recently Msgr. Kevin Irwin wrote an article for America magazine entitled “The Eucharist is the body of Christ, not the body of Jesus. What we call it matters.” Msgr. Irwin worries that “phrases [of the Roman missal] can be misquoted and possibly lead to heterodox ideas.”

Irwin claims, as one example, that this happens when someone refers to the Eucharist as “the body of Jesus.” But he never gives an example of someone doing so; instead, his own explanation creates confusion and can lead to heterodox ideas:

To describe the Eucharist as the “body of Jesus” or “the real presence of Jesus” would be too limiting to the historical body and earthly reality of the Word made flesh and the incarnate Son of God. The “body of Christ” refers to the entirety of the mystery of the totality of Christ: his whole earthly ministry and also his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand to intercede for us in heaven. The Eucharist is the real presence of this body of Christ, not Jesus only.

This explanation risks causing more problems than it solves.

Yes, the Eucharist is more than just the sacrifice of Calvary under the form of bread and wine. We receive the glorified body and blood of Christ that existed after his resurrection.  “The bread and wine consecrated by the priest are changed into the body and blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven” (Paul VI, Credo of the People of God 24).

However, “Body of Christ” does not refer to, as Irwin says, “the totality of Christ: his whole earthly ministry and also his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.” The Tridentine text Irwin is quoting from specifies four things the Eucharist contains: the body of Christ, his blood, his soul, and his divinity. This is a reference to Christ’s physical body, in contrast to his blood, soul, and divinity.

Saying the Eucharist contains “the Body of Christ” does not mean the Eucharist contains a “trans-temporal body” spanning the entirety of the Incarnation from the annunciation to today. In fact, the quote from the Credo of the People of God rules that out. The Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood “enthroned gloriously in heaven” right now, not when his body was on Earth.

Moreover, saying the Eucharist is not “only” Jesus risks implying that “Jesus” and “Christ” are two separate persons. It sounds like “Christ” must be present in the Eucharist because “Jesus” would be insufficient. However, the title “Christ” and the name “Jesus” refer to the same divine person – the Word that became flesh. Those who try to divide the Son into “Jesus” and “Christ” risk the heresy of Nestorianism. Fr. Richard Rohr comes perilously close to that when he says “Jesus and Christ give us a God who is both personal and universal.”

Msgr. Irwin is not courting heresy like Fr. Rohr, but his wording can still confuse people. He defends his statement by saying “The Roman Missal assiduously avoids using the title “Jesus” without a modifier”. Msgr. Irwin then says that, during the liturgy, Jesus is always called “Lord” or “Christ”, never just “Jesus”.

Assuming this is accurate, that doesn’t mean the liturgy texts are affirming that “Christ” represents everything the Son did in the Incarnation, whereas “Jesus” only represents his earthly ministry and death. After all, Philippians 2:9 says, “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend”. A better explanation would be that “Jesus” is a human name, whereas “Lord” and “Christ” are titles that Jesus holds. Therefore, it is fitting that in biblical and magisterial documents we usually (but not always) include Jesus’ titles like “Christ” or “Lord” to give him proper respect.

For example, if someone said this was “Monsignor Irwin’s” article, or “Monsignor’s” article rather than “Kevin’s” article, that wouldn’t mean those descriptors are necessary. This wasn’t something “only Kevin” wrote. “Monsignor Irwin” and “Kevin” refer to the same person, but one is a more acceptable way to refer to him in most contexts. Both terms refer to the same person. In the same way, whatever is true of “Christ” is true of “Jesus”.

Jesus was born. Christ was born. Jesus sits at the father’s right hand. Christ sits at the Father’s right hand.

So, because I agree with Msgr. Irwin that “words matter”, I would recommend choosing different words to explain why the Eucharist is called the “Body of Christ”—words that do not have the potential to divide God the Son into a “Christ” and a “Jesus,” who are really one and the same person.

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