One of the prayers of the Mass that I never understood very well was the prayer that goes like this:
grant that we, who are nourished
by the Body and Blood of your Son
and filled with his Holy Spirit,
may become one body, one spirit in Christ.
It is easy for me to understand the first part of this prayer, about becoming one Body in Christ. We talk about the Church being the Mystical Body, and it is not hard to imagine each Christian being like a little living cell in the great body of Christ. Just as every little cell in the human body is kept alive by the nutrients in the blood stream, so every cell in the Body of Christ is kept alive by the lifeblood flowing from Christ.
What I did not understand in this prayer was the idea that we should become “one spirit in Christ.”
This had always been a puzzle to me until I read the office of readings this morning from St. Cyril of Alexandria. The holy bishop said,
With regard to our unity in the Spirit, we may say, folliwng the same line of thought, that all of us who have received one and the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, are united intimately, both with one another and with God. Taken separately, we are many, and Christ sends the Spirit, who is both the Father’s Spirit and his own, to dwell in each of us. Yet that Spirit, being one and indivisible, gathers together those who are distinct from each other as individuals, and causes them all to be seen as a unity in himself. Just as Christ’s sacred flesh has power to make those in whom it is present into one body, so the one, indivisible Spirit of God, dwelling in all, causes all to become one in spirit.
After reading this, I understood three things.
1) Praying to become “one body, one spirit” is two different ways of saying the same thing; we are praying for unity as a Church. Our desire for unity is a desire for the greatest possible unity, which is to be united as God is united. This is humanly impossible, but it is possible through the grace of Jesus Christ.
2) The part of the prayer that speaks of “one body” points towards unity in Christ, and especially unity through the most Holy Eucharist. The prayer to become “one spirit” emphasizes our unity that comes through the working of the Holy Spirit.
3) There is something more to unity than being a body, as the “body politic” of the United States demonstrates to us. This is the unity of being of the same heart and mind. I am not just talking about being on the same page or being on the same wavelength, but being animated by the same spirit.
We might think about the prayer in terms of each parish. A parish should be one body, meaning coming together under the same roof, but through prayer and devotion to God it is our hope that the parish becomes one in spirit, meaning having the same cares and concerns, and sharing the same passionate love for God the Father and for Jesus Christ.
The other place we might apply this prayer is to the family. A husband and wife become one through their union of bodies as God intended, and they also become one through living together under the same roof. They should not stop at being “one flesh” but they should seek to become “one spirit,” sharing the same cares and concerns, being moved by the same passions, and ultimately united by the same love for God the Father and for Jesus Christ. +