The Body of Christ

Question: When holy Communion is distributed, why is “The Body of Christ” said? Why not say, “The Body and Blood of Christ.” Or better yet, “This is Jesus.”  

­Name withheld, Alabama

Answer: We use the word “body” for several reasons. First of all, Jesus himself used the word “body” (soma in Greek) when giving the Eucharist for the first time: “Take and eat this is my Body (soma).” Hence we, in conformity to Christ, use this way of speaking of the Eucharist. 

Second, both the English word “body” and the Greek word “soma” can refer strictly to the physical dimension of a person or more broadly to the whole person. We can also do this in the plural such as when we speak of the “body of believers,” or the “body-politic.” Here we do not refer to a physical body, but rather to the sum total or majority of some group. 

Hence, we do not exclude any dimension of Christ by referring to his “Body,” as if we were only referring to his flesh.  

Rather, “Body” here refers to the whole Christ. Surely it pertains to a living human body (and Jesus is quite alive) to have not only flesh, but also blood and soul together.  

And while we do speak of what is in the Chalice more specifically as the Blood of Christ, this is only to distinguish its species (i.e., what we perceive) from the host. But once again, Jesus is alive and glorified and his body, blood, soul and divinity are together. Hence, even in the smallest drop of Precious Blood, the whole Christ is received.


Question: Our CCD students never received a penance at recent confessions. The priest involved did not deny this, but offered little explanation. Is the giving of a penance by the priest required, and is the performance of it necessary for the sacrament to be valid? 

Name withheld, Milwaukee, Wis.

Answer: The priest is required to impose a penance, or satisfaction on the penitent. It should be helpful, prudent, just and suitable based on the kind and number of sins, and on the character and the condition of the penitent.  

The priest is only excused from imposing a penance when there is some physical or moral inability on the part of the penitent to perform it — for example, if the penitent is near death or too weak. 

The penitent has a serious obligation to accept and fulfill the reasonable penance imposed by the confessor. If a penitent considers a penance unreasonable they are free to ask for another penance from the same or a different confessor. 

The giving and fulfilling of the penance does not, per se, affect the validity of the absolution that is given, unless perchance the penitent approaches confession with such a determined will to refuse any penance that it affects the necessary contrition he must bring. 

More often, the failure to give or fulfill a penance is due to forgetfulness, and in such cases the validity of the absolution is not affected.  

If, however, the giving of or fulfilling of a penance is intentionally neglected, while the validity of the absolution may not be affected, one does incur sin. The gravity of that sin is weightier if the material of the confession was grave or serious. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 26750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.