We find in St Thomas Aquinas’s reflection on the Incarnation of Christ an interesting point: God did not have to redeem us by assuming human body. There are bound to be other ways in which God could have saved us. The humanity of Christ, then, becomes an especially significant instrument of our redemption.
The humiliated and then raised and glorified body of Christ becomes a visible sign of redemption that stretches out across time and space to reach all creation, beginning with Adam. Consider the following passage from an ancient sermon read during the Tenebrae of Holy Saturday:
“The Lord goes in to them [in Hades] holding his victorious weapon, his Cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'May Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”
In this passage the hand of Christ, his Body, raises Adam to life. As Catholics we all believe in true humanity of Christ [natus ex Maria Virgine et homo factus est] and in his bodily descent to hell [descendit ad inferna]. But the consequences of Incarnation are even more radical: Christ makes all his followers members of his Body, the Church, and gives us physical, bodily signs: the sacraments. Take this and eat it, this is my Body; take it and drink it, this is my Blood.
If we believe in something so unimaginable as God himself becoming one of us for our salvation, if we believe something so astonishing that, imperfect as we are, we are made members of that holy Body, the Church, why would we doubt yet another amazing grace which is that through his own promise Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist?
The Body and Blood of Christ in their sacramental, mystical form under the species of bread and wine are left for us so that our lives as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, may be strengthened and nourished. This again is part of Jesus's promise: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:54) This is the radical consequence of the Incarnation of Christ: it is an extraordinary level of intimacy with God
who not only walked on earth 2,000 years ago and established us as members of his body in the Church but also feeds us with his Body and Blood.
Let us therefore not be embarrassed about the physicality of our Catholic faith, with its sacraments and signs, with bodily prayer as well as singing and praying in the silence of one's heart. Our faith has all these elements because our nature is physical as well as spiritual and because God assumed it in the Incarnation. And let us be thankful for the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ that so perfectly corresponds to our needs as it nourishes our hearts and our spirits, and as it feeds and purifies all our senses: touch and vision, smell, taste and hearing, when we reply to the ministers words:
'The Body of Christ'. 'Amen'.