Of all the many movements within Protestantism, among the most disturbing is the notion that one can have Jesus but does not need the Church. In order for this to be true, one must separate the bridegroom from the bride. This is impossible:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Genesis 2:24]. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25, 29-32 RSVCE)
So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:6 RSVCE)
But why is the Church necessary? What did Jesus do on earth that he commissioned his apostles and their successors to do that is so important to us? What flows from the head of the church to His body and how does it get there? I’m going to focus on the source and summit of the Christian life: the sacrament of unity that we call the Eucharist.
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 14-20 NASB)
Evidently, Paul was acutely aware of the unity of head and body and parts of the body with one another. There should be no division of the head from the body and the parts of the body from each other. But, think about it! Our salvation is not just of the soul. It is body AND soul. Everybody needs nourishment to grow and reach its full potential — both body and soul. St. Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“Eat my flesh” [Jesus] says, “and drink my blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children (The Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3).
In Brant Pitre’s Bridegroom Messiah we read:
… [J]ust as Eve was given life by the miraculous gift of flesh from Adam, the first bridegroom, so too the Church — the bride of Jesus — receives her life through the twofold gift: the “living water” of the Holy Spirit that is given in baptism and the living “blood” of Jesus that is received in the Eucharist. And just as natural life was given to Eve, and, through Eve, to all humanity, through the flesh from the side of Adam, so supernatural life is given to the Church through the water and blood from the side of Jesus the Bridegroom.
The life of the Bride of Christ, one with the Bridegroom, receives her life and existence from Him and through the sacrament of unity — the Holy Eucharist — we grow in the fullness of life and unity. When we consider Jesus’ final prayer on Holy Thursday, this makes sense. Perfect unity can only come through being a partaker of perfect unity.
And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them: that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one …. (John 17:22-23 DRA)
We can only become the supernatural body of Christ by partaking in the supernatural body of Christ. We can only partake of the supernatural body of Christ though the very sacrament of unity he left us in His Church — the Holy Eucharist.