That We May Be or Because We Are His Body

The United Methodist communion ritual contains this phrase in the epiclesis of the Eucharistic prayer:

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.

In The Shape of the Liturgy, Dom Gregory Dix suggests we might have this backwards.

We make the sacrifice dependent on the sacrament. But the primitive church approached the matter from the opposite direction. They said that because the eucharist is essentially an action and the church in doing that action is simply Christ’s Body performing His will, the eucharistic action is necessarily His action of sacrifice, and what is offered must be what He offered. The consequences of His action are what He declared they would be: ‘This is My Body’ and ‘This is My Blood’. They made the sacrament depend upon the sacrifice.

It is obvious that such a view requires us to take the phrase ‘the Body of Christ’ as applied both to the church and to the sacrament not merely as a metaphor, however vivid, but as a reality, as the truth of things in God’s sight. (Chapter IX, The Meaning of the Eucharist, p. 286)

If the church had not already seen itself as the body of Christ in the world, Dix said, it could not have offered its bread and wine as Christ’s body and blood.

“Make them be for us … that we may be” is a clever phrase, perhaps too clever for its own good. The language itself is either misleading or needs unpacking.

The first “be” is inceptive. This bread and wine were ordinary food; now we ask that you make them something more, something they were not before. The second be “be,” however, is durative. In communion, we continue to be the body of Christ. We become members of the body of Christ in baptism, not in communion. Baptism is the sacrament of beginning; communion is the sacrament of participation. Baptism unites; in communion, the union endures.