Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Church as the People of God

In Part V, "The Ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council," in his book The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism, theologian Richard McBrien says the following about Lumen Gentium, or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which was approved by the council in its third session in 1964:

The second chapter of Lumen gentium is entitled “The People of God.” In teaching that the Church is a mystery, or sacrament, the council underscored the point that the Church, like a sacrament, has a visible and an invisible side. The invisible side is the presence of the triune God. The visible side is primarily the baptized persons who constitute the Church. The Church is not something apart from the baptized to which they “belong” as recipients and beneficiaries of its principal assets, namely, the sacraments. The People of God are the Church. Whatever structures and other institutional elements exist within the Church are to assist the People of God to fulfill their mission and ministries. These elements, therefore, exist to serve the whole People of God, not the other way around. Indeed, according to the fourth chapter, on the laity in the Church, the laity share in the threefold office of Christ: of teaching, ruling, and sanctifying. The lay apostolate is no longer conceived as a delegated participation in the ministry of the hierarchy, but as a direct sharing in the mission of the Church through Baptism and Confirmation and then “communicated and nourished” by the Eucharist.

It seems to me that as baptized Catholics we must understand and take to heart what the council fathers fought so hard to give us and what the Church hierarchy, since 1979, has been in the process of attempting to reverse. It is not by virtue of our obedience to the dictates of the Roman Curia that we are the People of God, and no matter who we are, as Catholics we are entitled to receive the sacraments from those whose duty it is "to serve the whole People of God." Every priest, bishop, and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, along with each lay person, belongs equally to the People of God and is therefore equally a sinner who is striving for perfection. We must remember this, even if the hierarchy chooses not to remember.

We must not mistake the organization or the institution for the real Church. As Father McBrien also says:

The council’s understanding of the Church as mystery, or sacrament, represents a transcending of the preconciliar concept of the Church as primarily an institution or organization. In the latter instance, one “belongs” to the Church; in the former, one participates in the life of the Church, and with all its other members, constitutes the very reality of the Church.

No comments:

Post a Comment