VI. A Body Both Suffering and Glorious: The Mystical Union of Christ and the Church

In this volume, the author explores the meaning of the Church as it calls its members out of the world and into the mystical Body of Christ and shares in Christ’s ministry. The four marks of the Church mentioned in the Creed (One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic) and the teaching authority entrusted to the pope and the bishops in union with him are discussed.
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1. The Church as Mystical Body of Christ

a. Moses raising his arms in prayer to support the battle between the Jews and Amelek. The Church is a key collaborator in human endeavor.

b. The Church is disturbingly both divine and human. In its divinity it is the Body of Christ in its members with Christ as its head. It is also divine in its inspiration under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Together you could say this is the divine body and soul of the Church. But at the same time, the Church is made up of imperfect and even fallen humans…holy and in need of saving at the same time.

c. The Church is not a social club. It is more like an organism. When one part suffers the whole suffers. This is why Jesus can so closely relate to the Church so as to be able to say to Saul (later Paul) at the time of his conversion, “Saul, Saul. Why are you persecuting ME.”

2. The Church as Ekkelia

a. Sin and what is opposed to God (evil in all its forms) divides. The Church unites and calls all to gather together in worship as a kind of spiritual“magnet”. The Bible tells us as much when we hear that when Christ is raised up “he will draw all things to himself”.

b. This Church was founded on the rock of Peter and Jesus says that this Church he has come to found will never be destroyed. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. The word used to describe this Church in the passage is “Ekklesia” which means “to call out from”.

c. The Church’s role is, more accurately, to convey a three-fold calling from God. First, it calls us out of the world of sin and corruption and death. At the same time, it calls us into the divine life of the Trinity. Then finally it calls us (now transformed by faith) to go out once again…to be sent out to proclaim the Good News to the nations and to draw more people to Christ, thus continuing the cycle.

3. The Four Sacred Marks of the Church Mentioned in the Creed

a. One …because God is one. This expresses not some desire to establish a totalitarian regime but God’s desire to form us into one family united under Him. This is why all Catholics must strive to engage in inter-religious dialog and ecumenical efforts. This is in response to Jesus’ prayer in John 17..”that we may be one…that we may be one…that we may be perfectly one”. This goal of unity is not fulfilled through bland tolerance but through real dialogue and discussion of differences in beliefs as well as commonalities.

b. Holy …because of God’s influence and guidance. This influence (God’s grace) produces saints, virtue, good works, etc. But this tenant does not mean that members of this Church are free of sin. We are saints and sinners. We hold these treasures in earthen vessels. We are in need of sanctification. In other words we live within the tension between “already holy” and “not yet”. Those members who are now in heaven (“The Church Triumphant”) have already achieved sanctification and can be said to be holy via God’s grace. However, those still in the world (“The Church Militant”) and those being purified(“The Church Suffering”) have not yet fully achieved the goal. The second reality does not negate the first.

c. Catholic …because the call to come and follow Christ is a universal one (“Catholic” means universal). This word in the Creed is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. Christ commanded us to go and preach to all nations and to evangelize to all peoples and this mission and goal is best exemplified by Peter’s first public preaching of the Good News to the various pilgrims in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost. For this reason, it is possible to consistently preach the theological expressions of our faith in a consistent way while at the same time permitting various cultural expressions and languages to be used in that expression.

d. Apostolic…because the tradition of our faith was handed on to us from the apostles. Its teachings, therefore, are not only consistent across the globe but also down through the centuries. This expression is not only seen in the teaching and customs of our faith but also in the hierarchy. The bishops of the world can each trace their office back directly to the Twelve Apostles.

4. The Church Preserved From Error in Teaching on Faith and Morals

a. The Church is not founded on the idea of a democracy or debating society. Its integrity rests on divine revelation. The Church’s integrity is protected by the Magisterium and the teaching office of the Pope. We believe that the Pope, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in union with the bishops of the world is infallible when he speaks on the area of faith and morals. Note that this protection does not apply to earthly matters of administration. Neither does it mean that popes or clergy, in general, are free of sin. Neither does it apply to changing Church disciplines (e.g. rules on fasting, liturgical practices, etc.). This only applies to situations where the pope teaches or pronounces about matters of faith and morals (e.g. teachings on the Trinity or the Incarnation, teachings on the proper interpretation of the Ten Commandments, etc.). This is what is meant by Jesus’ promise to Peter and the other apostles that “the gates of hell will not prevail against” the Church that Jesus came to found.

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