By Jayson M. Brunelle, M.Ed., CAGS
Article completed on May 19th, 2013; Pentecost Sunday
October 11, 2012, marks the 50th anniversary of the opening session of the Second Vatican Council. Blessed Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was elected to the papacy in October of 1958, at the age of 77. Much to everyone’s surprise, Pope John, less than three months into what was expected by many to be a “transitional” and therefore uneventful papacy, shocked both the Curia and the entire Catholic world with his announcement of a solemn convocation of all the world’s bishops, to be held in the grand halls of St. Peter’s Basilica. Thus, the Second Vatican Council was conceived, a Council whose goal, mission and purpose was, essentially, to recover and reconcile the spirit of the earliest Christian communities and the writings of the early Church Fathers with the expectations, situations and genuine needs of contemporary, post-industrial, twentieth-century man. This purpose and/or mission of the Council was clearly in keeping with how the Church had always viewed itself, as “ever ancient, and ever new” (St. Augustine).
In addition to this two-fold goal of Vatican II, this Council was to be a truly “Ecumenical” Council, as the Church Fathers had come to recognize the radical importance of setting a new, positive example of genuine fraternal charity in the form of ecumenical outreach and dialogue by inviting Christians of different denominations, not in communion with Rome, as well as members of various other ancient faith traditions, to be present at the Council as invited observers.
Of the 16 documents that emerged from the Council, four documents, in particular, stand out among the rest as “Constitutions,” which, essentially, are documents of the highest caliber, demanding full, unconditional assent of both intellect and will by all the faithful, without exception. The four Constitutions here spoken of are Dei Verbum, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium. This last mentioned document, Lumen Gentium, was solemnly promulgated on November 21, 1964, by Pope Paul VI, who continued, and ultimately brought to conclusion, the Ecumenical Council that his predecessor had begun.
This Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium, has played a most significant role in defining the nature, mission and identity of the Catholic Church in contemporary times, and has had a monumental impact on theology in general, ecclesiology in particular, and additionally in the thought, preaching and writings of the four post-conciliar popes, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, all of whom were present at, and participated in the Council.
The essay that follows highlights some of the more salient themes that characterize the aforementioned document. For the sake of precision and accuracy, a summary of and occasional brief commentary on each of the eight chapters that comprise the document shall be presented in chronological order. Thus, the sections/chapters to be covered shall include (1) The Mystery of the Church; (2) On the People of God; (3) On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular on the Episcopate; (4) The Laity; (5) The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church; (6) Religious; (7) The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and its Union with the Church in Heaven; (8) The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.
The “Introduction” contains, as it were, the thesis of the document, as the Council Fathers explain that since “Christ is the Light of nations,” (which is the English translation of the Latin title, Lumen Gentium) the “sacred synod…eagerly desires…to bring the light of Christ to all men” (LG, 1). Therefore, “since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of…union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires…to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission” (LG, 1). This, then, constitutes the purpose and nature of the document.
“The Mystery of the Church”
Chapter One, entitled, “The Mystery of the Church,” provides a summary of the very nature of the Church as both the visible and invisible reality through which all persons are called to participate in the Trinitarian, divine life of God through, with and in Christ Jesus. “Fallen in Adam, God the Father did not leave men to themselves, but ceaselessly offered helps to salvation, in view of Christ the Redeemer, ‘who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature’” (LG, 2). God “planned to assemble in the holy Church all those who would believe in Christ” (LG, 2). Thus, God’s plan was to reestablish all of creation in His Son, the Christ, through whom all persons would be enabled to become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters in Christ. This is accomplished chiefly through the Church’s sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Baptism grafts and unites the elect to Christ’s Mystical Body, and enables them to participate in Christ’s work of Redemption, perpetuated in the Sacred Liturgy. “As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7) is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and in the sacrament of the Eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 10:17) is both expressed and brought about. All men are called to this union with Christ, who is the light of the world, from whom we go forth, through whom we live, and toward whom our whole life strains” (LG, 3).
After Christ had accomplished his sublime work of redemption which, as stated above, is continued and renewed in an unbloody fashion each time the holy sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated, the Holy Spirit of God was sent on the day of Pentecost in order to continue and bring to fruition the Church’s work of sanctification. “The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16). In them he prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons” (LG, 4). Christ, in preaching the “good news” of the Gospel, established his kingdom on earth, which is the Church. Having endured his passion and death, the risen Christ sent his Spirit in accordance with his promise to the disciples, that they would be led into the fullness of the truth. “From this source the Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding his precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God and to be on earth the initial budding forth of that kingdom” (LG, 5).
The nature of the kingdom of God, or the Church established by Christ, is conveyed and depicted by the Lord via the use of metaphors. For instance, “the Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ (Jn 10:1-10). It is a flock of which God himself foretold he would be the shepherd (cf. Is 40:11; Ex 34:11), and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds, are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ himself, the good shepherd and the prince of the shepherds (cf. Jn 10:11; 1 Pt 5:4), who gave his life for the sheep (cf. Jn 10:11-15)” (LG, 6). The Church is the Building of God, as Christ refers to himself as “the stone which the builders have rejected which has become the cornerstone” (Mt 21:42), and this edifice is built on the foundation of the apostles. Additionally, “the true vine is Christ who gives life and the power to bear abundant fruit to the branches, that is, to us…” (Jn 15:1-5).
While Christ uses a multiplicity of metaphors to convey the nature of the Church, as has been shown, Lumen Gentium points out the additional metaphors of the Church as “mother” (Gal 4:26), and the “spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb, whom Christ ‘loved and for whom he delivered himself up that he might sanctify her’ (Eph 5:26), whom he unites to himself by an unbreakable covenant, and whom, once purified, he willed to be cleansed and joined to himself, subject to him in love and fidelity (cf. Eph 5:24), and whom, finally, he filled with heavenly gifts for all eternity, in order that we may know the love of God and of Christ for us, a love which surpasses all knowledge” (cf. Eph 3:19) (LG, 6). While on earth, the Church “journeys in a foreign land” (cf. 2 Cor 5:6).
“By communicating his Spirit, Christ made his brothers…mystically the components of his own body….Through Baptism, we are formed in the likeness of Christ: ‘For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13). In this sacred rite a oneness with Christ’s death and resurrection is both symbolized and brought about: ‘For we were buried with him by means of Baptism into death,’ and if ‘we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be so in the likeness of his resurrection also’” (Rm 6:4-5) (LG, 7). It is precisely in the partaking of the Eucharist that we are united with both Christ and with each other: “‘because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread’” (1 Cor 10:17) (LG, 7). Thus, we are truly members of the one Mystical Body of Christ, with each individual having his own unique role, mission and charism. “From all this it follows that if one member endures anything, all the members co endure it, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice (cf. 1 Cor 12:26) (LG, 7).
Chapter one continues on to speak of the Holy Spirit as the principle of unification which binds Christ, the head, to his Mystical Body, the Church. Thus, the Spirit can be compared to the human soul, or the “life-principle” in man, which unites the diverse members and simultaneously acts as the animating principle.
The document proceeds to explain the intrinsic unity of (1) the earthly, hierarchical Church, “the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which [Christ] communicates truth and grace to all” and (2) the invisible, Mystical Body of the Church that transcends both space and time. These two radically inter-connected realities “are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and human element” (LG, 8). The document uses the analogy of the Hypostasis in Christ, whereby Christ’s perfect humanity and his perfect divinity are truly, inseparably united in a hypostatic union in the one Divine Person of Christ. Thus, the Church, like Christ, is simultaneously human and divine, earthly and heavenly.
Chapter One concludes with the above articulated clarification, and summarizes the Church’s nature and essence thusly: “This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after his resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd (Jn 21:17), and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority (cf. Mt. 28:18), which he erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tm 3:15). This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the Successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity” (LG, 8).
“On the People of God”
Chapter Two of Lumen Gentium – “On the People of God” – begins with an explanation of the communal nature of God’s call to and work of holiness and salvation; specifically, how God chooses to sanctify and save us as a “people.” We read that “God…does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased him to bring men together as one people, a people who acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness” (LG, 9). Thus, God elected and brought together his chosen people, the Israelites, revealing both Himself and His will to them, and establishing covenant relationships with them. God’s dealings with His chosen people, as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament, were, however, a prelude, preparation and a figure of his ultimate self-revelation and New Covenant in Christ Jesus. This New Covenant, or New Testament, was and is established in the Blood of Christ, the price of our salvation. Thus, “for those who believe in Christ, who are reborn…through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are finally established as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people…who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God’” (1 Pt 2:9-10) (LG, 9). Christ himself is the “head” of this “messianic” people, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells as in a temple, who are to abide by the new commandment to love as Christ loves. The end, or goal, is the kingdom of God, which Christ began on earth and which will be brought to perfection at the end of time, when Christ shall come again and return all of creation to the perfect glorification of the Father. Moreover, like the Israelites of old, who wandered in exile through the desert in search of their promised land, and were already called the Church of God; so too, the new Israel, “while in this present age goes in search of a future and abiding city, is called the Church of Christ” (LG, 9).
Christ, the High Priest of the new and eternal covenant, has established his people as “a kingdom and priests to God the Father” (cf. Rv 1:6; cf. 5:9-10). The document goes on to explain that “the baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of him who has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light” (cf. 1 Pt 2:4-10) (LG, 10). Thus, the document makes clear the fact that as the Christian People of God, having been incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ through Baptism, even the very least in rank amongst the laity have thereby been made participants and sharers in Christ’s Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly office. And it is primarily through our participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy that we, the Priestly People, exercise our common, royal priesthood by offering ourselves through, with and in Christ to the perfect glorification of the Eternal Father as “living sacrifice[s], holy and pleasing to God” (cf. Rm 12:1) (LG, 10). While the document emphasizes the exalted Priestly status of all the Baptized, it does not neglect to distinguish between the different types of participation in the one Priesthood of Christ. While it is true that the ministerial priesthood of those who have received the sacrament of Orders is interrelated with the common, royal priesthood of all the Baptized, it is additionally true that these two types of participation differ in both essence and in degree. “The ministerial priest, by the sacred powers he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity” (LG, 10). Elaborating on the role played by the laity, the document goes on to state the following: “Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God, and offer themselves along with It. Thus both by reason of the offering and through Holy Communion all take part in this liturgical service, not indeed, all in the same way but each in that way which is proper to himself. Strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ, they then manifest in a concrete way that unity of the People of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament” (LG, 11). Surrounding and leading to the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy, the “source and summit” of all the Church’s activity and that heavenly banquet which truly unites heaven and earth, there exist each of the remaining sacraments of the Church, which collectively constitute the fullness of the means of sanctification and, ultimately, the divinization of man, who is called to become by grace what Christ is by nature.
Paragraph 12 of Lumen Gentium addresses the Prophetic role of the People of God. Speaking on the Sensus fidelium, which literally translated means,”sense of the faithful,” the document has this to say: “The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to his name (cf. Heb 13:15). The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One (cf. Jn 2:20, 27), cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people’s supernatural discernment in matters of faith when ’from the bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the People of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the Word of God” (cf. Thes 2:13) (LG, 12). Unfortunately, this reality of the Sensus fidelium has, on not a few occasions, been mis-applied, misunderstood and misused by small factions of dissenters within the Church in an effort to effect changes in official Church teaching on fundamental issues of faith and morality which constitute the Sacred Deposit of Faith. Thus, it becomes essential to distinguish mere theological opinion, even if this latter is widely held, from those essential teachings of the faith that do, indeed, comprise the Sacred Deposit of Faith; truths which can never be “changed” or “altered” in any way due to the fact that they are not man-made but are, in fact, divinely revealed truths. The Magisterium has no authority to change or alter any of the truths of the faith; rather, its function as the official teaching body of the Church is to preserve, safeguard and articulate these truths which God Himself has revealed, He who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
In addition to the sacraments and the ministries within the Church by which God sanctifies His People, the Spirit additionally imparts certain special “charisms” “among the faithful of every rank” (LG, 12). The Church understands that the Spirit of God blows wherever the Spirit wills, and that ”By these gifts he makes [the faithful] fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute towards the renewal and building up of the Church” (LG, 12). Said charisms are to be submitted to the judgment and competence of the hierarchy, whose duty it is to “not…extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good” (cf. 1 Thes 5:12; 19-21) (LG, 12).
Paragraph 13 of the document addresses one of the single most misunderstood and controversial dogmas of the Church: “Outside the Church there is no salvation” (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus). Throughout the Church’s tumultuous history, especially during periods marked by significant theological controversy and/or schism (such as the Protestant Reformation), the Church felt the need to reinforce this teaching in an even more forceful fashion. An unfortunate consequence of the apparent “exclusionary” and negative articulation of this truth has given rise to significant misunderstanding of precisely what was/is meant by this phrase. Before we examine what is stated in Lumen Gentium, we would do well to look at how the Catechism of the Catholic Church has reformulated this truth of the faith in a more “inclusive” and positive fashion: ”How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Reformulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” (CCC 846).
Based on the above reformulation as contained in the Catechism, we are in a better position to examine the issue from the perspective of the conciliar document, which sheds a great and necessary light on an essential tenet of the faith that could otherwise very easily be misunderstood. Paragraph 13 begins by underscoring the fundamental reality that “though there are many nations there is but one People of God, which takes its citizens from every race, making them citizens of a kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature” (LG. 13). This passage is most important to keep in mind as we continue through the remainder of this section. Furthermore, the document re-affirms that “the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in his body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms he himself affirmed the necessity of faith and Baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through Baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (LG 14). From what has been stated, the Council is clear that it is precisely through membership in Christ’s Mystical Body that the “divinization” of human nature is made possible. Salvation simply cannot take place outside of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, if any person of any faith tradition happens to receive, from God, the tremendous grace of salvation at the pivotal moment of death, it will necessarily have been through, with and in Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church, which cannot be separated from Christ, its head, regardless of the subjectively held theological opinions/beliefs of that individual throughout the course of his/her earthly existence.
It is at this point that the document begins to distinguish between the various “degrees” of membership in the Body of Christ. First, “they are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops” (LG, 14). It is, however, quite possible to be a member of this visible body without remaining in the “heart” of this body by not exercising that charity which each and every Christian is called to exercise. According to the document, such an individual “remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a ‘bodily’ manner and not ‘in his heart’….If [such members] fail, moreover, to respond to…grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged” (LG, 14). Moreover, those seeking full unity with the Church and are in the process of being initiated into the Church are, for that reason, embraced fully by the Church, and are already considered to be united in a full communion.
Paragraph 15 of the document states the following: “The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter” (LG, 15). In this section, the document underscores the faith and zeal of Christians who accept the authority of Sacred Scripture as a norm for belief in the truths it contains, and adherence to the way of life that it presents. Additionally, the Sacred Synod points out that through a valid sacramental baptism, whereby water and the Trinitarian formula are used, such individuals are truly incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, and are thereby consecrated in Christ. In fact, the Church goes so far as to state that “in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power” (LG, 15).
Finally, the Church goes so far as to acknowledge a certain mysterious connectedness even with those who only acknowledge and worship the one true God, stating that “those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God” (LG, 16). Of these, the Church recognizes first and foremost her Jewish brethren, for, “God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues” (LG, 16), and therefore, this “Chosen People” of God, from whom the Redeemer of humanity entered into the realm of space and time, “remains most dear to God” (LG, 16). Additionally, the Church recognizes as members, to some greater or lesser extent, various other groups of individuals who, insofar as they adhere to what is true and, to the best of their ability, strive to live according to the dictates of their conscience, hold fast to the most fundamental and self-evident axiom of natural law, which is to “do good, and avoid evil,” and who are sincere in their quest for truth.
Due to the profound importance of this issue, it is the opinion of this author that the reader read for him or herself precisely what the Sacred Synod has to say in its own words: “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel” (LG, 16).
Thus, in the estimation of this author, it would seem that, according to the most doctrinally significant document that the Church has issued in modern times regarding its own nature, mission and identity, salvation is, indeed, available to every human person who, with true, authentic sincerity of heart, seeks the truth and strives to live a morally upright life in accord with the dictates of his or her conscience, even if, through no fault of their own, they have not come to an explicit knowledge of Christ and the Gospel. Additionally, it is the humble opinion of this author that the sheer profundity of the mystery of the Incarnation, whereby the Second Person of the Holy Trinity forever united a true human nature to His divine nature, thereby initiating the reconciliation of the whole of humanity with its Creator in His very own Divine Person, necessarily bestowed upon each human person a dignity so profound as to make available, to all persons who participate in this shared and now “exalted” human nature, the possibility of redemption. Granted, it will only and always be through the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, that anyone and everyone deemed worthy of the great grace of eternal salvation, shall receive this free, unmerited gift that was purchased with the very Blood of Christ Jesus on the Cross of our salvation. Moreover, this much more inclusive interpretation of the dogmatic truth that “outside the Church, there is no salvation,” should not be viewed as being incompatible with the same dogmatic formulation. Rather, over the course of time, the Church has come to a deeper awareness of how it ought to understand itself in relation to both Christ, her Head, and the many and varied persons and groups of persons who, each in their own unique way, and to a greater or lesser extent, may, in some mysterious yet very real fashion, comprise varying degrees of membership in the one Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
While this understanding of membership in the Mystical Body of Christ may bring great consolation to a great many, there are others who have voiced concern and/or criticism that such an understanding of “varying” degrees of membership in the Mystical Body, or the Church, effectively renders null and void the work of the missionary. For, the question might be posed, “If knowledge of Christ and the Gospel are not necessary for salvation, what, then, is the purpose of traveling to distant, foreign lands for the sake of evangelization? The Sacred Synod, however, anticipating such a reaction to the explanation provided in the Constitution, concludes this section with the following remarks: “As the Son was sent by the Father, so He too sent the Apostles, saying: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world”. The Church has received this solemn mandate of Christ to proclaim the saving truth from the apostles and must carry it out to the very ends of the earth. Wherefore she makes the words of the Apostle her own: “Woe to me, if I do not preach the Gospel”, and continues unceasingly to send heralds of the Gospel until such time as the infant churches are fully established and can themselves continue the work of evangelizing. For the Church is compelled by the Holy Spirit to do her part that God’s plan may be fully realized, whereby He has constituted Christ as the source of salvation for the whole world. By the proclamation of the Gospel she prepares her hearers to receive and profess the faith. She gives them the dispositions necessary for baptism, snatches them from the slavery of error and of idols and incorporates them in Christ so that through charity they may grow up into full maturity in Christ. Through her work, whatever good is in the minds and hearts of men, whatever good lies latent in the religious practices and cultures of diverse peoples, is not only saved from destruction but is also cleansed, raised up and perfected unto the glory of God, the confusion of the devil and the happiness of man. The obligation of spreading the faith is imposed on every disciple of Christ, according to his state.” (LG, 17).
“On The Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular on the Episcopate”
The third chapter of Lumen Gentium takes up the issue of the governance of the Church of Christ through the Episcopate. The first and second paragraphs of this chapter explain that this Council intends to continue in the tradition and teaching established in the First Vatican Council, and explains that just as Christ was sent forth by the Father, so too, the apostles, whose successors are the bishops, were sent forth by Christ to serve His Church as shepherds, with St. Peter and his successors as “permanent and visible source[s] and foundation[s] of unity of faith and communion” (LG, 18). In essence, “…all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible Magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God” (LG, 18).
Christ, having prayed to His Heavenly Father, chose twelve men to comprise His apostles, and, with Peter as their visible head, commissioned them to establish, sanctify, minister to and govern the Kingdom of God on earth, of which they and their rightful successors would serve as the foundation, with Christ Himself as the “supreme cornerstone.” This apostolic mandate and mission, moreover, was confirmed at Pentecost, in accord with the promise made them by the Lord: ”You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and even to the very ends of the earth” (LG, 19).
Additionally, the theological reality of “apostolic succession” is here explained. The apostles, knowing that their divinely appointed mission of spreading and governing the Kingdom of God on earth through their teaching of the Gospel, the source of life for the Church, was to continue on well past their own death and even to the consummation of the world, appointed successors who would carry on and continue this apostolic, Episcopal tradition and ministry, with these latter being imbued with the very same Spirit and charism of the original twelve. Thus was born the “Episcopacy,” the college of bishops who, “as sharers in His power, they might make all peoples His disciples, and sanctify and govern them, and thus spread His Church, and by ministering to it under the guidance of the Lord, direct it all days even to the consummation of the world” (LG, 19). Thus, among the People of God, they would participate most fully in the One, Eternal, High Priesthood of Christ, with the validly elected successor of Peter, the “rock” upon which Christ built His Church, possessing primacy over and amongst this college.
Thus, “Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, presiding in place of God over the flock, whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing” (LG, 20). Further, “These pastors, chosen to shepherd the Lord’s flock of the elect, are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, to whom has been assigned the bearing of witness to the Gospel of the grace of God, and the ministration of the Spirit and of justice in glory” (LG, 21). In order to carry out such a tremendous task, a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon the original Apostles, who, in their turn, passed on this power to their validly appointed successors through the imposition of hands, such that, “by Episcopal consecration the fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred, that fullness of power, namely, which both in the Church’s liturgical practice and in the language of the Fathers of the Church is called the high priesthood, the supreme power of the sacred ministry…” (LG, 21). In addition to the sacred power of sanctifying, the Episcopate, together with the whole college of bishops and in union with their head, the successor of Peter, has additionally received from Christ the powers of teaching and governing. Thus, the bishops, “in an eminent and visible way sustain the roles of Christ Himself as Teacher, Shepherd and High Priest, and…act in His person” (LG, 21). It should be noted that the sacrament of orders imparts “character”- an indelible mark – on the soul, which brings about an ontological, metaphysical change in the one receiving the sacrament, enabling him to act in “Persona Christi” (in the Person of Christ). Bishops receive the fullness of this participation in the High Priesthood of Christ, while priests and deacons additionally receive this “character” upon ordination, and participate, each in their own way, in the one, eternal High Priesthood of Christ, as assistants to their bishops.
Moreover, the Pope, as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, in addition to participating in the fullness of the sacrament of orders, additionally receives the charism of infallibility when teaching “ex cathedra,” or “from the Chair,” on matters pertaining to faith or morality. While, up to this point, we have emphasized the role of the Episcopate, or the college of Bishops in the preaching, teaching, governing and sanctifying, it must be noted that, “the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power” (LG, 22).
Moreover, “although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held” (LG, 25). Speaking on the pre-eminent role of the charism of infallibility that is enjoyed by the successor of the Apostle Peter, the document states, in no uncertain terms, the following: “And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith” (LG, 25).
While the members of the Episcopate, the bishops, possess the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders,”the divinely established ecclesiastical ministry is exercised on different levels by those who from antiquity have been called bishops, priests and deacons. Priests, although they do not possess the highest degree of the priesthood, and although they are dependent on the bishops in the exercise of their power, nevertheless they are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity. By the power of the sacrament of Orders, in the image of Christ the eternal high Priest, they are consecrated to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful and to celebrate divine worship, so that they are true priests of the New Testament” (LG, 28). As essential collaborators with their bishops, “They exercise their sacred function especially in the Eucharistic worship or the celebration of the Mass by which acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming His Mystery they unite the prayers of the faithful with the sacrifice of their Head and renew and apply in the sacrifice of the Mass until the coming of the Lord the only sacrifice of the New Testament namely that of Christ offering Himself once for all a spotless Victim to the Father” (LG, 28). Thus, through their role and function as cooperators with their bishops as members of the holy presbyterate, through which they, as Presbyters (priests), truly act in Persona Christi, and by which they are capable of offering the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the altar in a unbloody fashion, make it possible for the faithful to exercise the common, royal priesthood, that was bestowed upon all the faithful in their Baptism, having been baptized into the priestly, prophetic and kingly offices of Christ.
At the lowest level of the hierarchy are the deacons, whose proper ministry is one of service. We might say that just as the priest is an assistant to his bishop, the deacon, likewise, is an assistant to the priest. Speaking on their particular mission within the Church, the document has this to say: “It is the duty of the deacon, according as it shall have been assigned to him by competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services” (LG, 29) On a final note, it should be stated that when Lumen Gentium was first promulgated, the diaconate was simply a stepping stone in the process of a man’s ordination to the priesthood. In keeping with the goal of the council, however, it was established in this document that “in the near future” the diaconate could be reinstituted as a permanent hierarchical rank within the Church, as it had been in the early Christian communities, provided such was the desire of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops united with him. Clearly, as is now the case, there are, indeed, numerous permanent deacons who carry out a legitimate ministry of service within the Latin Rite Church.
Who constitute the laity? The document provides the following answer: “The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.” Moreover, the document goes on to state that while different members of the one body are called to various ministries and are granted unique charisms particular to each member’s distinct calling and secular profession, all share the same dignity as adopted sons and daughters of the Father, though, with and in Christ. “‘For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another’. Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism;’ sharing a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity” (LG, 32). What is more, the laity, on account of the distinctively “secular” roles they assume within society, are afforded a unique access to persons who would otherwise not be exposed to officially designated Ministers of the Word and the Sacraments; thus, said laity are in a privileged position to act as the “salt of the earth” by carrying the Good News, or the “Gospel” of Christ, into those worldly arenas that Sacred Ministers would likely not have access to. Thus, they are called to act as a leaven in the world, while they live “in” the world without being “of” the world.
The conciliar document continues on to underscore the tremendous significance of the lay vocation and apostolate: “The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. Now the laity is called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself ‘according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal’” (LG, 33).
Finally, toward the end of this chapter concerning the role of the laity within the Church, the most significant and the most salient activity of the laity is addressed. Anyone who has taken a thorough and orthodox course on the Sacraments of the Church should know that the Holy Eucharist is, unequivocally, the central sacrament pre-figured in the first Passover. Additionally, they should know that each of the other six Sacraments, while imparting specific graces in and of themselves and while possessing their own specific purpose, nonetheless exist for the greater purpose of bringing the faithful to a full and complete participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For example, while it is entirely true that the Sacrament of Penance exists for the purpose of forgiving the Christian faithful of their sins and imparting additional graces that will assist them in overcoming that same sin in the future, ultimately, we may state that Penance exists for the sake of forgiving mortal sins that would otherwise prevent the Baptized from participating fully in the Sacred Banquet of the Holy Eucharist, as one cannot receive Holy Communion if he/she is in a state of mortal sin. Or take Baptism, for instance. While this absolutely essential Sacrament of initiation forgives the original sin inherited from Adam, which, more accurately, is a “deprivation” of sanctifying grace, or the lack of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s soul, ultimately, it may rightly be stated that one is Baptized for the sake of being capable of participating in the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which is nothing short of a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in which we, as Christians, have been called to participate. In short, the Eucharist is the central sacrament toward which each of the other Sacraments tends.
This having been said, we are in a better position to understand the tremendous significance of the following passage contained in Lumen Gentium in the Chapter on the Laity and their exalted vocation. The document states the following: “The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work. For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men… For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and…the hardships of life…become ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist” (LG, 34).
Many Catholic “Baby-Boomers,” who experienced, as children, what it was like to live as a Catholic prior to the Second Vatican Council, may well remember their parents continually exhorting them, whenever they had to endure some hardship or undertake some responsibility to which they had an aversion, to “offer it up.” These three simple words, which many Catholic children became quite sick of hearing from their parents, conveyed a most profound spiritual truth regarding the tremendous gift of our participation in the common, Royal Priesthood of Christ, which was bestowed upon us through our Baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ.
At the moment we received this most necessary and exalted Sacrament, we became participants in the Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly offices of Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Additionally, we became adopted sons and daughters of the Eternal Father, and brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus. Moreover, in the words of St. Paul, we became”members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.” It was the Divine Will of the Eternal Father that the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Eternal Word of God, the Logos, or the pre-Incarnate Christ, empty and strip Himself of His divinity and assume a true human nature in the immaculate womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, thereby uniting and reconciling humanity and divinity in his one Divine Person, a union which the Church refers to as the hypostasis, or the hypostatic union of the two natures in the one Divine Person of Jesus Christ. Thus, the work of Redemption was begun. This work of Christ’s Redemption was brought to completion when Christ, from the altar of the Cross, as both Priest and Victim, offered Himself as the perfect, unblemished Sacrifice to the perfect glory of God the Father and in atonement for the sins of all of humanity.
This profound reality of the Redemption of humanity by Christ on the Cross literally and historically took place approximately 2,000 years ago, on Calvary, once for all. Yet, God, in His infinite wisdom, decided that this perfect redemptive act would assume a trans-historical reality and significance, enabling this once, for all, singular sacrifice of the Son of God and the Son of Man to truly be made present, in an unbloody fashion, on all of the altars throughout the world, through the words, actions and intentions of all men ordained to participate in Christ’s ministerial priesthood. Thus, Christ’s work of Redemption is truly ongoing, as each day, from the rising of the sun to its setting, a perfect sacrifice is offered to the glory of God the Father and for the salvation of souls.
Further, we, the laity, through our Baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, and as members of the Royal Priesthood of Christ (which is to be distinguished from the Ministerial Priesthood of Christ, which can only be conferred on a man whom the Church has accepted as a candidate for reception of the Sacrament of Orders), are truly called to exercise our priestly office through our participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy, offering ourselves, our prayers, works, joys, and especially our sufferings, through, with and in Christ, to the perfect glory of God the Father and for the salvation of souls, who run the risk of being eternally lost due to their sinfulness. This, then, is the exalted vocation of all of the laity, the Priestly People of God, and is, by no means whatsoever, to be taken lightly or for granted.
“The Universal Call to Holiness”
Prior to the Council, there existed, within the Church, a certain consensus amongst priests, religious and laity alike, that the former two groups (priests and religious) had been specifically chosen and called by God to pursue and attain the lofty heights of holiness and “transforming union with Christ” while living apart from the world, in monasteries, cloisters, convents and rectories, while the laity were called, simply, to ”work out their salvation,” whilst carrying out the duties and responsibilities of their “secular” vocation, while living “in” the world, with the hope of just barely making it into purgatory.
Thankfully, Chapter Five of Lumen Gentium put a definitive end to that mode of thought. This Chapter, entitled, “The Universal Call to Holiness,” explains, unequivocally, that all the Christian faithful, regardless of their particular vocation in life, are all called to that same “perfection” and holiness of life that Christ speaks of in the Gospels in general, and in the “Sermon on the Mount” in particular. As it turns out, even janitors, house-keepers and garbage-men, despite their secular and down-right dirty jobs, are called to the same heights of holiness that, prior to the Council, were thought to belong most properly and singularly to priests and religious. Explaining the dynamic theology behind this “new” approach to understanding such a ”universal” call to holiness, Chapter Five of Lumen Gentium begins with the following words: “The Church…is believed to be indefectibly holy. Indeed Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is praised as “uniquely holy,” loved the Church as His bride, delivering Himself up for her. He did this that He might sanctify her. He united her to Himself as His own body and brought it to perfection by the gift of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory. Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’” (LG, 39). Moreover, the document commends that unique example that is to be set by those religious who have freely, and for the sake of the Kingdom of God, embraced the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience; yet, simultaneously, the document clearly states that it is to the very same “holiness” and “sanctity” that all the Christian faithful, who have been baptized into the Mystical Body of Christ, are called, despite the diverse vocations of these faithful.
To emphasize and expound on the universality of Christ’s call to all of the faithful to this holiness, the document continues: “The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consummator of this holiness of life: ‘Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect’. Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them” (LG, 40). Continuing along this line of thinking, the document continue on to state that ” it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history” (LG, 40). Finally, in section 41, the document recapitulates everything that had been previously stated, reinforcing the absolute universality of the call to holiness: “The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity” (LG, 41).
Much of the remainder of this chapter is devoted to explaining how the this one, universal call to holiness, that is shared by all, is to be lived by persons of differing states of life, beginning with those who belong to the Episcopate, ending with un-married, single lay faithful, and addressing all of the various states in between, with a special emphasis on the poor and those suffering with illnesses: ”May all those who are weighed down with poverty, infirmity and sickness, as well as those who must bear various hardships or who suffer persecution for justice sake—may they all know they are united with the suffering Christ in a special way for the salvation of the world” (LG, 41).
In Chapter Six of the document, we find an explanation of that marvelous vocation of those persons who, for the sake of witnessing to the reality and absolute supremacy of the Kingdom of God, and in an effort to heed the Lord’s exhortation to strive for Christian perfection, leave all worldly comforts and earthly pursuits behind, and embrace the evangelical counsels of holy poverty, chastity for the Kingdom of heaven, and obedience. Thus, those persons called to embrace a vocation to the religious life strip themselves of everything that is not conducive to living a radically Christ-centered lifestyle, in imitation of our Lord, Who proposed this way of life to those who could accept it.
The document explains that a vocation to the religious state of life, from the vantage point of the hierarchy, should not be thought of as a state of life that is “in between” the lay state and the clerical state. Rather, individuals from both of these states – laity and clerics alike – may assume the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Thus, many male religious societies are comprised of both non-ordained brothers and ordained brothers alike. The same, however, cannot be said of women’s’ religious societies, as women are not permitted to be ordained deacons, priests or bishops within the Catholic Church; thus, all women religious are always, necessarily, non-ordained sisters.
Unfortunately, within the United States and in various other nations throughout the world, certain groups of women religious who, in direct violation of their freely taken vow of “obedience” to Church authorities, are scandalously accusing the hierarchy of holding onto and perpetuating an “antiquated, oppressive and sexist” mentality in its decision to not permit woman to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. These misguided women religious fail to understand that the Church has no right to change essential and fundamental teachings regarding the faith, and that the Church is simply following the example set by Christ Himself, who chose only men to be his apostles. Moreover, as we shall examine more closely in our review of Chapter Eight of this document, not even the Immaculate Virgin Mary – the Queen of heaven and earth, Virginal Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Immaculately Conceived, and the Mother of God – had been chosen to be among this exclusive group of men, to whom Christ entrusted the mission of going throughout the world and making disciples of all the nations. For, if anyone should have been a pope, a bishop, a priest, or, at the least, a deacon, it should have been the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yet, such was not her God-given vocation, and this she accepted in all humility. This should serve as the single most telling example for women religious, who mistakenly believe that the Church of Christ, to Whom they have freely vowed obedience, is practicing discrimination against them. To believe that the Church is in error with regard to a matter of the faith is to make a liar out of Christ, Who solemnly stated to Peter and his successors that whatever they held bound on earth would be held bound in heaven, and whatever they loosened on earth would be loosened in heaven. Is this not the same Church to whom Christ entrusted the “Power of the Keys?” Is this not the Church which continues to carry on the Sacred Tradition of Christ, its founder, a Tradition which truly is a living Tradition, precisely because it is the Holy Spirit of God Himself Who guides and sustains her? Let us, then, step most cautiously when we find ourselves in disagreement with the Church of Christ; for despite the ever-shifting winds of political, social and religious opinion, the Church of Christ has been charged with the arduous task of proclaiming the unchanging truths of the faith both in season and out; in times of popularity and in times of apostasy; in times of peace and in times of war; for, Christ, the Eternal Word of God, remains the same: yesterday, today, and forever.
Getting back to the document, the end of section 44 well articulates and sums up the purpose of the religious vocation and the living of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience: “The profession of the evangelical counsels, then, appears as a sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian vocation. The people of God have no lasting city here below, but look forward to one that is to come. Since this is so, the religious state, whose purpose is to free its members from earthly cares, more fully manifests to all believers the presence of heavenly goods already possessed here below. Furthermore, it not only witnesses to the fact of a new and eternal life acquired by the redemption of Christ, but it foretells the future resurrection and the glory of the heavenly kingdom. Christ proposed to His disciples this form of life, which He, as the Son of God, accepted in entering this world to do the will of the Father. This same state of life is accurately exemplified and perpetually made present in the Church. The religious state clearly manifests that the Kingdom of God and its needs, in a very special way, are raised above all earthly considerations. Finally it clearly shows all men both the unsurpassed breadth of the strength of Christ the King and the infinite power of the Holy Spirit marvelously working in the Church” (LG, 44).
“The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and its Union with the Church in Heaven”
Following the Constitution’s treatment and explanation of the vocation of the various men and women religious of the Catholic Church, who, by virtue of the living of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, bear a radical witness to the supremacy of the heavenly kingdom which is to come and for which all Christians hope, it is most appropriate that the Council Fathers, at this point in the document, chose to segue into the topic of the eschatological nature of the Church Militant on earth, and its profound union with the Church Triumphant in heaven. Chapter 48 begins with the following: “The Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things. At that time the human race as well as the entire world, which is intimately related to man and attains to its end through him, will be perfectly reestablished in Christ” (LG, 48). This notion of the “restoration” of humanity, and through humanity, the whole of creation, is elaborated upon in the following paragraph: “…the promised restoration which we are awaiting has already begun in Christ, is carried forward in the mission of the Holy Spirit and through Him continues in the Church in which we learn the meaning of our terrestrial life through our faith, while we perform with hope in the future the work committed to us in this world by the Father, and thus work out our salvation” (LG, 48). Thus, the document makes it clear that it is precisely within this context of a sincere and genuine hope and expectation of coming face-to-face with our Creator in that period of the new heavens and the new earth, looking forward to the Second Glorious Coming of Christ, that we, as Christians, are to come to an understanding of our own wholly unique, God-given mission as pilgrims on this earth, and, within the context of this latter, earthly vocation, work out our salvation.
Additionally, the document continues on to state the following: “Already the final age of the world has come upon us and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God.”
In the final Paragraph of Section 48, the document explains that, while is true that, as members of the Body of Christ, we are, indeed, adopted sons and daughters of the Father, it is additionally true that while we are in the flesh, we are, as it were, exiled from the Lord. Yet, the Spirit, which grafts us to the Mystical Body, groans within us, urging us on to an ever more perfect union with Christ through works of Charity. Thus, while in the flesh, we strive to be found pleasing in the sight of the Lord, in order that, upon the completion of our earthly course of life, we may be found worthy to participate in the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb Who was slain, purchasing for Himself a people of every tongue and nation. Thus, having been found worthy at the moment of our particular judgment, in the presence of the tribunal of Christ, we may additionally, at the end of time, find ourselves among the sheep, who, at God’s right hand, shall glorify Him for all eternity, as opposed to being numbered among the goats at the Lord’s left hand, that shall be cast into the everlasting lake of fire, where there shall be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Having been found worthy of Eternal Life through, with and in Christ, we shall then know with great clarity that “the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.” Moreover, as true members of the Body of Christ, we shall participate in the very Triune life of God Himself, having been divinized as members of our Lord’s Body.
Speaking of the Church Militant, the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering as one Church, comprising the one Body of Christ, paragraph 49 has this to say: “Until the Lord shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him and death being destroyed, all things are subject to Him, some of His disciples are exiles on earth, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding “clearly God Himself triune and one, as He is”; but all in various ways and degrees are in communion in the same charity of God and neighbor and all sing the same hymn of glory to our God. For all who are in Christ, having His Spirit, form one Church and cleave together in Him. Therefore the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who have gone to sleep in the peace of Christ is not in the least weakened or interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the perpetual faith of the Church, is strengthened by communication of spiritual goods. For by reason of the fact that those in heaven are more closely united with Christ, they establish the whole Church more firmly in holiness, lend nobility to the worship which the Church offers to God here on earth and in many ways contribute to its greater edification. For after they have been received into their heavenly home and are present to the Lord, through Him and with Him and in Him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, showing forth the merits which they won on earth through the one Mediator between God and man, serving God in all things and filling up in their flesh those things which are lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His Body which is the Church. Thus by their brotherly interest our weakness is greatly strengthened” (LG, 49).
Lastly, Chapter 50 eloquently explains that it is precisely through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that the pilgrim Church on earth, or the Church Militant, is most closely and perfectly united with the Heavenly Court, or the Church Triumphant: “Our union with the Church in heaven is put into effect in its noblest manner especially in the sacred Liturgy, wherein the power of the Holy Spirit acts upon us through sacramental signs. Then, with combined rejoicing we celebrate together the praise of the divine majesty; then all those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and gathered together into one Church, with one song of praise magnify the one and triune God. Celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice therefore, we are most closely united to the Church in heaven in communion with and venerating the memory first of all of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, of Blessed Joseph and the blessed apostles and martyrs and of all the saints” (LG, 50).
“The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church”
Any official document regarding the Church of Christ issued by the official Magisterium of the same Church of Christ will invariably explore, if only in a cursory fashion, the wholly unique and exalted role of the Blessed Virgin Mary; for Mary, while herself being a member of the Body of Christ and the People of God, who was, herself, the recipient of untold graces, in view of the salvific work of redemption wrought by Christ, was and is also the Spiritual Mother and Model of the Church of Christ – the image, or type, of what the Bride of Christ will be, at the end of time, after having undergone her profound and necessary purification, when the Church, like Mary, will be without spot or wrinkle. Indeed, Mary so profoundly personifies the Church that whatsoever may be predicated of Mary may also and necessarily be predicated of the Church and vice-versa.
Thus, it is most fitting that the final chapter of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, should be devoted to Mary, the Mother and Model of the Church, who, as has been so eloquently pointed out by the early Church Fathers and reiterated in this document, is to Christ what Eve was to Adam. There is a tremendous richness in the analogies between Adam’s relationship and shared mission with Eve, and Christ, the new Adam’s relationship and shared mission with Mary, the new Eve. For instance, in addition to what has been stated above, it can be said that just as Eve participated with Adam, by providing him with the fruit, which served as the instrument of the fall of humanity from God’s grace and friendship, in like fashion, Mary, the new Eve, participated with Christ, the new Adam, by providing Him with His body, which served as the instrument of the redemption of humanity back to God’s grace and friendship.
Speaking on Mary’s participation in the economy of salvation, Paragraph 56 of Lumen Gentium states that “The Father of mercies willed that the incarnation should be preceded by the acceptance of her who was predestined to be the mother of His Son, so that just as a woman contributed to death, so also a woman should contribute to life” (LG, 56). Again, speaking on the analogies drawn by the early Church Fathers, the document states, at the end of Paragraph 56, “For, as St. Irenaeus says, she ‘being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.’ Hence, not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert in their preaching: ‘The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.’ Comparing Mary with Eve, they call her ‘the Mother of the living,’ and still more often they say, ‘death through Eve, life through Mary'” (LG, 56).
It is most interesting to note that almost all of the theology needed to support a solemn, dogmatic definition of Mary as “Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate,” is present, almost entirety, in this final chapter of Lumen Gentium. Beginning in paragraph 58, the Council Fathers begin to explain the concept of Co-redemption: “…the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth” (LG, 58). Further, Paragraph 61 provides still greater insight into this collaboration which Mary was called to, by Divine Providence, with her Son, in the work of Redemption: “Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate…of the Lord. She…was united with Him by compassion [which literally means, “to suffer with”] as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace” (LG, 61). Thus, any person who should state that the doctrine of Mary’s Co-redemption is not in accord with official Church teaching is unequivocally in error, based solely on what is stated in Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium.
Moreover, Mary’s role as Mediatrix is not only articulated theologically, but the very term itself is used in Paragraph 62, which reads, “This maternity of Mary in the order of Grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the Cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator” (LG, 62).
Thus, it logically follows that she who participated in a most intense, singular and profound fashion with Christ, her Son, in the meriting of grace – divine life – for souls, would additionally participate in the distribution of said grace. Thus, it is the official teaching of the Church that nothing whatsoever of the vast treasury of God’s divine grace that is bestowed upon humanity comes to us except through the willed intercession of Mary, and that just as Christ is the sole Mediator between the Father and humanity, Mary is the sole Mediatrix between humanity and Christ. Should any person reading this essay doubt the veracity of what I have just written above, please visit http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/marya4a.htm. There can be found a collection of 20 papal and magisterial quotations by various popes and councils which unequivocally confirm and fully support the absolute truth of the theological explanations and assertions provided herein.
It must be made absolutely clear, however, that Mary’s participation in Christ’s salvific act is entirely subordinate to and dependent upon the perfect work of Redemption wrought by Christ. Yet, God, in His infinite goodness, mercy and providence, has so ordained it that all of the adopted children of the Father, through their baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ, are made sharers in the priestly office of Christ, and can, therefore, offer their prayers, works and suffering as a spiritual sacrifice to the Father, through, with and in Christ. This, then, constitutes the very heart of the Universal Call to Holiness spoken of earlier, whereby the entire baptized are called to participation in Christ’s ongoing work of redemption, which is renewed daily, throughout the world, in the Sacrifice of the Mass. And Mary, by virtue of her Immaculate Conception, her sinlessness, her divine maternity, her perpetual virginity, and her glorious Assumption, body and soul, into heaven, is the Co-redemptrix among co-redeemers; the exemplar, who most perfectly and profoundly participates in the ongoing work of redemption, particularly as the Mother of Christ.
Ideally, those who have taken the time to read this not-so-abbreviated abbreviated version and occasional interpretation of Lumen Gentium should now read the document itself, which, in truth, is not much lengthier than this essay. It is my earnest hope and prayer that everyone who has taken the time to read this essay will additionally read the original document; for, in doing so, the reader shall avail him/herself of the riches of the Second Vatican Council in general, and the Apostolic Constitution on the Church, in particular.
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