Article 69 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 781-786 Article 69 – People of God
Do you recall the famous musical “Fiddler on the Roof” in which the lead character Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman with five daughters, cries out to the heavens, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
The history of the Jews as God’s chosen people is summarized in this section of the Catechism as follows: “[God] … chose the Israelite race to be his own people and established a covenant with it. He gradually instructed this people. . . . All these things, however, happened as a preparation for and figure of that new and perfect covenant which was to be ratified in Christ . . . the New Covenant in his blood; he called together a race made up of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit” (ccc 781).
We are those people of the New Covenant or the “someone else” chosen by God and referenced by Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” In the fullness of time, the new People of God, the Church, was founded by Jesus Christ upon the apostles.
It was not until the Second Vatican Council, however, that the image of the Church as the People of God helped shift the exaggerated perception of the laity as second-class citizens, to taking their right place among the People of God by virtue of having been consecrated
in baptism and, thus, having a share in the common priesthood of the baptized. This theme is developed in the 1965 Vatican II decree Apostolicam Actuositatem on the apostolate of the laity. Here, the laity are encouraged to engage in the apostolate for the good of souls and the renewal of the temporal order. In Chapter 7 of the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World, Lumen Gentium,
we are told, “in a word: what the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world” (article 38). Imagine how much better our world would be if all the People of God (laity and clergy) took seriously their vocation of becoming “the light of the world and the salt of the earth!” (article 9) By developing the concept of the Church as the People of God, the Council Fathers showed its relationship with, and continuity in, salvation history. The chosen People of God, Israel, in the Old Testament, becomes the “new People of God,” the Church, in the New Testament, “consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” (article 10). This image identifies the Church as God’s pilgrim people looking forward to a perfect identity in the end times when “at the end of the world … those who have done good (will go forth) to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (article 48).
Other unique aspects of being members of the People of God are, according to the Catechism, “marked by characteristics that clearly distinguish it from all other religious, ethnic, political, or cultural groups found in history” (ccc 782). We become members of this people not by a physical birth, but by being “born anew,” a birth “of water and the Spirit,” that is, by faith in Christ, and Baptism (782). The Catechism further explains that Jesus Christ is the One whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and appointed as priest, prophet, and king. We, as members of the People of God, participate in these three offices of Christ and bear the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them (ccc 783). To share in the Priestly office of Christ means, as already
mentioned, that “the baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated (through rebirth in baptism) to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” (ccc 784). As members of the common priesthood of the baptized and members of the new People of God, we are called to offer sacrifice through lives of faithful service. Secondly, members of the People of God have a share in the prophetic office of Christ through the supernatural gift of faith and become “Christ’s witness(es) in the midst of this world” (ccc 785). Finally, the Catechism affirms that “the People of God share in the royal office of Christ” (ccc 786). For the Christian, “to reign is to serve [Christ]” (ccc 786). This is especially the case when serving “the poor and the suffering, in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder” (ccc 786). In short, the People of God fulfill their royal dignity by a life of faithful service to Christ. As for the people of the New Covenant, the Catechism asserts, we are “a most sure seed of unity, hope, and salvation for the whole human race” (ccc 782). Our final destiny “is the Kingdom of God which has been begun by God himself on earth and which must be further extended until it has been brought to perfection by him at the end of time” (ccc 782). What better reason for God to select the Jews as his chosen people and then to choose us, the new People of God of the New Covenant to fulfill his promises …
Father Hillier serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen