Article 67 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 758-769 Church Origins
“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is his new creation by water and the Word.”
Such begins the famous 19th century hymn by Church of England minister, Samuel J. Stone. For more than 100 years, Christians from most mainline Protestant denominations have sung the hymn on Sunday mornings at church services and, since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, at Mass in the Catholic Church.
The words of the hymn capture correctly the idea that the Church is founded by Jesus Christ. The mission to all nations entrusted to the apostles by Christ, however, is what gives the mark of universality to the Church. The words of Christ: “to teach and to observe all that I have commanded you” is suggested in The Church’s One Foundation (Jesus Christ). Our Lord’s commitment: “behold, I am with you all days, even to the end of the world” ( Mt 28:20) which we, the Church, believe demonstrates proof of the Church’s infallibility in doctrinal and moral matters, further suggests, ironically, that this old Protestant hymn is more applicable to the beliefs of the Catholic Church than to most Protestant communions.
For us Catholics, the Church was “a plan [first] born in the Father ‘s heart” (ccc 758) and “it was the Son’s task to accomplish the Father’s plan of salvation in the fullness of time” (ccc 763). The gathering together of the Church is, as it were, “God’s reaction to the chaos provoked by sin” (761). The Catechism tells us that Christians of the fi r s t c e n t u r i e s would even say, “the world was created for the sake of the Church” (ccc 760). Looking to the Book of Genesis, we even see “the remote preparation for this gathering together
of the People of God … when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people” (ccc 762). Eventually, Israel becomes “the sign of the future gathering of all nations.” But the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant and behaving like a prostitute. They announce a new and eternal covenant. “Christ instituted this New Covenant” (ccc762).
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ “inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures” (ccc 763). As a way to achieve the will of our Heavenly Father, “Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth” (ccc 763). As the Second Vatican Council affirms, “the Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery” (Lumen Gentium, 3).
In the next several paragraphs, the Catechism uses Sacred Scripture to explain the formation of God’s Kingdom or, to say it another way, the reign of God on earth. The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the “little flock” of those whom Jesus came to gather around him, the flock whose shepherd he is (see Matthew 10:16; 26:31; Luke 12:32; John 10:1-21). To those called to be his disciples, “he taught a new way of acting and a prayer of their own” (ccc 764). For more than 2,000 years, hundreds of millions of followers have uttered the words billions of times: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We believe that “the Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved” (ccc 765). By all his actions, Christ prepares and builds his Church with the choice of the Twelve (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) with Peter as their head, they are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem (see ccc 765).
The Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated
in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross. “The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which fl o w e d f r o m t h e o p e n s i d e o f t h e crucified Jesus” (ccc 766). The Vatican II document on the Liturgy explains: “For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the ‘wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’” (Sacrasanctum Concilium, 5). Quoting the 4th century bishop and doctor of the Church, St. Ambrose, the Catechism tells us: “As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross” (ccc 766).
T h e final three paragraphs in this section of the Catechism summarizes the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to “continually sanctify the Church” (ccc 767) so that the varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the Church may be “on earth the seed and the beginning of that kingdom” (ccc 768). Quoting from Lumen Gentium — the Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the Modern World — the Catechism affirms in the final paragraph of this section that “the Church … will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven” (ccc 769) as the new and final creation at the time of Christ’s glorious return. However, the Catechism says, “the Church, and through her the world, will not be perfected in glory without great trials” (ccc 769).
Father Hillier earned his doctoral degree in Systematic Theology from Fordham University and is the assistant chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen