Article 74 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 830-838 THE CHURCH IS CATHOLIC
On Oct. 4, 1945, a giant airplane landed at the National Airport in Washington, D.C. It had just completed the first flight around the world in a regular service started by the United States Air Corps and had completed the fastest world flight ever made up to that time. It covered 23,279 miles in 150 hours that included ground time of 34 hours at one or another of its 17 stops in circling the globe. The theme of this week’s article, “The Church is Catholic,” inspires us to take another trip around the world, not by plane, but in the imagination. Circling the earth in 24 hours, whether in 1945 or 2017, we are reminded that Holy Mass is offered in some place on this earth every minute of the day and night. There are 86,400 seconds in 24 hours. A little arithmetic indicates that, among the almost half-million priests in the world and more than 50,000 bishops, practically every “second of the day and night, four or five priests are celebrating holy Mass. In other words, this very second, at least 4 or 5 priests may be saying somewhere, “This is my body…This is my blood.”
In this section of the Catechism, we are told that “the word Catholic means universal” (ccc 830). To elaborate, the mere fact of being worldwide is not in itself sufficient to call the Church “catholic” or “universal.” Rather, it is the Catholic Church’s “oneness” along with its “allness” that makes her universal. She is all over the world, and simultaneously articulates the same set of teachings or doctrines everywhere. The 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide profess the same Creed, live according to the same rules of conduct, receive the same sacraments, seek the same intercession of Mary and the saints, worship through the same Sacrifice of the Mass and share the same baptism as members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
The Catechism explains “the Church is catholic in a double sense” (ccc 830): 1. “The Church
is catholic because Christ is present in her” (ccc 830). As St. Ignatius of Antioch first stated back in the 1st century, “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.”
2. “The Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race” (ccc 830). In the words of Jesus, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” ( Mt 28:19).
The Catechism affirms that “the Church of Christ is really present in all legitimately organized local groups of the faithful…united to their pastors” (ccc 831). In the next paragraph, these “particular” or “local” churches are described as a “diocese or eparchy” — as in the case of Eastern Rite churches (ccc 833). These “particular” or “local” Churches “are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in these and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists” (ccc 833). Their unique, common features include a “communion of faith and sacraments” with a bishop legitimately “ordained in apostolic succession” (ccc 833).
The next paragraph (ccc 834) explains further that “particular” or “local” churches “arefullycatholicthroughtheircommunion” with the “Church of Rome.” The Church of Rome, a “particular” or “local” Church itself, enjoys as well a “pre-eminence” that all Christian churches everywhere ought to recognize as “their only basis and foundation” since, according to the Savior’s promise to St. Peter, “the gates of hell have never prevailed against her” (see Mt 18:16). Many assume that the universal or Catholic Church is the sum of many “particular” or “local” churches. This is not the case, according to Pope Paul VI’s 1975 Apostolic Exhortation called “Evangelization in the Modern World” (“Evangelii Nuntiandi”). This apostolic letter notes the role of every Christian in every place to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The pope cautions, however, that we not fall into the trap of extreme positions. On one hand, every “particular”
or “local” church must reflect the integrity of being part of the larger Body of Christ. On the other hand, there are aspects of the Church that take on a different appearance in different localities. In the words of Pope Paul VI: “when [the Church] puts down her roots in a variety of cultural, social and human terrains, she takes on different external expressions and appearances in each part of the world” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 62). The Catechism echoes the sentiments of Pope Paul VI. The Catholic Church is not the Church of Italy, the Church of Spain, or the Church of Poland; it is the Church of all the world. There is no southern or northern section, because there are no sections. And while being universal, for everyone everywhere, it is still native; that is, it is at home in every country, and accepts and develops the skills, the abilities and genius of every people. The Catechism then asks: “Who Belongs to the Catholic Church?” The final paragraphs in this section answer the question: “All people are called to this catholic unity of the People of God” (ccc 836). Then, referring to non-Catholic Christians, the Catechism asserts that those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church” (ccc 838).
Regarding Catholics who already accept the Church “as the means of salvation,” the Catechism cautions: “Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved” (ccc 837). In other words, Catholics may believe everything that the Church believes, and may even attend Mass daily; however, there is no assurance that they go to heaven if they neglect being people of charity. Wow!
Father Hillier serves as Assistant Chancellor in the Diocese of Metuchen and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities