Article 68 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 770-780 Mystery of the Church
Isn’t it true that each of us can identify special turning points in our lives? One of the turning points in my life was taking the required Ecclesiology course when I was preparing for the priesthood. Ecclesiology (the study of the theology of the Church) was taught by a young priest-professor, Father Richard Asakiewicz, from the Archdiocese of Newark. My seminary class at Seton Hall’s School of Theology was one of the last taught by Father Asakiewicz before his untimely death at age 45. Those who studied Father Asakiewicz’ Ecclesiology course would have heard the learned teacher loudly affirm again and again: “The Church is many things, but above all else, it is a mystery!” Father Asakiewicz’ love of theology and the Church inspired several students including myself to pursue advanced studies in the sacred sciences. Several years later, the Catechism took up this theme of the Church being above all else “a mystery” by affirming: “The Church is in history, but at the same time she transcends it. It is only ‘with the eyes of faith’ that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life” (ccc 770). To say it another way, with St. Paul, we call the nuptial union of Christ and the Church “a great mystery” (ccc772). Consider the origins of the Church in the New Testament. Who would have predicted that anything important would come from the tiny babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger in Bethlehem’s cave? When Jesus began his public life, one of his disciples echoed this sentiment, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” ( Jn 1:46) During his public life, our Lord’s influence seemed small to human eyes.
Crowds followed him for miracles, and many listened to his words. The leaders of the people, however, contradicted him at every
turn and tried to trap and discredit him.
On Good Friday, when Jesus especially needed protectors, you could count on one hand those few disciples who were there on Calvary to console him.
We know and believe, as the Catechism states, that “the Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest” (ccc 771). Yet, there are certain basic teachings of Christ and his Church which do not appeal to fallen humanity. Christ said to those who would follow him: Be poor in spirit; be meek and humble; glory in persecutions; conquer lustful desires of the flesh; turn the other cheek; show mercy and compassion; love your enemies. All this contradicts what the world of Jesus’ time and our time considers worthwhile. Self-denial, sacrifice and carrying the cross are anything but what the world holds dear! How about the Apostles whom Jesus chose to teach his word to all nations? They lacked eloquence, wealth, and influence. Most were simple fishermen; they had no learning, power, or social position. How could such men be expected to persuade others to accept a doctrine, a way of life that went against all that the world holds dear? Again, the Catechism explains, that even “[the Church’s] structure is…ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members” (ccc 773). The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments “by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies” (ccc 774). In fact, “the Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament” as well (ccc 775). Animated by the fire of the Holy Spirit and a love of Jesus
Christ, the Apostles carried the doctrine of Christ to Jew and Gentile. Their hearers, with few exceptions, were prejudiced, superstitious, and addicted to vice. Yet the Gospel quickly won hearts; the Church grew rapidly in spite of prejudices of race and custom, in spite of the contempt of philosophers and the persecution of tyrants.
No doubt, “the Church’s first purpose…to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God” had begun… since She gathered people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues” (ccc 775).
In short, the Catechism affirms that the Church “is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity,” (ccc 776). Why? Because, as the 1965 Vatican II Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church (Ad Gentes) states: God desires “that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit” (Ad Gentes 7:2).
We conclude this section of the Catechism with the words of Sacred Scripture: “She [the Church] will be perfected in the glory of heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth” (cf. Revelation 14:4).
Father Hillier serves as Assistant Chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen
How about the Apostles whom Jesus chose to teach his word to all nations? They lacked eloquence, wealth, and influence. Most were simple fishermen; they had no learning, power, or social position. How could such men be expected to persuade others to accept a doctrine, a way of life that went against all that the world holds dear?