Article 77 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 871-887 People of God
I recently passed a church with a sign at the entrance to the parking lot that read: “Parking for parishioners only. Trespassers will be baptized!”
This sign would no doubt raise an eyebrow for faithful Christians. Why? Because baptism, the Church’s first sacrament, should never be misconstrued as a punishment. Rather, baptism is the gift of Christ and his Church. Baptism is the greatest of gifts because it not only incorporates and initiates us as children of God, sons and daughters of the Church, but also puts us on the path to eternal life with God in Heaven.
All the baptized are members of the People of God, the Church. As such, we “have become sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and royal office ” (ccc 871). Nothing can change this reality. If a validly baptized Christian stops practicing his or her faith, they are still members of the royal, Mystical Body of Christ. No one can become “unbaptized.” Further, if a woman becomes a consecrated religious sister or nun, or if a young man is ordained to the Holy Priesthood, they likewise retain their membership among the People of God. By virtue of their rebirth through the waters of baptism, “there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality with regard to dignity” (ccc 872).
All the People of God, the Catechism continues, “are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each one” (ccc 871). To the Apostles and their successors, for example, Christ “entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power” (ccc 873). The laity have been given their own special role “to share in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ” (ccc 873). As the Second Vatican Council’s “Decree on the Laity” put it: the laity have “in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God” (“Apostolicam Actuositatem” 2).
The question is sometimes asked, “Why the hierarchical,ecclesial ministry?” The answer is found in Christ. The Catechism tells us: Christ is “the source of ministry in the Church” (ccc 874). Quoting Vatican II’s “Pastoral Constitutionon the Church” (“Lumen Gentium” 18), we are told, “[Christ] instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal” (ccc 874). The text continues: “In order to shepherd the People of God and to increase its numbers without cease, Christ the Lord set up in his Church a variety of offices which aim at the good of the whole body” (ccc 874). Quoting again from the Second Vatican Council, the Catechismexplains that the ultimate goal for all the People of God “in accord with the condition proper to each one” (ccc 871) is
salvation (see “Lumen Gentium” 18).
The next passage in the Catechism offers a comprehensive explanation regarding the place of ordained ministers in the life of the Church. From Christ, the Catechism teaches, bishops and priests “receive the mission and faculty (‘the sacred power’) to act in persona Christi Capitis” (875); deacons receive the strength to serve the people of God in the diaconia of liturgy, word and charity, in communion with the bishop and his presbyterate. “The ministry in which Christ’s emissaries do and give by God’s grace what they cannot do and give by their own powers, is called a ‘sacrament’ by the Church’s tradition. Indeed, the ministry of the Church is conferred by a special sacrament” (ccc 875). The single characteristic that summaries all ministers of the Gospel is “service” (ccc 376). To say it in the words of St. Paul, ministers are truly “slaves of Christ,” (Rom 1:1) in the image of him who freely took ”the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7). Whether a member of the laity or the hierarchy, all members of the People of God are called by Christ to be of service to one another, to the Church and to the world. Recall in the Gospels when Christ called the twelve apostles. The Catechism tells us: Christ “constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them” (ccc 880). Regarding the pope, Bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter, he is “pastor of the entire Church [and] has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church” (ccc 882). The bishops have “no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head” (ccc 883). Each bishop ordinarily leads a local Church or diocese where he exercises his “pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to [him], assisted by priests and deacons” (ccc 886). As a member of the “the episcopal college,” he also “shares in the concern for all the Churches” nationally and worldwide (ccc 886). The next time you see a priest, bishop or consecrated religious, on the one hand, or the next time you meet a fallen-away Catholic or even a validly baptized Protestant, on the other hand, remember that all enjoy equal dignity and full membership among the People of God. All are members of the “Mystical Body” of Christ.