1. The Catholic Church is a visible institution, founded by Christ, in which men are trained for heaven.
The Church may be compared with a school; the latter prepares its pupils to become good citizens of the State, the former trains up citizens of heaven. And just as a school has its head master, its staff of teachers, its pupils, along with its regulations for discipline, and appliances of education, so is the Church provided. It has a visible head, the visible ceremony of Baptism by which members are received, and a visible formula of belief. Hence Christ compares the Church with visible objects, with a city placed on a mountain, with a light on a candlestick; it is also called a body (Eph. i. 22), the house of God (1 Tim. iii. 15), a holy city (Apoc. xxi. 10). Wherever Catholic priests and Catholics are to be found, there is the Catholic Church. Two classes of people maintain that the Church is not visible: heretics, who have been cut off from it yet would gladly belong to the Church, and free thinkers, who wish to shirk the obligation of obeying a visible Church. The expression “Catholic Church” does not imply a mere building of stone or wood, though the comparison is frequently made in the Scriptures (Eph. ii. 21), the Church having a living corner-stone, Christ (Ps. cxvii. 22) Who binds the faithful into one divine family, and the foundation-stones of the apostles (Apoc. xxi. 14), the faithful being the stones of the edifice (1 Pet. ii. 5). Nor by “Catholic Church” do we mean “Catholic religion;” the Church is to the religion as the body to the soul.
The Catholic Church is often called the “kingdom of heaven,” “kingdom of God,” “community of the faithful.”
John the Baptist and Christ Himself announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt. iii. 2; iv. 17). The parables on the kingdom of heaven bring out the various features of the Church. The gradation of offices in the Church (Pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, ordinary Christians), is very suggestive of a kingdom, in which the aim is to lead men to heaven. “The Church is the people of God scattered through the world,” says St. Augustine; or in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the community of the faithful. Our Lord compares it with a fold where He wishes to keep all His sheep.
The Church is very properly called the “Mother of Christians,” because she gives to men the true life of the soul, and because she trains her members as a mother brings up her children.
The Church confers in Baptism the gift of sanctifying grace, the true life of the soul, for this grace gives a claim to heaven. As the father who goes away on a journey leaves all his power in the hands of the mother, so Christ, in leaving this earth, gave His Church full power (John xx. 21). “We should love God as Our Father,” says St. Augustine, “and the Church as our Mother.” “If we love our native land so dearly,” says Leo XIII., “because we were born and bred there, and are ready even to die for it, how much deeper should be our love for the Church, which has given us the life which has no end.”
2. The Church prepares man for heaven by carrying out the threefold office which Christ conferred upon her; the office of teacher, of priest, and of shepherd.
The Church teaches the doctrine of Christ, ministers the means of grace appointed by Christ, and is a guide and shepherd to the faithful. The teaching is carried on by sermons; the means of grace con sist in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the sacraments, blessings, and the holding of special devotions; the guidance consists in the laying down of certain precepts, e.g., the commandments of the Church, and the prohibition of what is sinful or dangerous, e.g., the reading of bad books.
This triple office was first exercised by Christ, and then passed on to the apostles and their successors.
Christ used to preach, as we see in the sermon on the mount. He dispensed the means of grace, forgiving Magdalen her sins, giving His body and blood to the apostles at the Last Supper, blessing the little children. Christ was the Guide of men. He gave commandments, sent the apostles on missions, instructed them, and reproved the tyranny of the Pharisees, etc. He gave the apostles commission (1), to teach all nations (Matt. xxviii. 19), and also (2), to exercise the power of the priesthood, to offer sacrifice (Luke xxii. 19), and to forgive sins (John xx. 23); (3), in addition the apostles received the office of pastor, and with it the power of reproving and correcting (Matt. xviii. 17), and of binding and loosing, i.e., of making and revoking laws. The words of Christ included the successors of the apostles as well as the apostles themselves: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. xxviii. 20).
3. The Lord and King of the Church is Christ.
The prophets had foretold (Ps. ii.), that the Messias should be a great king, whose kingdom should last forever and embrace all other kingdoms. The archangel Gabriel told Mary that the Redeemer should be a king and His kingdom should be eternal (Luke i. 33). Christ calls Himself a king to Pilate, but denies that His kingdom is of this world (John xviii. 36). Christ directs the Church through the Holy Ghost; hence He is called the Head of the Church (Eph. i. 23), of which Christians form the body, each one being a member of the body (1 Cor. xii. 27). He is also called the invisible Head, because He no longer mixes personally with man on earth. On ac count of His love for the Church, He is called her Bridegroom, and she is called His Bride (Apoc. xxi. 9). Christ compared Himself to a bridegroom on several occasions (Matt. xxii.). Like Jacob, who served seven years for Rachel, Christ would serve many years for His Church (Phil. ii. 7), and even gave His life for it (Eph. v. 25).
4. The Catholic Church consists of a teaching and a hearing body. To the former belong the Pope, bishops, and priests; to the latter the faithful.
The word “Pope” comes from the Latin papa, i.e., father; “bishop” is from the Greek episcopos, i.e., overseer; priest is from the Greek word presbyter, meaning “the elder.” In Latin, priest is sacerdos.
This article, 1. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND ITS INSTITUTION is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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