Today’s Catechism sections discuss the mystery of the Church. Supporting material comes from the Dogmatic Constitution, “Lumen Gentium”.

The Church - revealed by the Holy Spirit

767 "When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church."174 Then "the Church was openly displayed to the crowds and the spread of the Gospel among the nations, through preaching, was begun."175 As the "convocation" of all men for salvation, the Church in her very nature is missionary, sent by Christ to all the nations to make disciples of them.176

768 So that she can fulfill her mission, the Holy Spirit "bestows upon [the Church] varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her."177 "Henceforward the Church, endowed with the gifts of her founder and faithfully observing his precepts of charity, humility and self-denial, receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is on earth the seed and the beginning of that kingdom."178

The Church - perfected in glory

769 "The Church . . . will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven,"179 at the time of Christ's glorious return. Until that day, "the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world's persecutions and God's consolations."180 Here below she knows that she is in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will "be united in glory with her king."181 The Church, and through her the world, will not be perfected in glory without great trials. Only then will "all the just from the time of Adam, 'from Abel, the just one, to the last of the elect,' . . . be gathered together in the universal Church in the Father's presence."182

III. THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH

770 The Church is in history, but at the same time she transcends it. It is only "with the eyes of faith"183 that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life.

The Church - both visible and spiritual

771 "The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men."184 The Church is at the same time:
- a "society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ;
- the visible society and the spiritual community;
- the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches."185
These dimensions together constitute "one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element":186

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.187

O humility! O sublimity! Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light; and at last both object of scorn to the proud and bride of Christ! She is black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, for even if the labor and pain of her long exile may have discolored her, yet heaven's beauty has adorned her.188

The Church - mystery of men's union with God

772 It is in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals his own mystery as the purpose of God's plan: "to unite all things in him."189 St. Paul calls the nuptial union of Christ and the Church "a great mystery." Because she is united to Christ as to her bridegroom, she becomes a mystery in her turn.190 Contemplating this mystery in her, Paul exclaims: "Christ in you, the hope of glory."191

773 In the Church this communion of men with God, in the "love [that] never ends," is the purpose which governs everything in her that is a sacramental means, tied to this passing world.192
"[The Church's] structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members. And holiness is measured according to the 'great mystery' in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom."193 Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church's mystery as "the bride without spot or wrinkle."194 This is why the "Marian" dimension of the Church precedes the "Petrine."195

IN BRIEF

778 The Church is both the means and the goal of God's plan: prefigured in creation, prepared for in the Old Covenant, founded by the words and actions of Jesus Christ, fulfilled by his redeeming cross and his Resurrection, the Church has been manifested as the mystery of salvation by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. She will be perfected in the glory of heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth (cf ⇒ Rev 14:4).

779 The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine. That is her mystery, which only faith can accept.

“Lumen Gentium”, the Dogmatic Constitution explains the visible and spiritual realities of the Church in this way:

8. Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation (9*) through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element.(10*) For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.(73) (11*)

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, (12*) which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,(74) and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority,(75) which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth".(76) This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,(13*) although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to men. Christ Jesus, "though He was by nature God . . . emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave",(77) and "being rich, became poor"(78) for our sakes. Thus, the Church, although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice. Christ was sent by the Father "to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart",(79) "to seek and to save what was lost".(80) Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ. While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled(81) knew nothing of sin,(82) but came to expiate only the sins of the people,(83) the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal. The Church, "like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God"(14*), announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes."(84) By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light.

Footnotes

174 LG 4; Cf. ⇒ Jn 17:4.
175 AG 4.
176 Cf. ⇒ Mt 28:19-20; AG 2; 5-6.
177 LG 4.
178 LG 5.
179 LG 48.
180 St. Augustine, De civ. Dei, 18, 51: PL 41, 614; Cf. LG 8.
181 LG 5; Cf. 6; ⇒ 2 Cor 5:6.
182 LG 2.
183 Roman Catechism 1, 10, 20.
184 LG 8 # 1.
185 LG 8.
186 LG 8.
187 SC 2, Cf. ⇒ Heb 13:14.
188 St. Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cant. Sermo 27:14 PL 183:920D.
189 ⇒ Eph 1:10.
190 ⇒ Eph 5:32; ⇒ 3:9-11; ⇒ 5:25-27.
191 ⇒ Col 1:27.
192 ⇒ 1 Cor 13:8; cf. LG 48.
193 John Paul II, MD 27.
194 ⇒ Eph 5:27.
195 Cf. John Paul II, MD 27.