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The Church as the New Jerusalem

The message about the Church as a New Jerusalem and the analogy of a wedding banquet has serious doctrinal implications that are not always considered by believers in Jesus outside of Catholicism. While there is certainly an individual component to our ultimate salvation, the institution of the Church reminds us that there are vital corporate components as well. Jesus calls to himself disciples and appoints Apostles who will pass their authority down to the bishops who themselves will ordain priests and deacons. Jesus institutes a new covenant in his blood and commands it be repeated “in memory” of him, not in an empty nostalgic way but in a manner that makes present and available that which is recalled. He gives his message and divine mysteries, not to individuals, but to the Church, and appoints Peter and his successors as the visible head. It is the Church that assembles and declares inspired the Bible. Jesus sends his Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost to empower its leadership and to give efficacy to the sacraments. More wondrous than Isaiah could have ever imagined are the splendors given to the People of God.

What is the Church? We could write volumes and never begin to scratch the surface of this human and divine mystery. She is the great sacrament of encounter with Christ. All that we need for salvation can be found in the Church. Many analogies are used. Marriage is a popular one. Another is that of the Mystical Body of Christ. The faithful are united and interdependent, like the organs and parts of a body. There is a diversity of graces and gifts (see Corinthians 12:4-11). Read also Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; and Ephesians 4:7. There is mutual complementation (Ephesians 4:15-16). The many gifts are distributed to believers as members of a whole, just as much for their own sake (Ephesians 4:7,12). The two become one, the human and divine, the bride and groom, the Church and Christ. “We, though many are one Body in Christ” (Romans 12:4-5). All is given us “for building up the Body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12). Read also 1 Corinthians 12:27 and Ephesians 1:23. Our unity is in Christ (Ephesians 1:23; 4:15-16). The Church is the manner in which Christ is present and visible throughout history. It is for this reason that our Lord so detested hypocrisy. Such a sin blurs the likeness that others need to see in our witness and that the Father hopes to see when he looks down upon us. If He sees his Son in us then we will have a share in his Son’s reward.

During a day when there have been so many scandals, we need to remember that the Church is not only a human institution but also a divine one. The Church is literally the INCARNATION of Christ in a “visible” society, his contemporary earthly state. Those who view the Church as an intermediary that must be gone beyond or even dismissed to find Christ have it all wrong. Instead, it is through the Church that Christ gives himself to us. Jesus is our priest at Mass. Jesus gives us himself in Holy Communion. Jesus forgives our sins in Confession. Jesus is our living and transformative Word proclaimed from the pulpit. Jesus is the one with whom we share the sign of peace. It is in this sense that the second Lateran Council spoke about the Church as necessary for salvation. The Church is important because it is the extension of the person and saving work of Christ. Given this role, it is no wonder that our Lord gave special gifts to the Church: infallibility regarding the interpretation of the deposit of faith and empowerment for the sacraments so as to distribute from the deposit of divine grace. Christ is the Mediator of Salvation and the Church is his visible body in the world along with those in purgation and in heaven.

Recent convert rates to the Catholic Church in the United States were dismal. Dioceses where there had been abusive clergy or complacent bishops suffered notable decreases in Church attendance. I know one parish which had counted as many as 5,000 people a week that suffered a loss of 1,380 a week. This should have us worried. Our Lord promised that the Church would endure until the end, but we would hope that it will be more than one Pope and a couple of aging altar boys. I am often reminded of poor St. Augustine, dying as his city was being destroyed. Try to find Hippo today, or even find a Catholic Church in so many places where the Church died, frequently to be replaced by Islam. We find sobering words in the Scriptures themselves about the Lord’s second coming, “But will he find any faith left on earth?” (Luke 18:8). The Church is a witness to this faith. We should struggle to keep all parts of the body intact and alive.

Christ makes use of his Church in human history. Jesus preached and taught; we proclaim God’s Word and instruct with the Bible and our catechism. Jesus forgave sins; we go to Confession. Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his friends and endured the Cross; we have the Mass. Jesus healed the sick and dying; we offer medical care and the anointing of the sick. Jesus freed people from demons; we offer blessings and even exorcism. Jesus sought out the outcast and poor; we seek social justice and practice organized charity.

Jesus called the little ones to himself; and we seek to protect the dignity and rights of all God’s children, from the womb to the tomb. Individuals may be sinful and sick. Even the ministers of the Church are not immune to human weakness and failure. But the Church remains the unblemished bride of Christ.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

One Response

  1. Wonderful post. The New Jerusalem .. the New Israel also. Many are not able to see how profound that is. Actually, none of us can fully fathom the mystery. But there is this fulfillment in our midst.

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