As previously explained, I've enrolled in the University of Notre Dame's Satellite Theological Education Program (STEP) to pursue their Certificate in Doctrine. I am currently taking my third of the required courses: Ecclesiology. This week's topic is The Church as Community.
Our assignment this week is to discuss (in 250 words or less) the following:
The community of the Church can be described as one of communion. Read the discussion of “communion” found in CCC 946-953. What distinguishes the “communion of saints” that “is the Church” (CCC 946) from other human forms of community? Why is this important?
946 After confessing "the holy catholic Church," the Apostles' Creed adds "the communion of saints." In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding: "What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?" The communion of saints is the Church.
947 "Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others.... We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head.... Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments.""As this Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the goods she has received necessarily become a common fund."
948 The term "communion of saints" therefore has two closely linked meanings: communion in holy things (sancta)" and "among holy persons (sancti).
"Sancta sancti's! ("God's holy gifts for God's holy people") is proclaimed by the celebrant in most Eastern liturgies during the elevation of the holy Gifts before the distribution of communion. the faithful (sancta) are fed by Christ's holy body and blood (sancta) to grow in the communion of the Holy Spirit (koinonia) and to communicate it to the world.
949 In the primitive community of Jerusalem, the disciples "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers."
Communion in the faith. the faith of the faithful is the faith of the Church, received from the apostles. Faith is a treasure of life which is enriched by being shared.
950 Communion of the sacraments. "The fruit of all the sacraments belongs to all the faithful. All the sacraments are sacred links uniting the faithful with one another and binding them to Jesus Christ, and above all Baptism, the gate by which we enter into the Church. the communion of saints must be understood as the communion of the sacraments.... the name 'communion' can be applied to all of them, for they unite us to God.... But this name is better suited to the Eucharist than to any other, because it is primarily the Eucharist that brings this communion about."
951 Communion of charisms. Within the communion of the Church, the Holy Spirit "distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank" for the building up of the Church. Now, "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
952 "They had everything in common." "Everything the true Christian has is to be regarded as a good possessed in common with everyone else. All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy . . . and of their neighbors in want." A Christian is a steward of the Lord's goods.
953 Communion in charity. In the sanctorum communio, "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself." "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." "Charity does not insist on its own way." In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion.
In his book Models of the Church, Avery Cardinal Dulles identifies several ways of thinking about the Church, two of which seem pertinent to the discussion question. On the one hand, we can understand the Church as an "institution." This model “defines the Church primarily in terms of its visible structures, especially the rights and powers of its officers.” Whatever the merits--and they are debatable--of this model for understanding the Church, it does not provide a basis for distinguishing the Church from any other human community.
In contrast, Dulles says we can understand the Church as a "mystical communion." here we have a model that distinguishes the Church from secular communities. Again, it is not a perfect model, but its "emphasis on the dynamic community generated by the Holy Spirit along a vertical line (relationship with God) and horizontally (relationship with brother and sisters)" provides its greatest strength.
Dulles' insights suggest that the Church as a communion of saints differs from secular communities in its universality. Outside of space and time, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit commune with one another in eternal love. All who have professed Christ as savior since the Church was founded at Pentecost are drawn into that communal relationship and thus become part of a fellowship that includes not just its present day members but rather everyone who has ever believed.
This understanding of the unique nature of the Christian community is implied in Hebrews 12:1, where the author reminds us that "we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." When read in context of the preceding Chapter, which recounts the faith of the ancient saints (I am not going to get into the vexed question of the status of those saints who lived before Christ), the passage clearly suggests that we are part of community that includes both our contemporaries and the saints of the past. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that we believe the intercession of the saints has value.
Instructively, however, the author of Hebrews goes on to remind is to keep "our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith." No matter how valuable the intercession of our fellow believers, the saints, or even Mary may be, God remains the head and focus of our community. Hence, the Catechism reminds us that "the most important member is Christ, since he is the head."