Sixth Week of Easter

What Is the Church?

Pop quiz: What does the word "church" mean?

A. A building used by Christians for religious purposes
B. The religious rituals carried out in that building
C. A local Christian community
D. All Christians throughout space and time
E. All of the above
The correct answer is E. All of the above. The Greek word ekklesia, used in the New Testament, refers to a religious assembly. It means a group of people God has called together. The universal Christian communion is made up of local communities (dioceses and parishes) that gather for worship in designated sacred spaces. The word "church" encompasses all these levels of meaning. In the words of the Catechism,

"The Church" is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ's Body. (752)

From all eternity, God has desired to draw a people to himself. He began doing so in the Old Testament when he chose Israel to be a nation consecrated to God. However, this was always meant to be the beginning of something greater. When Christ came, he founded his Church by preaching to the people of Israel, dying on the Cross, rising from the grave, and giving his apostles the Great Commission: to bring all peoples into the Good Shepherd's sheepfold.

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
— Matthew 28:18-20

We can gather from all this that being a member of the Church (universal and local) is an essential part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. He never meant for us to go it alone. He desires for all people to receive the sacraments and to obey his teachings in the context of a believing community.

The Church has a permanent structure and mission: Jesus ordained the first bishops (the apostles), who in turn ordained bishops, priests, and deacons to preach God's Word and distribute the sacraments to the people. The pope, who is the successor of St. Peter the Apostle, presides over the whole Church. All members of the Church, ordained or lay, participate in this mission of evangelization, through which the Church grows and is strengthened and the peace of God spreads across the whole world.

The Church is both visible and invisible. It is made up of the Church Militant (those of us fighting the good fight on earth), the Church Suffering (those who are being cleansed in purgatory), and the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven, known and unknown). In the end, only the Church Triumphant will remain, as Christ draws all members of the Church into his heavenly peace.
In the words of the Nicene Creed, the Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." These are called the Four Marks of the Church:

  1. She is one because there is only one Christ who calls us together, and he wants us to be united in his love.
  2. She is holy because Christ, to whom she is united, is holy, and because he cleanses her of sin.
  3. She is catholic because she teaches the fullness of truth and draws in all peoples.
  4. She is apostolic because she is built on the indestructible foundation of Christ's apostles and their successors.

There is much more that can be said about the Church, but these are the basics. We'll explore the peace of Christ's Church further the rest of this week.

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

This collect prayer begins the Mass for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Jesus is calling us to "take up battle against spiritual evils." We'll explore fasting itself in a few weeks; during the week of Ash Wednesday, we're going to dig into an important set of weapons the Lord gives us to fight evil: sacramentals.

What's a sacramental? Well, if you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, you're probably going to receive one on your forehead.