Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Church is neither incidental nor accidental

In the context of considering Christ's Ascension into heaven, where He reigns at the Father's right hand, it takes only a bit of reflection to inexorably lead one to considerthe Church as our vehicle between the already and the not-yet. The late Jesuit Cardinal and theologian Jean Daniélou, in his book Étude d'exégèse judéo-chrétienne, which is cited by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn in God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology, observed, "Between the last of the mysteries of the life of Christ that have already occurred, the Acension, and that for which we are still waiting, the Parousia, there is one mystery - and only one - that is contemporary with us: that Christ is seated at the Father's right hand."

This mystery is nothing other than the mystery of the Church, which is Christ's Bride, as well as His Mystical Body. "The future heavenly Kingdom of God," Cardinal Schönborn avers, "is at the same time a present reality." This inextricably ties the Church and the Eucharist together. It has been observed many times over that the Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist (see paragraph 26 of Bl. John Paul II's final encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia). It is this tie that leads Schönborn to write, "The fact that Christ is enthroned at the Father's right hand is shown precisely in his living, bodily presence in the Eucharist," which, in this context, puts the locus right in the heart of the Church.

As it was stated in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium- "the Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King" (par. 5).

"Since the famous saying of Alfred Loisy (d. 1940) that Jesus had promised the coming of the Kingdom of God but instead it was the Church that came," Schönborn notes, "we are constantly being told that we must not identify the Church with the Kingdom, since the latter is a strictly eschatological reality, whereas the Church is merely a sign of the Kingdom, pointing toward it." Such a view of the Church, he writes, is a defective and reductive ecclesiology because it reveals a reductive Christology: "the Church is being seen too little in terms of her basis in Christ and too much in terms of her contingent historical and institutional aspect."

It seems that one of the chief aims of Pope Francis' young papacy is to help the Church's basis in Christ shine forth by reducing the importance of the Church's institutional dimension as it regards the papacy. One telling sign of the accuracy of Cardinal Schönborn's thesis is that even when Catholics refer to "the Church" they simply mean the hierarchy, but the hierarchy reduced to the pope and the bishops. While the Church is constitutionally hierarchical this does not mean that the Church must be overwhelmingly institutional, especially when this results in institutionalism, which seeks to squelch, or even stamp out the Spirit.

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