Old maxim: “The Catholic Church is the Church you’re talking about when you’re talking about the Church.”
The Hebrew word for a church in Rabbi Yeshua’s time was kahal. A synagogue was a kahal israel. Rabbi Yeshua said it Mt 16:18 in Aramaic, which was kanesakh. Both words meant an assembly. St. Matthew translated Rabbi Yeshua‘s kanesakh into Greek as ekklesian (the “dictionary form” is ekklesia, pronounced with the third syllable accented). At Mt 18:17 he again translated kanesakh into Greek as ekklesia. Interestingly, modern Hebrew uses kanesakh to mean a church.
The phrase Catholic Church was first used in St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 8, about AD 107. “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church [katholike ekklesia].” In St. Ignatius’ original Greek, kata (according to) holos (the whole), combined as katholikos, the Church of the whole truth that speaks with one voice to the whole world.
When the Holy Spirit descended on Rabbi Yeshua‘s shlikhim they immediately spoke with one voice to the whole world: “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” Acts 2:7–8.
St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote katholike ekklesia in a way that suggests it had already been in use for a long time.
While Rabbi Yeshua was with us he taught directly. He simply had twelve shlikhim and many more talmidim. After he ascended to the Father Acts 1:9 his shlikhim spoke with absolute authority. “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them” Acts 5:14–15. Rabbi Yeshua‘s kanesakh was then called simply the Church of the Twelve Apostles.
But fallen men soon began to embrace heresy. § 465 “The first heresies denied not so much Christ’s divinity as his true humanity (Gnostic Docetism).” The Judaizers appeared soon afterward. “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” Acts 15:1. We may speculate that Rabbi Kefa needed a way to distinguish between the main Church of the Apostles and the small heretical sects that had already begun to sprout as weeds in Rabbi Yeshua‘s vineyard, and that he settled on katholike ekklesia, the Church of the whole truth that speaks with one voice to the whole world. This then became the Church’s name which spread so widely within a half-century that St. Ignatius of Antioch could use it without explanation.
§ 748-750 I Believe in the Holy Catholic Church
§ 751-780 The Church in God’s Plan
§ 781-810 The Church – People of God, Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit
§ 811-870 The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic
§ 871-945 Christ’s Faithful – Hierarchy, Laity, Consecrated Life
§ 946-962 The Communion of Saints
§ 963-975 Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church
§ 976 I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins
§ 977-980 One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins
§ 981-987 The Power of the Keys
§ 988-991 I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body
§ 992-1004 Christ’s Resurrection and Ours
§ 1005-1014 Dying in Christ Jesus
§ 1015-1019 In Brief
I. Names and Images of the Church
§ 751 The word “Church” (Latin ecclesia, from the Greek ek-ka-lein, to “call out of”) means a convocation or an assembly. It designates the assemblies of the people, usually for a religious purpose. Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people. By calling itself Church, the first community of Christian believers recognized itself as heir to that assembly. In the Church, God is calling together his people from all the ends of the earth. the equivalent Greek term Kyriake, from which the English word Church and the German Kirche are derived, means “what belongs to the Lord.”
§ 752 In Christian usage, the word “church” designates the liturgical assembly, but also the local community or the whole universal community of believers. These three meanings are inseparable. “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.
Symbols of the Church
§ 753 In Scripture, we find a host of interrelated images and figures through which Revelation speaks of the inexhaustible mystery of the Church. The images taken from the Old Testament are variations on a profound theme: The People of God. In the New Testament, all these images find a new center because Christ has become the head of this people, which henceforth is his Body. Around this center are grouped images taken from the life of the shepherd or from cultivation of the land, from the art of building or from family life and marriage.
§ 754 The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ. It is also the flock of which God himself foretold that he would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of Shepherds, who gave his life for his sheep.
§ 755 The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing.
§ 756 Often, too, the Church is called the building of God. the Lord compared himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the comer-stone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles and from it the Church receives solidity and unity. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which his family dwells; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling-place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. It is this holy city that is seen by John as it comes down out of heaven from God when the world is made anew, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
§ 757 “The Church, further, which is called that Jerusalem which is above and our mother, is described as the spotless spouse of the spotless lamb. It is she whom Christ loved and for whom he delivered himself up that he might sanctify her. It is she whom he unites to himself by an unbreakable alliance, and whom he constantly nourishes and cherishes.
II. The Church’s Origin, Foundation and Mission
§ 758 We begin our investigation of the Church’s mystery by meditating on her origin in the Holy Trinity’s plan and her progressive realization in history.
A plan born in the Father’s heart
§ 759 The eternal Father, in accordance with the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of his wisdom and goodness, created the whole universe and chose to raise up men to share in his own divine life, to which he calls all men in his Son. The Father determined to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ. This family of God is gradually formed and takes shape during the stages of human history, in keeping with the Father’s plan. In fact, already present in figure at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvelous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and the old Advance. Established in this last age of the world and made manifest in the outpouring of the Spirit, it will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time.
The Church – foreshadowed from the world’s beginning
§ 760 Christians of the first centuries said, “The world was created for the sake of the Church.” God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the convocation of men in Christ, and this convocation is the Church. The Church is the goal of all things, and God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels’ fall and man’s sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of his arm and the whole measure of the love he wanted to give the world: Just as God’s will is creation and is called the world, so his intention is the salvation of men, and it is called the Church.
The Church – prepared for in the Old Covenant
§ 761 The gathering together of the People of God began at the moment when sin destroyed the communion of men with God, and that of men among themselves. the gathering together of the Church is, as it were, God’s reaction to the chaos provoked by sin. This reunification is achieved secretly in the heart of all peoples: In every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to God.
§ 762 The remote preparation for this gathering together of the People of God begins when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people. Its immediate preparation begins with Israel’s election as the People of God. By this election, Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of All nations. But the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant and behaving like a prostitute. They announce a new and eternal covenant. Christ instituted this New Covenant.
The Church – instituted by Christ Jesus
§ 763 It was the Son’s task to accomplish the Father’s plan of salvation in the fullness of time. Its accomplishment was the reason for his being sent. The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures. To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. the Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.
§ 764 This Kingdom shines out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ. To welcome Jesus’ word is to welcome the Kingdom itself. The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the little flock of those whom Jesus came to gather around him, the flock whose shepherd he is. They form Jesus’ true family. To those whom he thus gathered around him, he taught a new way of acting and a prayer of their own.
§ 765 The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved. Before all else there is the choice of the Twelve with Peter as their head. Representing the twelve tribes of Israel, they are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem. The Twelve and the other disciples share in Christ’s mission and his power, but also in his lot. By all his actions, Christ prepares and builds his Church.
§ 766 The Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross. The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus. For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church. As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.
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. Then the Church was openly displayed to the crowds and the spread of the Gospel among the nations, through preaching, was begun. 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.
§ 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. 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.
The Church – perfected in glory
§ 769 The Church will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven, 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. 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. 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.
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 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. 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. These dimensions together constitute one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element.
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.
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.
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. 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. Contemplating this mystery in her, Paul exclaims: Christ in you, the hope of glory.
§ 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. 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. Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery as the bride without spot or wrinkle. This is why the Marian dimension of the Church precedes the Petrine.
The universal Sacrament of Salvation
§ 774 The Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mystenum and sacramentum. In later usage the term sacramentumemphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation which was indicated by the term mystenum. In this sense, Christ himself is the mystery of salvation: For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ. The saving work of his holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments which the Eastern Churches also call the holy mysteries. The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a sacrament.
§ 775 The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men. The Church’s first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God. Because men’s communion with one another is rooted in that union with God, the Church is also the sacrament of the unity of the human race. In her, this unity is already begun, since she gathers men from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues; at the same time, the Church is the sign and instrument of the full realization of the unity yet to come.
§ 776 As sacrament, the Church is Christ’s instrument. She is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all, the universal sacrament of salvation, by which Christ is at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love for men. The Church is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity, because God desires that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit.
Three States of the Church
§ 954 “The three states of the Church. When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.”
“All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.”
Church Militant. The Church on earth, at constant war (Latin: militia) against sin and temptation from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Her priests are ordained: “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” Ps 110:4. “[Melchizedek] is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever” Heb 7:3.
Church Suffering. All the faithful departed who are saved but still being purified in purgatorial sufferings. Her priests are those who themselves are undergoing purgation.
Church Triumphant. The Church of all in heavenly glory who have triumphed over their evil inclinations, the seductions of the world and the temptations of the evil spirit. Her priests are the holy priests who have gone from earth straight to heaven, or who have completed their purgation.