July 28, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Without the Eucharist, there would be no Catholic Church

My reflections on what it is that constitutes the Archdiocese of Indianapolis continue with a look at our beginnings and the source of our life as a Church.

In the earliest days of the Church, Christians were a truly miniscule minority in the world around them. Worship of pagan deities was far more popular than worship of the triune God made visible by the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If early missionaries had pursued their call with fear and trembling in the face of popular opinion, our history might have been quite different.

From the beginning, the Apostles and their successors went wherever they could go, by land or by sea, to carry on the mission of Christ.

In those earliest years, had there been opinion polls taken as they are today, less than 1 percent would have expressed belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

But that didn’t stop the Apostles and their successors. Missionaries like St. Paul didn’t give up, and that made all the difference. We are now a Catholic Church numbering more than 1.2 billion members around the world.

Rapid growth meant that the Apostles and their successors could no longer be the sole pastors of their local (diocesan) Churches. And so the early bishops began to ordain helpers, presbyters (priests) to be co-workers in worship, leading, teaching and serving the local apostolic community.

These priests became leaders (pastors) of parishes in the name of and in cooperation with the local bishop. And so the diocese remained the full expression of the apostolic Church, while the parish became the typical community of faith for sacramental worship, community service and administration.

And so a diocesan Church which manifests the entire Church under the leadership of a bishop, successor to the apostolic college, itself became both one and many. It is a communion of parishes which together form a particular apostolic Church. And parishes are themselves a communion of families or households.

Each family by reason of the sacramentality of marriage represents a communion of life and love. The family—husband, wife and children—are called to a unique participation in the mission of Christ and, as such, form a kind of domestic Church called an “ecclesiola” (little Church).

Even a single person or those who share a common home but who are not, strictly speaking, a family, still have a Christian responsibility to make their home an enclave of Gospel values and a sign of the presence of Christ in the midst of everyday human life.

Each parish is built on the foundation of solid Christian households, and provides the means by which such households come together as Church to make visible and concrete their participation in the wider Church.

Solid Christian households find their source of life in the Word of God and in the sacraments of the Church. Through the regular gathering of the parish Church, the domestic Church becomes concrete and social rather than arbitrary and private. Like the parish, no Christian family is an island unto itself.

Because it is sacramental and catholic, the divisions of Church like diocese and parish are not simply parts of a whole. The diocese in some way contains the whole apostolic Church and represents it. Therefore, the diocese must be made visible and operational through the collaborative mission of parishes under the leadership of the bishop. Thus parishes effectively participate in and sacramentally represent the Church.

This also means the family or household Church must see and participate in the parish Church in order to give expression to its potential to be a domestic Church; likewise, the parish must see and participate in the diocesan Church in order to be an authentic and effective representation of it.

No parish can exist outside of diocesan communion. No evangelical or congregational church can fully claim to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

While these churches may claim some degree of these marks of the Church, they remain incomplete. All churches are not the same.

Parishes cannot exist without sacramental life. The parish Church is most visible at the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. The sacraments instituted by Christ are the lifeblood of the parish community.

Pope John Paul II once remarked that the Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, in particular, there would be no Catholic Church. Understanding the Eucharist is key to understanding our Catholic faith and its distinctiveness.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the “sacramental mysticism” of the Eucharist. Perhaps this is the most telling difference between a Roman Catholic community of faith and other faith communities.
Our archdiocese has reason to be grateful to a long line of faithful ancestors who kept the apostolic and Catholic faith. †


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