In the meantime, in the quest for a complete theological vision of ecclesiology, a certain amount of criticism arose after the 1940’s, in the 1950’s, concerning the concept of the Body of Christ: the word "mystical" was thought to be too spiritual, too exclusive; the concept "People of God" then began to come into play… In the text of the New Testament, the phrase Laos tou Theou… means… the ancient People of God, the Jews, who among the world’s peoples, goim, are "the" People of God.
The others, we pagans, are not per se God’s People: we become sons of Abraham and thus the People of God by entering into communion with Christ, the one seed of Abraham. By entering into communion with him, by being one with him, we too become God’s People… Only through Christology do we become the People of God, and thus the two concepts are combined. The Council chose to elaborate a Trinitarian ecclesiology: People of God the Father, Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Yet only after the Council did an element come to light – which can also be found, albeit in a hidden way, in the Council itself – namely this: the link between People of God and Body of Christ is precisely communion with Christ in Eucharistic fellowship. This is where we become the Body of Christ: the relationship between People of God and Body of Christ creates a new reality – communion. After the Council it became clear, I would say, that the Council really discovered and pointed to this concept: communion as the central concept. I would say that, philologically, it is not yet fully developed in the Council, yet it is as a result of the Council that the concept of communion came more and more to be the expression of the Church’s essence, communion in its different dimensions: communion with the Trinitarian God – who is himself communion between Father, Son and Holy Spirit – sacramental communion, and concrete communion in the episcopate and in the life of the Church.
Address to the Roman Clergy, February 14, 2013
Reflection – Reading this as a member of Madonna House, I cannot help but hear Catherine Doherty’s voice in the background. She had her own rather strong views on the whole subject of ecclesiology. The Mystical Body of Christ was, for her, the image that spoke most deeply to her, and she never really warmed up to ‘People of God’ as an image.
Her mystical body ecclesiology was anything but ‘spiritual’ (in the wrong sense of the word) or ‘exclusive’ – for her, it meant that she, you, I were deeply connected to the whole of humanity, that in Christ our actions and choices, our prayers and sacrifices, our daily fidelity to the duty of the moment were made efficacious across the face of the earth and could be applied to the needs of the poor, the suffering, the struggling sinners—the whole need of the world for succour and support.
A commentor asked me yesterday what ‘power’ women have in the Church today. I said there, but will say here on the front page of the blog, that the only power any of us have, really, is this power of being a cell in the Mystical Body. Of throwing our tiny humanity, with all its stumbles and staggering, onto Christ and His Power to save, heal, raise up. Power to issue an encyclical, to preach a homily, to enact this program or promulgate that doctrine—well, it’s not that all that is nothing, of course, but the real power is the power of Christ moving through our human weakness.
And the sacraments are the great sign and the great effectiveness of this power. I am glad that Benedict fills out the ‘people of God’ image by linking it to communion in the Eucharist. Catherine didn’t like the image because she saw it being used in a too humanistic and sociological way. So often the phrase became a slogan advocating for more democracy in the Church or ‘empowerment’ of the laity, understood as their being in some kind of zero sum competition with the clergy.
Rather, we are the People of God insofar as we gather around the Lord at His table, and unite ourselves to His sacrifice of praise to His Father. This, and this alone, makes us ‘God’s people’.
And so we are in this ‘time of the Church’ for the next few weeks, called to pray together and truly take hold, I would suggest, of our deep Catholic identity in all the media firestorms, scandals and rumors of scandals, and all that stuff. To know that we are in Christ and Christ is in us, and all we are asked to do is to unite ourselves with Him in the Spirit and surrender our will to His, as Mary did, knowing full well that only thus is Christ brought to the world, and that only Christ brought to the world can heal the world and raise it up to new life.