Ecclesiology: The Church as Communion and Mission

Ecclesiology: The Church as Communion and Mission


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Ecclesiology: The Church as Communion and Mission presents the basic information needed to have a clear understanding of nature of the Church.
This book is a theological study of the Church, that is, an ecclesiology. There is a rhythm at work in the eucharistic Liturgy and thus in the Christian life as a whole that provides us with a key insight for understanding the Church. In this dynamic movement of coming together and going forth, symbolized in the rites of gathering and dismissal that frame the Mass, we have the basic elements for a theology of the Church. In theological categories, those basic elements may be termed “communion” and “mission.” Reflection upon our ongoing experience of communion and mission can thus provide us with a vision of what it means to be the Church.
—From chapter 1
Catholic Basics: A Pastoral Series that offers an in-depth yet accessible understanding of the fundamentals of the Catholic faith for adults, both those active in pastoral ministry and those preparing for ministry. The series helps readers explore the Catholic tradition and apply what they have learned to their lives and ministry situations. Includes study questions and suggestions for further reading.
Ecclesiology: The Church as Communion and Mission addresses Standards #520.01 and 520.03–520.06.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780829417265
Publisher: Loyola Press
Publication date: 07/01/2001
Series: Catholic Basics: A Pastoral Ministry Series
Edition description: REV
Pages: 136
Sales rank: 387,707
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

Dr. Morris Pelzel is assistant professor of systematic theology at Saint Meinrad School of Theology, St. Meinrad, Indiana, He received a PhD in theology from the Catholic University of America in 1994. He teaches a broad variety of courses at Saint Meinrad, including foundational theology, theological anthropology, Trinity, ecumenical theology, and ecclesiology. His course in science and theology was selected as an award winner in the 1997 Templeton Foundation Course Design Program in Science and Religion.

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About the Series

Catholic Basics: A Pastoral Ministry Series offers an indepth yet accessible understanding of the fundamentals of the Catholic faith for adults, both those preparing for lay ministry and those interested in the topics for their own personal growth. The series helps readers explore the Catholic tradition and apply what they have learned to their lives and ministry situations. Each title offers a reliable introduction to a specific topic and provides a foundational understanding of the concepts.
Each book in the series presents a Catholic understanding of its topic as found in Scripture and the teachings of the Church. Each of the authors has paid special attention to the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so that further learning can be guided by these core resources.
Chapters conclude with study questions that may be used for small group review or for individual reflection. Additionally, suggestions for further reading offer dependable guides for extra study.
The initiative of the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership led to the development of an earlier version of this series. The indispensable contribution of the series editor, Dr. Thomas Walters, helped ensure that the concepts and ideas presented here are easily accessible to a wide audience.

Each book in this theology series relates to standards for theological competency identified in the resources listed below. Three national church ministry organizations provide standards for certification programs that serve their respective ministries. The standards were developed in collaboration with the United States Catholic Conference Commission on Certification and Accreditation. The fourth resource is the latest document, and it was developed to identify common goals of the three sets of standards.
Competency Based Certification Standards for Pastoral Ministers, Pastoral Associates and Parish Life Coordinators. Chicago: National Association for Lay Ministry, Inc. (NALM), 1994.
These standards address three roles found in pastoral ministry settings in the United States. The standards were the earliest to receive approval from the United States Catholic Conference Commission on Certification and Accreditation. Copies of the standards are available from the National Association for Lay Ministry, 5420 S. Cornell, Chicago, IL 60615-5604.
National Certification Standards for Professional Parish Directors of Religious Education. Washington, DC: National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, 1998.
NCCL developed standards to foster appropriate initial education and formation, as well as continuing personal and professional development, of those who serve as Directors of Religious Education. The standards address various areas of knowledge and the abilities needed in the personal, theological, and professional aspects of the ministry. Also included is a code of ethics for professional catechetical leaders. Available from the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership, 3021 Fourth Street NE, Washington, DC 20017-1102.
Competency-Based Standards for the Coordinator of Youth Ministry. Washington, DC: National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, 1996.
This document lays out the wide range of knowledge and skills that support ministry with young people as well as the successful leadership and organization of youth ministry wherever it may be situated. The standards are available from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, 415 Michigan Avenue NE, Suite 40, Washington, DC 20017-1518.
Merkt, Joseph T., ed. Common Formation Goals for Ministry. A joint publication of NALM, NFCYM, and NCCL, 2000.
Rev. Joseph Merkt compared the documentation of standards cited by three national organizations serving pastoral, youth, and catechetical ministries. The resulting statement of common goals identifies common ground for those who prepare persons for ministry as well as for the many people who wear multiple hats. Copies are available from NALM, NCCL, or NFCYM.

This book is about the Church. Thus, it is about us because we are the Church. In the first place, however, this book is about God because we the Church are formed and sustained in our life by the presence and action of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, sent among us by God the Father. So the Church, as this book, is really about relationships, about connections, about mutual giving and receiving among persons, divine and human. Ecclesiology: the Church as Communion and Mission is a theological study of the Church. It presents, therefore, an ecclesiology, that is, a theology of the Church. What is offered here reflects both our experience of being the Church and our hope for what we can become as Church. It is a vision that calls us to action.
This book was composed with particular reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and the recently published General Directory for Catechesis (GDC). Both of these sources are steeped with citations from and references to official Church documents, especially documents of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements. Readers will note that there are frequent references in this book to these documents as well as to other theological sources. The intention is to present a study of the Church that reflects the main perspectives and themes found in these authoritative teachings. At the same time, the book seeks to offer a presentation of themes and ideas that is somewhat original in its arrangement and expression. Readers are encouraged to go to the original source documents as well as to other studies of ecclesiology, such as those mentioned in the list of resources for further study.
I would like to thank Dr. Thomas Walters, a faculty colleague at Saint Meinrad School of Theology. Tom’s encouragement and counsel have helped to sustain my confidence during the writing of this book. I thank Tom, his wife Rita, and Paul Kaiser for reading the manuscript and offering candid and insightful observations. I hope that by following their suggestions I have made the book more lively and clear to read. Its shortcomings, nonetheless, remain my own.
I wish to dedicate the book to my family: my parents, Albert and Clara Pelzel; my brothers and sisters and their families; and my wife Pamela and our daughter Madeleine Rose. I have been most richly blessed to be a part of this “domestic Church.”
A Vision of Church—Communion and Mission

For most Catholics, the celebration of the Mass is the fullest experience of what it means to be Christian and what it means to be the Church. By gathering in the presence of God and one another, listening to the stories of salvation, and sharing the eucharistic bread and cup at the table of the Lord, we reaffirm our identity as Christians. Having thus celebrated the eucharistic Liturgy, we are then sent back into the world in order to live the Christian life and to proclaim the Christian message in our daily lives.
“Communion” and “Mission” as a Framework for Ecclesiology
This book is a theological study of the Church, that is, an ecclesiology. There is a rhythm at work in the eucharistic Liturgy and thus in the Christian life as a whole that provides us with a key insight for understanding the Church. In this dynamic movement of coming together and going forth, symbolized in the rites of gathering and dismissal that frame the Mass, we have the basic elements for a theology of the Church. In theological categories, those basic elements may be termed “communion” and “mission.” Reflection upon our ongoing experience of communion and mission can thus provide us with a vision of what it means to be the Church.
By focusing on communion and mission as categories for understanding the Church, we will be following the vision of the Second Vatican Council. It has often been observed that the Church as such was the principal object of attention in the proceedings and documents of the Second Vatican Council. Previous ecumenical councils in the history of the Church had different focal points. For example, the earliest ecumenical councils— those held in the ancient cities of Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381), and Chalcedon (451)—concentrated on the question of how Christians should properly understand and speak of God and Jesus Christ. These councils produced our basic statements of faith regarding the Trinity and the full humanity and divinity of Christ. At the Second Vatican Council, by comparison, the primary issue for understanding was not the doctrine of God or the person of Christ but, rather, the nature and identity of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council produced sixteen documents, all of which to some degree pertain to the renewal of the life of the Church. Two documents in particular, though, reflect explicitly upon the Church: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, LG) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, GS). In issuing these two documents, the council decided to address the topic of the Church from two interrelated and complementary perspectives: the inner life of the Church (ecclesia ad intra) and the life of the Church in the world (ecclesia ad extra).
Although these two perspectives may be distinguished conceptually, in concrete reality they can never be separated. Even in those moments when the Church seems most focused on its own internal life for example (in liturgy or catechesis), it is still in the world, and its members come to liturgy or catechesis from the context of their lives in the world. Correspondingly, in those moments when the Church seems most focused on involvement in the world (for example, in providing humanitarian aid or attempting to influence the direction of social policy), it can only be effective insofar as its activity springs from a community that has a vibrant and vital inner life.
We can understand these complementary perspectives of Lumen Gentium (the “inner” life of the Church) and Gaudium et Spes (the “outer” life of the Church) to correspond to our categories of communion and mission. The inner life of the Church is realized in the communion of its members with God and with one another. The outer life of the Church is its mission, realized in manifold ways, in the world. Both are necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the Church. More precisely, communion and mission cannot be understood apart from one another. In the words of Pope John Paul II:

Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion. It is always the one and the same Spirit who calls together and unifies the Church and sends her to preach the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
(On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World [Christifideles Laici, CL], #32)

Thus the communion, the bond of relationship with God and one another, that Christians experience in their daily lives and most intensely in the eucharistic Liturgy, does not “close in upon itself.” Our life “inside” the Church is not a life insulated from non-Christians and the secular world of the outside; rather, it is precisely the experience to which we invite the entire world to participate. As Christians we must not simply dwell in the Church as a comfortable refuge of like-minded friends; we have an imperative to always widen the circles of inclusion in our communal life, ultimately “to the ends of the earth.” The liturgical rite of dismissal at the end of Mass does not simply mean “now the service is over, and you are permitted to leave”; rather, it means “go into the world now, and live there what you have just celebrated.” The very word “Mass” comes from the Latin formula for the rite of dismissal—Ite, missa est—meaning, “Go, the Mass is ended, be sent forth.” So the words “Mass” and “mission” come from the same source; thus, we cannot really understand the Mass without seeing how it leads us to take up our mission as Christians in the world. This is the true meaning of our being “dis-missed” from the eucharistic Liturgy.
But what is this mission? Though it takes many forms, ultimately the goal of the Christian mission is to widen and enrich the communion of the human family, to make it completely inclusive. The goal is to broaden the eucharistic assembly. So from a Christian perspective, just as every gathering (communion) leads at some point to a sending forth (mission), so the purpose of going forth is to build up, to enhance, the experience of communion.
In official documents and in theological literature since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a growing agreement that “communion” is the category that best explains the essential nature of the Church. So there has been a flourishing of “communion ecclesiologies.” Perhaps less prominent has been the insistence that “mission” is an equally important category for understanding the Church and that, indeed, one cannot fully understand “communion” in the Church without also understanding “mission.” This is not to say that “mission” has not received a significant amount of attention but rather that the connection of “communion” and “mission” has not been reflected on in the same depth as has the concept “communion” in itself. So it is not unusual to see references to the nature and mission of the Church, which, while perhaps not technically inaccurate, could give the impression that the Church’s mission in the world is not really part of its nature. It is more accurate to say that the Church’s nature is missionary, or again that communion and mission together form the nature or essence of the Church.

The Communion and Mission of the Trinity—Source of the Church’s Communion and Mission

In saying that the rhythm of communion and mission is what defines the Church, we are not just saying something about the Church. In fact, the reason we say that ecclesial life is defined by communion and mission is that these same realities are first of all characteristic of divine life. God is a communion of persons, each equal to one another and sharing a life of mutual giving and receiving. And, in the gracious and loving plan of God, this divine communion is opened up to the created world through the missions of the Son and the Spirit in the world. In other words, God the Father sends the Son and the Holy Spirit into the world in order to draw the human family into that family’s own communion of life. Thus, at the beginning of LG, in paragraphs 2–4, the trinitarian basis for the unity (communion) of the Church is presented, with the following conclusion: “Thus the Church has been seen as ‘a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’” (LG, #4, citing Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol. III, q. 63, a. 2).
Likewise, early in the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes Divinitus, AGD), there is a corresponding grounding of ecclesial mission in the divine missions:
The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father. (AGD, #2)
In theological reflections since the council, there has been a gradually deepening awareness of the interconnection between ecclesial life and divine life. If at the time of the council in the early 1960s the Church as such was the predominant topic of theological reflection, it should also be noted that in the 1980s and 1990s the Trinity has been the subject receiving the most theological attention in the Christian world. Numerous studies of the Trinity have appeared, all of which have argued to some degree or another that the Trinity belongs at the center of Christian life and theological reflection. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is also very direct about this:
The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”1
This refocusing on the Trinity has helped us to recover the genuine center of Christian theology and to situate other theological topics, such as the Church, in their proper context. What is said about the Church, then, is based on what is said about God. This is not to imply that there are no differences between God and the Church with respect to communion and mission. Rather, we are emphasizing that reflection on the Church has as its ultimate reference point our understanding of God.

Unfolding the Vision—The Plan of This Book

This book will develop a vision of the Church according to the rhythm of communion and mission. Of course, much more will need to be said about what these terms mean. What is communion? How do we experience different kinds and degrees of communion with other persons? What is mission? What are the various forms in which it is undertaken? How do Christians of a given time, place, and cultural context embody the call to communion and mission in specific ways of life and activity? We should regularly ask ourselves how we are responding to the mission to make Christian communion more rich, lively, and inclusive.
The following chapters will attempt to spell out the vision. In chapter two we focus on the theme of the Church as a communion of disciples. We shall consider in more detail the concept of communion both in terms of the relationships of Christians with God and of Christians with one another. We shall describe the Church as not only a communion of persons but also a communion of disciples. This term will emphasize that our communion with one another does not mean that we are all alike or the same. Rather, the more deeply a person enters into and participates in the communion of the Church, the more profoundly he or she discovers and experiences his or her distinct and indeed unique identity as a person and as a Christian. It is through relationships with others that we come to a deeper knowledge of ourselves. Thus, although all Christians are equal by virtue of Baptism and being created in the image and likeness of God, each of us realizes our Christian identity in a relatively unique way. This chapter will also explore the levels of communion among members of the Church, ranging from the individual household of faith to the local parish community and diocese and ultimately to the universal Church.
In chapter three we take up the ordering or structure of the ecclesial communion. Having established the basic baptismal equality of persons in the Church, how does this community proceed to differentiate among its members in terms of charisms and talents, needs and tasks, ministries and states of life? Some such organization is necessary for the functioning of any community. So in this chapter we shall consider how the diversity of both gifts and tasks in the Church gives rise to different ways of being a Christian. By states of life in the Church we are referring to the laity, the ordained, and the consecrated (members of religious communities).
The concept of orders in the Church is now used primarily to refer to the various levels of ordained ministry—diaconal (deacons), presbyteral (priests), and episcopal (bishops). The basic meaning of being “ordained” is that a person’s relationship to the community as a whole is “ordered” by a particular ministry of service. Historically, though, the term “order” has also been used in a more general way to refer to any distinct class of persons in the Church—such as the order of catechumens, the order of penitents, and the many religious orders. All Christians belong to the “order of the baptized,” and on that basis all are called to ministry and mission. Sometimes the Church is described as a hierarchical communion, emphasizing the structure given to the Church by the office of ordained ministers, especially the bishops. The perspective of chapter three, while respecting the hierarchical dimension of ecclesial communion, will highlight the presence of gifts for service in all members of the community and the task of orchestrating these gifts for the common good.
In chapter four we reflect on two of the principal means by which the Church is formed as a communion of disciples—the ministries of Word and sacrament. The Church is the gathering of all those who hear the Word of God—the Gospel—and respond to it in faith. Together we continually ponder and unfold the meaning of the Christian message for our lives. According to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum, DV), “as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth, until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her” (DV, #8). In other words, as history unfolds, the Church is called to continuously deepen its insight into the revealed message of the Gospel, realizing that there is always room for further understanding. We shall see how the entire Church is a learning and teaching community, and how each of us is called to play a role in this ongoing discovery of truth.
At the same time, this community gathered by God’s Word expresses and realizes its identity in the most profound way when it celebrates the sacraments. We shall see how the sacraments, above all the Eucharist, “make the Church.” Thus, in chapter four we see even more clearly how the entire celebration of Mass—the rite of gathering, the liturgy of the Word, the liturgy of the Eucharist, and the dismissal rite—is the basic experience within which we discover what it is to be Church. In addition we shall explore why the Church itself is called the “sacrament of universal salvation” for the world. This idea of Church as “sacrament for the world” also serves as a transition or bridge to the following chapters, which take up the mission of the Church in the world. Thus, while in chapters two, three, and four we primarily develop the theme of communion, or the “inner” life of the Church, in chapters five and six we turn our attention to an emphasis on mission, that is, the “outer” life of the Church. In chapter five, we examine the mission of the Church as “evangelizer of cultures.” In this perspective all of the ministries and activities of the Church in the world will be understood as part of the process of evangelization. The term “evangelization,” somewhat of a newcomer to the Catholic vocabulary, is of central importance for understanding the Church. In his 1975 apostolic exhortation On Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi, EN), Pope Paul VI taught that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church: “Evangelization is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity” (EN, #14).
Pope John Paul II has further deepened the Church’s identity as an evangelizing community and has emphasized how the evangelization of cultures is always at the same time the “inculturation” of the Gospel.
In chapter six we turn toward a more specific element of the Church’s evangelizing activity in the world; namely, transforming human society in the light of the Gospel. Here we consider the role of the Church in the various domains of life in the world, such as the family, the economy, politics, the media, the arts and sciences, and so on. Inspired by the teaching of GS, the Church has declared that “action on behalf of justice . . . fully appears to us as a constitutive dimension of preaching the Gospel” (Justice in the World [JW]). We shall see how the Church has developed a body of social teaching that inspires us to work for a more justly ordered world. At the same time, Christians, and thus the Church, are called to be in the world but not of the world. Reflection on the Church’s social mission will take place with the clear realization that the full scope of that mission extends beyond the things of this world and without the utopian expectation that we can create a perfect society on earth.
Finally, in chapter seven we connect this developed vision of the Church as communion and mission with our profession of belief in the Nicene Creed that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” These traditional marks of the Church have often served as the primary themes for organizing a study of the Church, an ecclesiology. We shall see that by speaking extensively of communion and mission, we do in fact thoroughly study the Church as one and apostolic. Thus, in chapter seven, we offer some further comments on the Church as holy and catholic. These defining attributes of the Church are both gift and task. That is, being one, holy, catholic, and apostolic is both what the Church is as well as what the Church is called to become.

The goal of this book is to inspire a theological vision that incorporates the most important trends in the theology of the Church since the Second Vatican Council. It is my conviction that the rhythm of communion and mission, gathering and being sent— rooted in the very life of God, celebrated in the liturgy, and lived out in the world—provides the only adequate framework for gaining a comprehensive vision of the Church. This is the vision that we seek to put into practice as we journey together in our lives as Christians.

1. CCC 234: General Catechetical Directory (GCD) 47.

1. How would you describe your present “vision” of the Church?
2. Do you experience in your faith community and its liturgy a rhythm of gathering and being sent, coming together and going forth, and communion and mission?
3. What does it mean to say that the Trinity is the source of the Church’s communion and mission?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the Series viii
Certification Standards: National Resources for Church Ministry ix
Introduction xi

Chapter 1: A Vision of Church—Communion and Mission 1
“Communion” and “Mission” as a Framework for Ecclesiology 2
The Communion and Mission of the Trinity—Source of the Church’s Communion and Mission 5
Unfolding the Vision—The Plan of This Book 7
Summary 11
For Reflection 11

Chapter 2: The Church—Communion of Disciples
Communion—Bond of Life in the Church 15
Father, Son, and Spirit—A Life of Perfect Communion 17
We Are Invited to Share God’s Life 18
Communion Among Members of the Church 20
The Parish—Communion of Households 21
The Diocese—Communion of Parishes 23
The Universal Church—Communion of Local Churches 24
Communion Beyond the Visible Church 26
The Church—Communion of Disciples 27
Summary 29
For Reflection 29

Chapter 3: Charisms, Ministries, and States of Life in the Churc
h 30
The Common Status of the People of God 32
The Church Evolves Through History 35
The Correspondence of Charisms, Tasks, and Offices 37
States of Life in the Church—Laity, Clergy, and Religious 39
Summary 52
For Reflection 52

Chapter 4: The Church—Formed Through Word and Sacrament 
The Word of God—In the Church, Above the Church 55
Advancing Toward the Plenitude of Divine Truth 56
The “Sense of the Faith” (Sensus Fidei) 58
The Whole Church, Learning and Teaching 60
Sacraments—Signifying and Sanctifying 63
The Church—Universal Sacrament of Salvation 65
Sacraments—By the Church, For the Church 66
Eucharistic Ecclesiology 67
Summary 70
For Reflection 71

Chapter 5: The Mission of the Church—Evangelizing Culture
s 72
Evangelization—Deepest Identity of the Church 75
The Essential Moments of Evangelization 77
The New Evangelization 79
The Evangelization of Cultures 80
What Are Cultures? 82
Transforming the Cultures of the United States 84
The Inculturation of the Gospel and the Church 85
Summary 88
For Reflection 88

Chapter 6: The Mission of the Church—Transforming the World  89
The Church—In the World But Not of the World 91
The Church “in” the Modern World—Gaudium et Spes and Beyond 93
What Is the “World”? 96
The World—Created for the Church 98
Catholic Social Teaching—Our Best Kept Secret 100
Summary 103
For Reflection 104

Chapter 7: The Church—One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic
The Church—Holy in a Way That Can Never Fail 107
The Holiness of the Church—Genuine Though Imperfect 108
The Catholic Unity of the Church 111
Catholicity—The Fullness of Giving and Receiving 113
Summary 115
For Reflection 115

Conclusion 116
Abbreviations 117
Resources for Further Study 119
Acknowledgments 122
About the Author 123

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