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Week 3: Vatican II, the Church and Ministry

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The main focus of Vatican II was on the church, both its internal life and its mission outside its boundaries. Although it may be too simple a distinction, the Council’s document “On the Church” pays attention to the church’s “inside,” while the document on “The Church in the Modern World” pays attention to the church’s role in the world “outside” itself. This week we will focus on the first document; next week we will focus on the second.

The document “On the Church” had a somewhat rocky origin. In 1962, at the first session, the bishops were presented with a draft document that they found basically unacceptable. It was, in the famous words of one bishop, too “clerical, juridical, and triumphalistic.” The bishops therefore ordered the document to be completely re-written, and the result was a transformation. Instead of starting with the idea that the church is an institution, this new document began with the idea that the church is a mystery—or, as the first paragraph puts it, “a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all humankind,” as well as “an instrument for the achievement of such union and unity.” As the Council debated the new draft document, it was suggested that a second chapter be entitled “The People of God,” thus pointing to the nature of the church as a “communion” or community, and stressing the basic equality of all Christians because of their baptism. This was revolutionary, since it showed the nature of ministry in the church in a new light. The document went on, in Chapters three and four, to talk about ordained ministry in the church and the role of the laity, but this differentiation was now rooted in a fundamental equality, and so set the stage for Chapter five, which emphasized the “universal call to holiness” of all Christians. Chapter six emphasized the importance of religious life as a sign of that basic vocation to holiness in the church, and then Chapter seven spoke of the church as a “pilgrim people” journeying together toward that day when “God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). Finally, Chapter eight points to Mary as the great “archetype” of the church, the sign of its sure fulfillment. The document was approved at the second session of the Council in 1964, and had a strong influence on all that the Council achieved in the following two sessions.

The document is very long and has many beautiful passages. We, of course, can only reflect on five of them this week, and so we have to be quite selective. We will zero in on texts that have to do with the church’s nature as the People of God, Christians’ ministerial identity through baptism, the universal call to holiness, and Mary as image of the church.


DAY 11

Quote of the Day:

“Incorporated in the church through baptism, the faithful are consecrated by the baptismal character to the exercise of the cult of the Christian religion.  …  Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the font and apex of the whole Christian life, they offer the divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with it.  …  The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office. It spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give honor to God’s name (see Hebrews 13:15.  …  Allotting gifts ‘to everyone according as it will’ (1 Corinthians 12:11), [the Spirit] distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts the Spirit makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks or offices advantageous for the renewal and upbuilding of the church” (paragraphs 11 and 12).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. The excerpts from paragraphs 11 and 12 speak about the fact that Baptism makes Christians sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and kingly (i.e. servant) office or mission. How do you understand your own priestly, prophetic, and servant tasks as a “Catholic on Call”?
  2. What do you think are the gifts “for the renewal and upbuilding of the church” that the Spirit has given you?

Prayer of the Day:

Generous God, through your Spirit you have made me a priest, a prophet, and a king/servant so I can minister in your church and in your world as “another Christ.” Give me strength and courage, wisdom and prudence, so that my life will be a true reflection of your Christ. Give me confidence in myself, but especially confidence that you are with me as I live my life and serve my brothers and sisters. I pray in Jesus’ holy name, anointed with his Spirit. Amen.


DAY 12

Quote of the Day:

“If … everyone in the church does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God (see 2 Peter 1:1). And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, dispensers of mysteries, and shepherds on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful fir the building up of the Body of Christ” (paragraph 32).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. To what “path” do I believe that I am called? Why do I believe this?
  2. How do I understand my role in “building up the Body of Christ”? Do I feel challenged to do more? Am I overextended in my commitments to ministry?

Prayer of the Day:

Triune God, you are a God of unity in diversity, of equality and particularity, and through Baptism we participate in your rich life of giving and receiving, of serving and being served. Help me to recognize my dignity as a baptized Christian. And, because your church is not perfect, help those who lead us in the church to recognize the dignity and equality of everyone in their charge. I pray, Holy Mystery, through Jesus incarnate Word and through his life-giving, generous Spirit. Amen.


DAY 13

Quote of the Day:

“In the various types and duties of life, one and the same holiness is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father, worshiping God the Father in spirit and in truth. These souls follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ, in order to be made worthy of being partakers in his glory. Every person should walk unhesitatingly according to his or her own personal gifts and duties in the path of a living faith which arouses hopes and works through charity.  …  All of Christ’s faithful, therefore, whatever be the conditions, duties, and circumstances of their lives, will grow in holiness day by day through [life’s] situations, if they accept all of them with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father, and if they cooperate with the divine will by showing every person through their earthly activities the love with which God has loved the world” (paragraph 42).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How do you follow the “poor Christ,” and the “humble and cross-bearing” Christ?
  2. What circumstances in your own life are helping you or hindering you in your quest for holiness?

Prayer of the Day:

Loving God, Father of the poor Christ, lead us by your Spirit through all the difficulties and challenges and joys of life. Let us realize that our true riches are in you, and that our greatest strength is in Jesus’ cross. Keep us aware that true holiness is not an escape from the world and all its duties and pleasures, but an embrace of them as gifts of your grace. Father God, we pray in Jesus name and through his Spirit. Amen.


DAY 14

Quote of the Day:

“… even now on this earth the church is marked with a genuine though imperfect holiness. However, until there is a new heaven and a new earth where justice dwells (see 2 Peter 3:13), the pilgrim church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, takes on the appearance of this passing world. It dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the children of God (see Romans 8:19-22)” (paragraph 48).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. There is a saying that the church is “sinful yet holy.” Can you see that dynamic at work in the passage quoted above? Could this be a consolation to you in some of your disappointments with the “institution”?
  2. Where do you see holiness already flourishing in the church? Where do you think the pilgrim church has to grow in holiness? How do you think you can help the church on its pilgrimage to holiness?

Prayer of the Day:

God of our pilgrimage, you are a sure guide to the goal. Sometimes the journey is hard work—climbing steep mountains and fording deep rivers. Sometimes, though, the journey is all downhill, and I follow you with joy. Keep on being with me on my journey of faith, my journey of discernment, my journey toward holiness. Let me trust in the church, despite its faults and even sinfulness, because it is always the place where your Spirit dwells. Through Christ our companion on the way. Amen. 


DAY 15

Quote of the Day:

“In the bodily and spiritual glory which she possesses in heaven, the Mother of Jesus continues in this present world as the image and first flowering of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, Mary shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (see 2 Peter 3:10), as a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim People of God” (paragraph 68).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Why do you think the Council speaks of Mary as “sure sign of hope and solace for the pilgrim People of God”?
  2. St. Augustine once said that as great it was that Mary was Jesus’ mother, it was even greater that she was his disciple. Why do you think this is true?

Prayer of the Day:

We praise you, Mary, because you are truly blessed among not only women but all human beings! From the first moment of your existence you were totally open to God’s love and God’s plans for you. You are mother, disciple, model. Be with us on our pilgrimage. Lead us to your Son. Amen.

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