Attending Mass can, at times, be a mundane experience for some of us. Jenny Ang was no different, until she found the meaning of "communion" as explained by Pope Benedict XVI in his book "Called to Communion".
Many of us are probably regular Church-goers and I suspect that most of us see the Church at a very practical level: a building to gather to attend Mass; the priests' role is to take care of the Church and the parishioners on top of their duties to preach the Word of God and celebrate the Eucharist; and the Archbishop is overall in charge of all the priests and churches locally.
It is precisely the practical views we have of the Church that render our attendance, at times, somewhat a mundane exercise and we may even find Mass boring. It is difficult to see the Church beyond the superficial four walls in which we have imprisoned her in our own mind.
One may, therefore, be tempted to live a private faith away from the Church - try to read the Bible, lead a decent life and get on with it.
That is until I came across a book, "Called to Communion"*, written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and first published in 1991.
In it, the Pope discusses eloquently the very essence of the Church, her purpose and how Christ intended her to be. The Pope guides us along the path that the Church is a communion with the Word and Body of Christ where the Eucharist "seen as the permanent origin and center of the Church, joins all of the "many", who are now a people, to the one Lord and to his one and only Body. This already implies that the Church and her unity are but one.
Communion "means the seemingly uncrossable frontier of my 'I' is left wide open and can be so because Jesus has first allowed himself to be opened completely, has taken us all into himself and has put himself totally into our hands and hence, Communion means the fusion of existences." Communion makes the Church by "..... gathering us into a deep communion of existence. It is the event of "gathering", in which the Lord joins us to one another."
And, for what purpose? The Pope explains that the "ultimate goal at which this gathering aims is perfect unity - it is "unification" with the Son, which at the same time makes it possible to enter into the living unity of God himself, so that God might be all in all."
Against this backdrop, one begins to see the Church with new eyes. So, we begin to comprehend that when we go to Church and receive the Eucharist, we become unified with God through Christ and with one another as the Body of Christ. Here stands the essential mystery or spirituality of the Church in all its profundity and yet simplicity.
The Pope also goes on to explain the apostolic succession (papacy) as the cornerstone of the unity of the Church; the role of the Bishop as one who "does not proclaim his own ideas; he is an emissary and as such, is a messenger of Jesus Christ." and he "represents the Universal Church in relation to the local Church and vice versa. In this way he serves unity." The essence and formation of priesthood are expounded upon as well.
In the book, the Pope also includes a chapter interestingly titled "A Company In Constant Renewal". I suppose you can guess that "Company" here refers to the Church. He addresses a call from some quarters to reform the Church into a democracy where self determination rules; that the Church should no longer be "a passive receiver of the Christian existence.... The Church must no longer be fitted over us from above like a ready made garment; no, we "make" the Church ourselves, and do so in constantly new ways."
The Pope persuasively points out the fallacy of such thinking whereby "A church based on human resolutions merely becomes a human church. It is reduced to the level of the makeable, of the obvious, of opinion." As a result, faith is replaced by opinion and the words, "I believe" become no more than "we opine". What is truly needed, the Pope says, is faith itself as the essential reform.
The book is full of insights for a wide spectrum of believers. I hope that it will stimulate your thoughts as much as it has done so for mine.
Contributor: Jenny Ang
*Called to Communion, Ignatius Press