In the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St Peter encounters a crippled man begging for alms near the temple.
Peter has no funds to give him but heals the man in the name of Jesus. Peter is the rock appointed by Jesus as leader of the Twelve to serve and to build up the church as a communio a community of faith and love.
Peter presides in love; he witnesses to that love. Here is the nascent Church at work.
In the Gospel of John, using the image of the vine and the branches, Jesus speaks of the Church in terms of fruitfulness: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
The Church resembles a symphony orchestra, though this analogy is limited and incomplete. An orchestra consists of an instrumental ensemble with its hierarchical sections: the strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion. In heading the orchestra, the conductor serves it.
The orchestra is a musical unity, a musical communio. It offers beauty to the audience who will enjoy it with delight and satisfaction.
Who is the Church? She is an institution and the body of Christ, a sacrament, herald and servant (see Models of the Church by Jesuit theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles).
These paradigms capture the mystery of the Church, though not fully.
The Church is “the light to all nations” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church). She is a living, human yet divine organism, institutionally structured, of which Christ is its head, and the Spirit its soul and giver of gifts.
The pope, in the office of Peter, is the visible head of the body; he leads, guides, governs and serves.
The Church proclaims God’s love in Christ as beauty, truth and goodness to the whole world, who will contemplate it with delight and satisfaction. The parish church represents the universal Church in miniature. Each member of this body is endowed with a ministerial gift to build up the Church.
St John of the Cross beautifully expresses this idea of the body of Christ as he writes about the Son speaking to His Father:
“I will go and tell the world, spreading the word of your beauty and sweetness and of your sovereignty.
I will go and seek my bride and take upon myself her weariness and labours in which she suffers so; and that she may have life, I will die for her, and lifting her out of that deep, I will restore her to you.” (The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, 1991, p 731.)
By Sr Joan L. Roccasalvo, CSJ
American Sr Roccasalvo writes on liturgy, beauty and the arts, and on Ignatian spirituality.