Two notions of the Church have been strongly developed over the last 50 years. The first is the understanding of the Church as the People of God. The second is of the Church as communion. The People of God was a term that was rediscovered 60 years ago during the Second Vatican Council. The document on the Church, Lumen Gentium recast the dominant image of the Church from the ‘Perfect Society’ to the ‘Pilgrim People of God’.
The ‘Pilgrim People of God’ is the first image used to describe the Church in Lumen Gentium. The Church is the people of God on a pilgrim journey. Only afterwards is the hierarchical nature of the Church mentioned.
A second image that has grown in popularity is that of the Church as communion. This image sees the Church as ever connected and increasing bonds of communion. People are connected to and engaged with the Church in all sorts of ways. This image of the Church as a communion is inspired by the belief in God as celebrated on the Feast of the Trinity. On the Feast of the Trinity we celebrate that God is a communion of life and love: a dynamic communion of life. We are called to share in that life and to grow closer into the union of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The alternative opening prayer of the Mass of Trinity puts it like this:
God we praise you;
Father all powerful, Christ Lord and
Saviour, Spirit of Love,
You reveal yourself in the depths of
drawing us to share in your life and
One God, three Persons,
be near to the people formed in
close to the world, your love brings to life.
The idea of communion implies that there are multiple layers of connection among believers. Firstly, there is the inner life of God and the life that each of us shares with the dynamism of the Trinity. We are first introduced to that at baptism. Then there is the life of baptism which we share with one another, the life of baptism which we share with all the baptised. That is why Vatican II was able to lead us to the shared understanding of baptism among the Christian Churches. That is why we do not re-baptise those who join our Catholic community. We accept and acknowledge the communion that is shared among other Christian communions.
Then there is the life of communion that we share with people of other faiths and all people of good will. Vatican II spoke of the rays of truth and light in other religions and particularly mentioned the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam.
Then there is the life of communion that we share with all of humanity. That is why Christianity has an affinity with humanity and an aversion to the oppression of peoples. That is why we have a stance that is always for life and against death. That is why people are scandalised and angry when the inner life of the Church does not reflect the heart of the communion that we intuitively know that we share.
All of this flows from the Trinity.
Our vocation is to build communion. And today is the feast that is the foundation for such a vocation.
By Fr Brendan Reed