Circular Letter: Fall 2022

The One Church of CHRIST

Over the past few years, the majority of German Bishops have formed a body composed of Bishops and laypersons, the so-called ‘Synodal Way’, with the supposed authority to vote on issues of doctrine and morals for the Church in Germany. Among other things, this body has proposed and “voted on” changes to the Catechism regarding homosexuality, interfaith sacramental communion, woman priests and whether there be a need for the sacramental priesthood at all. Bishops around the world have written to the German Bishops, fraternally warning them of the threat of an impending schism if they should pursue this ‘way’.

In the end, on Thursday, July 21, 2022, the Holy See issued a statement to the German Conference of Bishops regarding the “Synodal Way”, clarifying that it “does not have the power to compel bishops and the faithful to adopt new forms of governance and new orientations of doctrine and morals. It would not be lawful to initiate in the dioceses, prior to an agreed understanding at the level of the universal Church, new official structures or doctrines, which would constitute a violation of ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.” We want to keep the Church in Germany in prayer, offering sacrifices that they may accept the ruling of the Holy See and not become obstinate, as Martin Luther was in the 16th Century causing great damage to the Church and separating millions of souls from the great means of sanctification, the Sacraments. The Holy Angels, in their great trial at the beginning of time, were the “faithful ones”. Having rejected the rebellion instigated by the devil, they remained true to God and His divine will; thus, fidelity is the first characteristic of the Holy Angels. Let us send them, therefore, especially to the Church in Germany to strengthen her in fidelity, faith and obedience. In this context, we want to confirm our own faith in the one Church of Christ, while we meditate on the gift and mystery of her unity, and the Church as an instrument of communion with God and unity of the whole human race.

The Church as a Communion of Love

“The eternal Father, by a free and hidden plan of His own wisdom and goodness, created the whole world”—Angels, men and all creation—and seeks to dwell in it as in a temple (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 1). “He calls man to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of His family, the Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1). God’s eternal plan of raising man to a communion of love with Himself was aimed not only at individuals, but also includes a great “family of God” united in Christ, the Church. “Christians of the first centuries said, ‘The world was created for the sake of the Church’ (cf. St. Justin, Apol. 2,7). …The Church is the goal of all things (cf. St. Epiphanius, Panarion 1)” (in CCC 760). God, in His omnipotence, even allowed the rebellion of Angels and the repeated sin of man in order to show the might of His arm which draws good out of evil, and the extent of His merciful love which He offers again and again to sinful man.

The union of God with man is realized through the one Mediator between God and man, the God-man Jesus Christ. In Christ and through His redemptive death on the Cross, God unites Himself to humanity in a covenant union of love and inaugurates the Kingdom of God on earth, which will reach its consummation at the end of time. “The Church, or, in other words, the Kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world” (LG 3). When Jesus ascended into heaven, He left His Church under the keeping of His Spirit, as the instrument of His redemptive mission. “By communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body” (LG 7). Henceforth, she is His instrument for the salvation of mankind. “It is in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals His own mystery as the purpose of God’s plan: ‘to unite all things in Him’ (Eph 1:10)” (CCC 772), so that “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15:27). “Because in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9), He fills the Church, which is His body and His fullness, with His divine gifts (cf. Eph 1:22-23), so that it may expand and reach all the fullness of God (cf. Eph 3:19)” (LG 7).

The Second Vatican Council teaches that the Church, as the Body of Christ, “is in Christ like a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity of the whole human race” (cf. LG 1). She is not a sacrament in the common sense, but in the sense that through her seven Sacraments, “the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the Head throughout the Church which is His Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a ‘sacrament’” (CCC 774). Since the Church unites men to God in Christ, she is also the instrument which unites them with one another. “In her, this unity is already begun, since she gathers men ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues’ (Rev 7:9); at the same time, the Church is the ‘sign and instrument’ [and first beginning!] of the full realization of the unity yet to come” (CCC 775) in heaven.

So it is that that messianic people, although it does not actually include all men, and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, it is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth. (LG 9)

The One Bride of Christ

Beginning with and foreshadowed by the People of Israel, the Church is in the eyes of the Father the “space” or “locus” for God’s will in creation: a People who live in accord with God’s will, that is, in a covenant relationship with God, and who thus become the “light of the world”, His light in the world. The Church is as it were the door through which God can enter His own creation, through the free will of His creatures. God forces neither Angel nor man, but seeks those who freely enter into this covenant relationship with Him in Christ through faith and love. Thus, beginning from the Old Covenant, “history…is explained as a love story between God and man. God finds and prepares a bride for His Son, the single Bride who is the unique Church” (Joseph Ratzinger, Ecclesiology of Communion). Just as a man and his wife become “one flesh” (Gen 2:24), so the Church as the “Bride” of Christ becomes “one flesh” with Him, His Body. “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32)—the Mystical Body of Christ.

Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ Himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if He is the Head, we are the members; He and we together are the whole man…. The fullness of Christ then is the Head and the members. But what does “Head and members” mean? Christ and the Church. (St. Augustine, Commentary on John 21, 8)

As we profess in the Creed, the Church is first of all one. This is a gift of her Founder. “Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her” (CCC 820). Thus, Jesus Himself prayed before His Passion, “Father, I pray…that they may be one, as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may be brought to perfection as one” (cf. Jn 17:20-23), “…and there will be one flock, one Shepherd” (Jn 10:16). Due to sin, the Church must again and again purify herself in the Blood of Christ and struggle for this unity. “Remain in Me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me” (Jn 15:4). Those who break from this unity, cut themselves off from Christ Himself and “will be thrown out like a branch and wither” (Jn 15:6). But the Church herself will perdure.

Sources of Unity

The Church is one because of her source: “the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit’ (Unitatis Red. 2, 5). …Unity is of the essence of the Church” (CCC 813). Jesus alludes to the preeminence of this covenant bond of unity in the Church, that is, of “God’s family”, over even the strongest natural human or family ties when He asks, “‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My heavenly Father is My brother, and sister, and mother’” (Mt 12:48 ff.). Thus, even His own Mother, our Blessed Mother Mary, was more closely united to Him in spirit by her faithful discipleship and adherence to God’s will, than by her physical maternity.

The Church is one, above all through the bond of charity: “And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14). This union among the members of the Church is not threatened by diversity, either in the sense of different cultures and peoples, or in the sense of different gifts, offices or ministries. “It follows that though there are many nations there is but one people of God, which takes its citizens from every race, making them citizens of a kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature. All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit” (LG 13). Moreover, “He gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love, who coordinates and unites all the members in one Mystical Body. “The Spirit is the soul, as it were, of the Mystical Body, the source of its life, of its unity in diversity, and of the riches of its gifts and charisms” (CCC 809).

When speaking of the unity of the Church, St. Thomas, following St. Paul, compares her to a city. “The solidarity of any city demands the presence of four common elements: one governor, one law, the same symbols, and a common goal” (St. Thomas, Com. on Eph.). Thus, the Church is also united by these visible bonds: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5). These are the visible bonds of ecclesial communion: the sharing of the same law of faith as received from the Apostles, participating in the same symbols and liturgy, the Sacraments—especially Baptism and the Eucharist—and being governed by a common Lord, Jesus Christ, who is made present in the hierarchy, the college of Bishops united under one head, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Pope (cf. CCC 814). By the same faith, St. Thomas explains that all

are bidden to believe in the same truths and live in the same moral way. For what is believed by all the faithful is one and the same reality, hence [this faith] is termed Catholic or Universal. “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak,” that is, think, “the same thing and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10). (Com. on Eph.)

Moreover, every member of the Church is united with every other in that he carries the habit of this same faith in his heart. (It is precisely by proposing changes to the universal faith and morals of the Church that the Bishops in Germany threaten to breach ecclesial communion. It is not the role of the particular local Church to teach, but to accept, receive, obey and give witness to the teaching of Christ transmitted through the universal Magisterium with its seat in Rome.)

The Church is united by the same “symbols”, the liturgy and Sacraments, which are outward signs of the hidden grace which they transmit. First of all, Baptism, which is the door to all the rest. “Through Baptism we are formed in the likeness of Christ: ‘For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13)” (LG 7). But it is above all the Eucharist which unites us in Christ with the Triune God and one another. “Really partaking of the Body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread, we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another. ‘Because the Bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one Bread’ (1 Cor 10:17). In this way all of us are made members of His Body (cf. 1 Cor 12:27), “but severally members one of another’ (Rom 12:5)” (LG 7).

As the sacrament or efficacious sign of our union with Christ and His Mystical Body, St. Thomas writes, “whoever receives this Sacrament, expresses thereby that he is made one with Christ, and incorporated in His members; and this is done by living faith” (Summa III, q. 80 a. 4). From this, one can see that to receive Holy Communion is a public witness to the authentic and unique nature of the Church as one. Whoever receives it without the faith of the Church or in the state of mortal sin “is guilty of lying to this Sacrament, and consequently of sacrilege, because he profanes the Sacrament” (ibid.). Ministers who indiscriminately distribute Holy Communion also deny the faith in the unity and indivisibility of the Church. (Here again the German Bishops offend ecclesial unity by proposing intercommunion and Holy Communion for the divorced and “remarried”.)

The Sacred Hierarchy

Further, the Church is one because she is united under one Ruler, Jesus Christ, who is Head of His Mystical Body. “By the greatness of His power He rules the things in heaven and the things on earth [Angels and men!], and with His all-surpassing perfection and way of acting He fills the whole Body with the riches of His glory” (LG 7). But on earth, He established the Church as a visible society, which “subsists in the Catholic Church [and] which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him” (LG 8). Through the Church, He “communicates truth and grace to all” (ibid.). Just as the lay members of the Church represent the Body of Christ, the Pope and the Bishops make present the mystery of Christ as Head of the Mystical Body and bear His authority. In the Second Vatican Council it was thus decreed:

This Sacred Council teaches that Bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the Apostles, as Shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ. (cf. Luke 10:16). In the Bishops, therefore, for whom priests are assistants, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Supreme High Priest, is present in the midst of those who believe. (LG 20 – 21)

Yet great as their dignity and authority may be, the Bishops as also the college of Bishops, remains subject to the supreme authority of the Pope. “The Pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power” (LG 22). The Holy Father is therefore the supreme principle of unity in the Church. The Second Vatican Council again solemnly confirmed this teaching of the First Vatican Council:

And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, [Jesus Christ] placed Blessed Peter over the other Apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion (cf. Vat. I, Pastor aeternus). And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible Magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. (LG 18)

Yet while the hierarchy is ordered toward the unity of the Church by representing the authority of Christ as Head of the Mystical Body, it remains at the service of her members and their growth in holiness, even as Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mt 20:28). St. John Paul II writes, the Church’s “structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members. And holiness is measured according to the ‘great mystery’ in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom” (MD 27). Thus, in the end we will not be judged according to whether we are a priest or a layman, married or consecrated, but according to how we have lived our communion with God in faith and love, that is to say, according to our holiness of life. And in the way of holiness, “Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery, as ‘the bride without spot or wrinkle’ (Eph 5:27). This is why the ‘Marian’ dimension of the Church precedes the ‘Petrine’ [i.e. hierarchical] (cf. MD 27)” (CCC 773). All of us, clerics and laypersons alike, are called to imitate Mary in her firmness of faith, unwavering hope and burning charity, “seeking and doing the will of God in all things” (LG 65).

Fidelity to the Church

Nevertheless, because they are ontologically “conformed to Christ” at ordination and represent Him in His Church, Bishops and priests bear a great dignity and very high calling in the Church. Every member of the Church is called not to criticize, but to pray, sacrifice and support the Holy Father, our Bishops and priests. The first mark of the holy Angels is fidelity: they remained faithful in the darkness of trial to God and His divine plan. So too, especially we in the Work of the Holy Angels are called to be faithful to God by respecting and loving His Church and His representatives in her, without criticizing. Mother Gabriele writes,

Do you not also fling dirt at the Church with your belittling criticisms? Would you so expose your own mother and fling dirt at her? Surely you do not intend to strike Mother Church herself, but always only the human foibles, that all too human element in the successors of the holy Apostles. When the Lord chose the Twelve, he saw their failures clearly enough, yes, perhaps also their wretchedness. And notwithstanding, He made them the corner pillars of His Church, and changed out only one of these twelve corner pillars. But what glorious corner pillars these coarse men became!

And so believe in the holiness of the Church. The millions of priests and Bishops and laypersons all together form the one great mosaic of the holiness of the Bride of Christ. Strive to shine out in holiness in your own place; then you will have carried out your duty as the Church before the eyes of God.

…Your strength [to reinforce the unity of the Church] lies above all in the example which you give to others.… Your strength lies in the purity of your own heart, out of which words and deeds come forth—in accordance with your heart. You fortify the indestructibility of the Church by your life, not by lashing out around you or by mounting every pulpit, but rather, in that grace shines ever more through you into the world! (Mother Gabriele, Novitiate Letters)

Angels and the Church

In the eternal plan of Divine Providence, one day we will be united also with the Holy Angels in God, in the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Rev 21:10). Although the Angel has already reached eternal beatitude in heaven, he nevertheless “goes with the Redeemer Jesus Christ down into the depths and helps men to get an idea of God, to grasp Him, to seek Him, to find Him and to join themselves to the great army of Christ, which the Lord brings home to His Father as plunder” (Mother Gabriele, Readings, Easter 1960). St. Augustine writes,

There is a Church here below and a Church above; the Church here below consists of all the faithful and the Church above in all the Angels. The Lord of the Angels stepped down to the Church here below, and the Angels served Him, who came upon the earth to serve us. For He did not come to be served, but to serve. He served us to such an extent that we may daily eat and drink Him [in the Holy Eucharist]. If the Lord of the Angels serves us, then we may not doubt that one day we will become like the Angels. He who is greater than the Angels stepped down to us men. The Creator of the Angels became man, the Lord of the Angels died for men. (Com. Ps 137)

Similarly, Mother Gabriele writes of the goal of all creation, the union of man and Angel and the entire material world in God in the heavenly Jerusalem. The Holy Angels lead us to her.

There above, the New Jerusalem awaits us, the shining, eternal city of God! St. John the Apostle portrayed her in the Book of Revelation (21:10 ff.); she is the light of all men who are gathered around God. Angels show us this goal. Angels lead us to it. Angels stand over the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, waiting for us. This holy city has walls and gates of precious stones, streets and trees, and the heavenly dwelling places, about which Jesus Christ speaks, are in her. God unites all creation, the new heaven and the new earth, the Angels and men with Himself, for He also dwells in this city. The whole city is His throne. (Readings, Advent 1963)

As we struggle through the darkness and trials of this “vale of tears”, we look to Mary as the type of the Church, in whom she has already reached perfection. “Just as the Mother of Jesus, glorified in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth” (LG 68). “As Regina Mundi, she took into her Immaculate Heart the whole world, the Church and all her treasures of grace, humanity and all their needs, in order to guard them all, as Mother, for the Lord” (Readings, Summer 1963). In the end, her Immaculate Heart will triumph, gathering all her sons and daughters into the Heart of the Triune God, to His glory, according to His will and in His love.

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