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Father Muench Says...

The sacrament of salvation

Sept. 13, 2023

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

The Church is the sacrament of salvation. Let me remind you that over the last few weeks I have written here about the sacraments of our Catholic Church. As you remember, a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church by which divine life is dispensed to us by the work of the Holy Spirit – baptism, confirmation, penance, Holy Eucharist, holy orders, marriage, and the anointing of the sick.

Today I want to use this word “sacrament,” as many do, in reference to the Church. So, the Church is the sacrament of salvation. Much of this material I share with you is from the Catholic Catechism. This is how many define this idea: By God’s gracious plan, the Church is a Sacrament of Salvation, that is a visible community in and through which Jesus Christ offers salvation through the seven sacraments, the preaching of the word, and the spiritual and moral witness of members.

So, first, we all recognize the Church as a visible institution. When we talk about the Church, we are talking about people. The Church is visible through millions of believers in parishes and dioceses throughout the world. When we speak of our Church, we are talking about the people of God who go into this world as witnesses of Christ serving the world in love, justice and mercy.

At the same time, the Church is a spiritual reality with interior bonds of faith and love forged by the Holy Spirit. So, we speak of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. The Church is like a living body sustained by the Holy Spirit. When we speak of Church, we also realize that there is a life, a spirit and hope for transformation, as the Church brings a new spirit, a spirit of love and peace and happiness, to all its members.

As we consider our Catholic Church, it seems large and very complex. However, we are taught that the Church is one. The Holy Spirit is the source of unity in our Church. The Holy Spirit integrates the visible aspects of the Church with the spiritual, with those invisible aspects, in such a way that the Church is always a unity.

The Church is a sacrament. It is a sign and an instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men and women. The Spirit leads us to our salvation gained for us by Jesus through the Church and her seven sacraments. The Church is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity. God desires that the whole human race may become one, the people of God. In the life of faith, there are two movements: God in search of us and we in search of God. God has stamped in our souls a longing for himself.

What does all this mean? We are called in faith, as the people of God who love our God, to be truly enthusiastic members of the Church. We are called to take God’s love into our world as we strive to live well in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I would like to close this by going to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council. There is a chapter in this document about the hierarchy of the Church – the Pope, Bishops, the priests. There is also an important and powerful chapter on the laity, the people of the Church and their part in the Church. “The laity are given this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that the Church can become the salt of the earth. Thus, every lay person through those gifts given to them, are at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church.”

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