Sunday, November 3, 2013
Just Who Is the Church
When we talk about the Church, we tend to think about the warm living bodies that occupy the pews on any given Sunday. We address issues such as religious education for children and adults, various parish activities and other events that involve the larger diocesan family.
However, if we merely confine our definition of the Church, to those who are presently on this Earth, we fail to see the big picture. Every November, the Church reminds us that there are two very concrete realities that we must consider insofar as just who makes up the complete Body of Christ. Those of us us who are breathing make up the Church Militant. We are the ones who are still down in the trenches waging the day-to-day battle against sin and temptation. But, it's not just about us. On November 1st and November 2nd, the Church calls to mind two other members of her family, the Church Triumphant (the Saints in heaven) and the Church Suffering (the Holy Souls in Purgatory). While we do not physically see these two groups, they remain an integral part of the People of God. They are part of the Church and they are part of us. We are united to them and they to us by the bond of love, a yoke that will never be broken. That is what it means to be a part of the Communion of Saints.
All three components of the Church, Triumphant, Militant and Suffering, come together during every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Prefaces of the Eucharistic Prayers remind us that our voices join the unending choruses of the angels and saints as we chant the Sanctus. At every Mass, the veil between heaven and earth and time and space is lifted. We are not alone as we are joined by a cloud of unseen witnesses, as St. Paul reminds us, who unite their sublime praises to ours. During the Memorial of the Eucharistic Prayer, we pray for and with the souls in Purgatory, as we ask God to look upon them in His great mercy so that they, too, will receive "kind admittance" into His Kingdom, just as St. Dismas did.
Sadly, we may often be too caught up in trying to make the Mass more creative that we do not take into account the divine, heavenly reality that transpires at every liturgy. We try to look for music to make the Mass more relevant to us instead of helping the earthly liturgy be more reflective of the sublime nature of the divine one.
Maybe this is one of the things that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI meant to convey when he called for a mutual enrichment between the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Mass. In the Extraordinary Form, the awareness of the unity of the Church (Triumphant, Militant and Suffering) seems more apparent with both the texts of the prayers and the music. There seems to be an other-ness to the liturgy, a sense that something greater than ourselves is happening. This is not to say that one cannot get the same sense in the Ordinary Form of the Mass; however, it can be difficult when one uses substandard music such as "Table of Plenty", "I am the Light of the World", "Rain Down" and "Gather Us In" or crafts General Intercessions that sound more like political statements than prayers. When things like that happen, we focus on ourselves, thinking we are the only ones in the Church, instead of recognizing that we just make up two-thirds of the Body of Christ.
Yet, the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering still pray with and for us. They remain in union with us even when we forget that they are there. We are not alone.