Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part XI

11. It is through the sacraments and the exercise of the virtues that the sacred nature and organic structure of the priestly community is brought into operation. Incorporated in the Church through baptism, the faithful are destined by the baptismal character for the worship of the Christian religion; reborn as children of God they must confess before all the faith which they have received from God through the Church (4*). They are more perfectly bound to the Church by the sacrament of Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ (5*). Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It.(6*) Thus both by reason of the offering and through Holy Communion all take part in this liturgical service, not indeed, all in the same way but each in that way which is proper to him or herself. Strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ, they then manifest in a concrete way that unity of the people of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament.

Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for the offence committed against Him and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins, and which by charity, example, and prayer seeks their conversion. By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of her priests the whole Church commends the sick to the suffering and glorified Lord, asking that He may lighten their suffering and save them;(106) she exhorts them, moreover, to contribute to the welfare of the whole people of God by associating themselves freely with the passion and death of Christ.(107) Those of the faithful who are consecrated by Holy Orders are appointed to feed the Church in Christ’s name with the word and the grace of God. Finally, Christian spouses, in virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony, whereby they signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and His Church,(108) help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children. By reason of their state and rank in life they have their own special gift among the people of God.(109) (7*) From the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are born, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism are made children of God, thus perpetuating the people of God through the centuries. The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.

Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.

106 Cf. Jam 5:14-16.

107 Cf. Rom; 8:17; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 4:13.

108 Cf. Eph. 5:32.

109 Cf. 1 Cor. 7, 7.

(4) Cfr. S. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q. 63, a. 2.

(5) Cfr. S. Cyrillus Hieros., Catech. 17, de Spiritu Sancto, II, 35-37: PG 33, 1009-1012. Nic. Cabasilas, De vita in Christo, lib. III, de utilitate chrismatis: PG 150, 569-580. S. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q. 65, a. 3 et q. 72, a. 1 et 5.

(6) Cfr. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Mediator Dei 20 nov. 1947: AAS 39 (1947), paesertim p. 552 s.

(7) I Cor. 7, 7: . Unusquisque proprium donum (idion charisma) habet ex Deo: alius quidem sic alius vero sic .. Cfr. S. Augustinus, De Dono Persev. 14, 37: PL 45, 1015 s.: Non tantum continenti Dei donum est, sed coniugatorum etiam castitas.

This section from Lumen Gentium reflects on the sacraments and the power of God’s grace to transform our lives according to His will. The sacraments are each a means by which God pours out His grace into our lives. By embracing the grace of the sacraments, our lives are transformed and we are empowered to transform our world to reflect better the glory of God and the will of the Father.

The Church is the priestly community of which the Council Fathers speak. “It is through the sacraments and the exercise of the virtues that the sacred nature and organic structure of the priestly community is brought into operation.” The sacraments and the exercise of the virtues are what make the priestly community that is the Church powerful to transform lives and societies.

Through Baptism we become children of God, incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church. Nurtured by worship, we are courageous to proclaim the truth of the faith to a world in sore need of it, but not terribly interested in hearing it. This obligation to “defend and spread” the faith becomes even more profound when we are Confirmed and receive this new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It used to be said that, by Confirmation, we are made soldiers of Christ. We should emphasize that again, in these days when the faith and the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of the human community is so often under attack and vilified. In Confirmation we are made “true witnesses of Christ.” A true witness is one who is willing to suffer for the faith, because Christ suffered and no servant is greater than the master. The word martyr means “witness.” So a true witness of Christ is one who suffers, because “if they persecuted me they will persecute you.” We must be willing to suffer the consequences of our fidelity to Christ, for there will be consequences.

In the Eucharist, the Church offers Christ in sacrifice, and each Christian offers him or herself in sacrifice to Christ. In the Eucharist, we participate in the sacrifice of Christ. How can we do this without a servant’s heart? How can we do this without a martyr’s heart? The Eucharist both signifies and brings about the unity of the Church in Christ, just as all sacraments signify and bring about the grace of God in our lives. Do not receive the grace of God in vain!

In the sacrament of Penance, we are forgiven our sins and reconciled with the Church. We are healed and converted. Our life in Christ is an on-going conversion, where even the most heinous sin ought only be a mere bump in the road because God’s grace is able to smooth the road with His mercy. Embrace the mercy of God! The Anointing of the Sick allows us to unite our physical and mental suffering with that of Christ for the salvation of the world. We are refined and our faith purified in the furnace of physical suffering, if we offer that suffering to the Father, united with Christ’s cross.

Finally, those ordained to Holy Orders and united in the sacrament of Matrimony have the great responsibility of nurturing the whole faithful and of raising up in righteousness the next generation of Christians. Bishops, priests, and deacons are ordained to serve the entire community and to be instruments by which the grace of God is poured out via the sacraments and the truth of the faith is proclaimed and taught rightly and effectively. They are to proclaim the truth with passion. Passion: another word with its roots in suffering. Sometimes, speaking the truth will bring suffering to the speaker. The truth is not easy or self-serving, but it is freeing, if we understand true freedom as the power to act in a way that is in obedience to God’s will. Married couples, on the other hand, are focused on the mission of living the faith in the context of their families, in their homes, offering their lives in service and sacrifice both for their spouses and for their children, for the sake of their salvation.

We are called to perfect holiness.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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