Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part XII

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12. The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name.(110) The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (8*) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God.(112) Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints,(113) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life.

It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, “allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills,(114) He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit”.(115) These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use; but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good.(116)

110 Cf. Heb. 13:15.

111 Cf. Jn. 2:20, 27

112 Cf. 1 Thess. 2:13.

113 Cf. Jud. 3

114 1 Cor. 12:11.

115 Cf. 1 Thess 5:12, 19-21.

116 Cf. Jn. 11:52.

(8) Cfr. S. Augustinus, D Praed. Sanct. 14, 27: PL 44, 980.

Christ is prophet, and the Body of Christ shares in His ministry of prophecy. The Church does this chiefly by means of living faithfully the Gospel and by acts of charity and the worship of praise. As well, the People of God themselves serve as an instrument of God’s revelation in Christ when, “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they hold firm to a matter of faith and morals. Some have called this the “sensus fidelium,” that is, the capacity of the People of God as a whole to discern the truth of faith. This is not to be confused with majority opinion on some matter. It is a true revelation of God through the instrument of the People of God coming to believe and hold firmly a truth of faith or morals. How can it be known if the “sensus fidelium” is at work on a particular question? The Holy Spirit guides the Church through the magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church that resides in the pope and the bishops in union with him. The faithful submit to this teaching authority as the instrument by which the Holy Spirit guides the faithful to the truth and secures and protects the faithful from false teaching.

How different this is from the modern notion that what matters is only what believe as an individual. This individualism represents an undue and unwarranted confidence in the individual as ultimate arbiter of God’s revelation. This is not the tradition of the People of God, either in the years before Christ or after. What matters, truly, is not what I believe, but what God has revealed to us about our relationship with Him and with each other, especially for the sake of our salvation. To discern the true revelation of God, Christ instituted His Church as the instrument of revelation, both as a light for all to see the truth and as a guard against falsity. This “faith given once and for all to the saints” is the treasure, the pearl of great price, to be grasped at whatever the cost and held on to against all threats and temptations an unbelieving world and that dark enemy of God may throw against it.

As we allow our minds to be formed according to the will of God and live the Gospel ever more faithfully, the People of God enrich the world with virtue, through the sacraments and ministries of the Church, but also through the individual gifts of the Holy Spirit given to each believer. Each charism is a gift, and not a reward for virtuous living, much less a sign of individual sanctity. They are given according to the will of the Holy Spirit for the profit of the Church and not the profit of the gift-bearer. As such, they ought properly to inspire a holy humility in all believers, given that God has regarded us worthy to participate by them in the building up of the Body of Christ and the sanctification of the world. Whether the gift be extraordinary or ordinary (and thanks be to God for ordinary grace!), they are to be embraced in humility and directed toward the work of the Church. No individual owns his or her gift. Each belong to the Holy Spirit. As such, they are to be put to the use of the whole Body of Christ according to the discernment of those ministers consecrated by God for the purpose of discerning their proper use. For Catholics, that means the bishop and pastors. Woe to any believer who presumes that the bearing of any particular gift bestows upon him or her an authority to do with it what he or she presumes, even in contradiction to the discernment of the bishop and the pastor!

Glory be to God for His generosity in pouring out His grace to the People of God and gifting them with the talents and means necessary to carry out His work of salvation!

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

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