Christ & the Church in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

(Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

It was a warm spring day in DC, and my Catholic friend explained with great earnestness that if I were to be ordained prior to converting to Catholicism, then I might be able to be a priest and keep my wife and kids. Dispensations can be obtained.

My heart and mind toyed with the thoughts: the great creaking beauty of the medieval liturgy, the pageantry and fancy dress, the history, architecture, the universities, libraries, philosophy, and Latin. The specter of the Mass rose before me. Worshiping bread and the wine, bowing and kissing statues of saints excused with the thinnest of theological distinctions, Pilipino adherents nailing themselves to crosses. No, this is not the Way.

And I said, “The problem is that one of us is a blasphemer. Either I blaspheme Christ by not worshiping him at every available Mass, or you commit an act of idolatry by worshiping bread and wine. There is no middle ground. In heaven if allowed or required I will kiss and pray to Mary; in heaven I will adore the body of Christ, but until heaven or when Christ returns I will trust the Bible and my conscience.”

My friend demurred yet agreed I was saved by Vatican II’s allowance of separated brethren, and the waters of the Tiber receded from my feet.

And thus we come to the Christ-church interconnection. Rome claims to have Christ and in some sense be Christ—and, in so doing, Rome replaces Jesus with herself. The two doctrines of nature and grace interdependence (cf. Part 2) and the Christ-church interconnection are reinforcing and basic to the rest of the system.1

In Roman Catholic theology the greatest break between nature and God is not sin, but rather a lack of divinity or perfection in nature. Nature is good but not divine. Sin is a disorder that can righted by the use of reason (cf. Thomas citation from Part 2). Yet for nature to be perfected there must be the divine addition of grace. With the addition of grace, man can now begin to gain merit with God because he is sharing in the divine life.

The person who brings perfection to nature is Jesus Christ through the incarnation. Jesus mediates the sharing of grace through a participation in His divinity. Christ’s divinity is shared by, and to a degree contained within, the Roman Church. The Church then turns and mediates Christ’s divine life to the world.

Christ in the Mass

To illustrate how Christ and the Roman Church are understood as interconnected and how Rome displaces the Son of God, we will begin with the doctrine of the eucharist and wend our way to the other aspects of shared divinity. We will note in passing how the Catechism can be considered biblical in the sense of defending itself and offering an explanation of the Bible.

The primary touchpoint for lay Catholics in experiencing and sharing in the divinity of Christ comes in the consumption of the wafer and, post-Vatican I, I in the wine.

Or as we read in CCC 1325, “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being.”

The divine life enters the Christian through the “a Paschal banquet, ‘in which Christ is consumed” (1323). And the Christ consumed is defined in 1374: “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained.’”

The wafer is Jesus Christ. And to eat the wafer is to consume “the whole Christ.”

Thus in Catholic doctrine, Christ’s words in Matthew 26:26 are taken in a supposedly literal sense: “Take, eat; this is my body” (ESV). Yet, this immediately creates several exegetical and practical problems. First, Jesus served the first Lord’s Supper before he was crucified. So when Christ said, “Take, eat; this is my body,” His body had not yet been sacrificed. So did the Apostles eat the pre-sacrificed body?2

The other major issue is found in Hebrews 7:27, “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”

Both the timing of the Last Supper and the statement “he did this once for all” cause a bit of a quandary. How can a “once for all” sacrifice be repeated millions of times a day throughout the world at local Catholic churches? And what body did the Apostles eat?

The answer is found in CCC-1085:

His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is—all that he did and suffered for all men—participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times and while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life.

We can add to this 1367:

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of the priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner is different.”

And then the final component is found in 1545 and 1548:

The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharist sacrifice of the Church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ’s priesthood. (1545)

In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis…(1548)

Thus the explanation as to how Christ’s one sacrifice can be re-sacrificed millions of times by millions of priests is that Christ’s priesthood is shared with the church and Christ’s body is atemporal. The Apostles ate Jesus’ sacrificed body at the Last Supper because it is “being made present in” all times. Jesus sacrificed body travels between times at the summons of Christ and his priests.

In the Catholic system Christ’s body on the cross becomes not only atemporal but non-spatial; it can be summoned into times both before and after the resurrection to reside in the bread and the cup. The priests are the embodiment of Christ and so they function as Christ in the re-sacrifice.

When the Son of God became a man in the incarnation He shared His divinity with nature in a way that is repeatable and can occur in other moments of time independently of the spatial location of His body. Christ then shares His physical divine attributes with the church in a permanent way. The church not only has the physical body of Christ in the mass, but it is the Body of Christ.

The Church as Christ

And so we read in the Catechism quoting from Augustine (354-430) in 796:

This is the whole Christ, head and body, one formed from many…whether the head or members speak, it is Christ who speaks. He speaks in his role as the head (ex persona capitais) and in his role as body (ex persona corporis). What does this mean? “The two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church.” And the Lord himself says in the Gospel: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” They are, in fact, two different persons, yet they are one in the conjugal union,…as head he calls himself the bridegroom, as body, he calls himself “bride.”3 (Ellipses original.)

Thus in the Catholic system Christ is the Church not only as the representative sacrifice, but He is the church. And when the Church speaks as Christ, so Christ speaks. When the church acts as Christ so Christ acts:

CCC-889—“In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the Apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer to her a share of his own infallibility.”

Christ’s infallibility is the “Church’s living Magisterium” (Ibid). Christ can share His infallibility, His physical body, and His merits with the church because He is the church and the church is Christ. The church as a body is being perfected into Christ’s perfect body.

In Catholic doctrine, the Roman Catholic Church can’t be wrong in an issue where she has spoken in a “definitive manner” (892), because she is Christ. And we must notice that the church both being Christ and being the distributor of Christ’s physical body leads to the doctrines and practice that are so obviously contra-biblical and unreasonable.

Rome’s doctrine can be thought of as biblical only by accepting the teaching of nature and grace interdependence and the Christ-church interconnection. What appears in Protestant eyes as open idolatry is defended as Christ’s divinity parceled out within the structure and forms of Rome.

Thus we read in 1378:

Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing as a sign of adoration of the Lord. “The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during the Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.”

The Lord Jesus by becoming incarnate and then sharing His divine attributes with the church is now worshiped by worshiping the wine and the bread. The wine and the bread share in the deity of Christ and must be worshiped.

The Catholic Church claims to eat the soul of the Son of God, and they openly worship the bread and the wine as containing “the whole Christ…truly, really and substantially.” In this view, it is no more wrong to worship the bread and wine than to bow at Jesus’ feet in heaven, because they are essentially the same.

Divine attributes trickle down throughout the dogma of the church: we see the Christ-church interconnection particularly in the intercession and veneration of the saints and the Marian doctrine.

Christ, Mary and the Saints

We read in in 2131, “By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new ‘economy’ of images.” This new economy allows the church to venerate “icons—of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints” (Ibid).

And 2132 goes on to add:

The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” The honor paid to sacred images is a “respectful veneration,” not the adoration due to God alone…

Jesus by becoming incarnate now allows the church to participate in an activity formally forbidden, because He shares His ability to be honored through the body with the holy icons. The incarnation allows the church to bring images within herself and to use them as devotional devices.

Further, the church has created a distinction between veneration and adoration. Veneration is simply honor and adoration is worship. A third distinction exists, which might best be called “super-veneration,” to Mary. We read in 971, “This very special devotion…differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit.”

Mary is given super-veneration because in 505, “The spousal character of the human vocation to God is fulfilled perfectly in Mary’s virginal motherhood.” Mary so perfectly represents the unity of the Church/Bride with Christ that, “Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she ‘shows the way’, and is herself ‘the Sign’ of the way…” (2674). So Mary is prayed to because she exemplifies the spiritual and in a sense physical unity we are to have with Christ as the Church.

We read in 2673, “In prayer the Holy Spirit unites us to the person of the only Son, in his glorified humanity, through which and in which our filial prayer unites us in the Church with the Mother of Jesus.” And 2675 goes on to say that Christians, when praying to Mary, entrust “the supplications and praises of the children of God to the Mother of Jesus, because she now knows the humanity which, in her, the Son of God espoused.”

The Virgin Mary hears prayers because she is now united with her Son in a way that grants her attributes of divinity and her perfections make her more God like. All the saints are to a lesser degree included in this deification.

Jesus’ incarnation is seen as spreading divine attributes throughout the church in various ways. The Magisterium of the Church is a shared divine attribute. We read that the pope and the

bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ. (862)

The bread and the cup have the complete “body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Mary shares both human and divine attributes of Jesus, but not His full deity. These same attributes are shared with the lesser saints and the angels.

Practically speaking, the Roman Catholic doctrine of Christ-church interconnection removes the person of Jesus Christ and replaces Him with herself and the sacramental system. Rome takes her place in the temple of Christ proclaiming herself to be Christ (2 Thess. 2:4).

Our Lord Jesus warns us of this in Matthew 25, “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray…Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it” (Matt. 25:5, 23).

Notes

1 The framework of this analysis can be found in Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice and Muller, Christ and the Decree. However, I am not aware of quoting either author in the above article. I of course take full responsibility for my conclusions and errors.

2 For a pre-Trent view see, Peter Lombard, trans. Giulio Silano, The Sentences: Book Four—On the Doctrine of Signs. The Master of the Sentences discovers three bodies.

3 I wanted to put in a positive word for my friend and teacher Augustine by agreeing within B. B. Warfield, “For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church.” —Studies in Tertullian and Augustine (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 130.

Shane Walker Bio


Shane Walker became the pastor of Andover Baptist Church, Linthicum, MD in June of 2007. Raised in Iowa, Shane graduated from the University of Iowa in 1996. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Kimberly, have four children: Hannah, Malee, James, and John.

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Bert Perry's picture

Love the biographical bits.  It reminds me of being a young pup in Christ and spending a fair amount of time with charismatics.  Thankfully, 1 Cor. 12:29 put that to rest.  

And that sacramentalism.....boy have I been around and around on that one.  One thing that gets me, if indeed Christ meant that we were to be literally eating His flesh and blood, is that the Disciples should have been puking or otherwise throwing a fit if they really believed He meant that.  Good Jewish boys, whatever their other sins, simply didn't eat each other.  So the notion of transsubstantiation in that context might show up more or less as a Monty Python skit.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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