Recently, Pope Benedict XVI made a statement clarifying some misconstrued Church teachings mainly about Church and the word church. This was made to all, so that all may come to know the Roman Catholic's definition of church and who we are as the Roman Catholic Church. I want to let those that read my blog know the true meaning of this clarification by making use of the explanation a deacon from Birmingham, Al wrote last week for his parish, here it goes:
Clarification/Explanation on Recent Vatican Teaching on the Church
by Deacon Bryan Jerabek
Matthew 16:18 - Jesus establishes His Church:
"You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build by Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it..."
Jesus establishes a Church. That Church has certain constitutive elements in it. "Constitutive elements" are those things which the Church has to have in order to be called "The Church".
We can also say that Jesus established certain elements in his idea of "Church" that the Catholic Church has or has not had at different times throughout her history. These are non-constitutive elements. They are elements of truth, goodness, and beauty, which help to make the Church more complete, but if the Church doesn't have them, it doesn't stop being "The Church".
Keeping these distinctions in mind, we can say the following:
1. In the Catholic Church are found all of the constitutive elements of "The Church" that Jesus established. The Catholic Church has always and will always have these constitutive elements. These constitutive elements include things like apostolic succession, the seven sacraments, the pope, and so forth.
2. Other groups, such as the Protestant denominations, cannot properly be called "churches", because they do not have all of the constitutive elements that Jesus established for His Church. For example, most Protestant denominations do not celebrate the Eucharist, or even if they do, their belief about it is different than outs. And besides, they do not have ordained priests, or apostolic succession. They lack these constitutive elements. For that reason, in the Catholic understanding of what a Church is, we cannot call them "Churches" properly speaking. Instead, we use other words, such as ecclesial communities.
3. This does not mean that we do not respect the Protestant communities. It just means that we have a different definition of "Church" than they do. They are free to call themselves "churches" if they want to, but they should not be surprised if we clarify our own understanding of what a "Church" is and say that they are different. (They Protested, not us! my own throw in.)
4. Furthermore, and this is very important: the Catholic Church teaches that the various Protestant communities have many elements of truth and goodness in their faith and teaching. These elements of truth and goodness would certainly be non-constitutive elements of the Church (see above). As Catholics, we appreciate and affirm whatever elements of truth and goodness exist in any religion.
5. Finally, the Catholic Church teaches that Protestants can and DO go to Heaven. The fullness of truth and the fullness of "Church" subsists in the Catholic Church, but that does not mean that there are not holy people in the Protestant communities, people who are even quite saintly!
6. In conclusion, then, the Catholic Church's recent statement clarifying her own understanding of what "The Church" is should be seen at all as something meant to give offense to Protestants. It represents no change in Catholic teaching - it is simply an attempt to explain more clearly our definition of "Church". And the Protestants are always free to issue their own definitions, although of course we would disagree with them to the extent that they do not agree with our definition.
"You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it... Whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in Heaven..."
...I could not have done it better than that!!