As viewed from the outside, it’s easy to see the Church as just another big and apparently inflexible institution.
Many non-Catholics and even some Catholics no doubt ask the question as to whether the institutional Church is even necessary
In his book, The Spirit of Catholicism, Karl Adam reminds us of the purpose and origin of the Church, both as a physical flesh-and-blood entity, as well as the source of its spiritual power. There is always much more to the Church when it is viewed from the inside rather than the outside.
The Institutional Church
It is true that Jesus planted the seeds of the institutional Church. This is EXACTLY what he left us after his ascension. He did not leave us any written works, not even the New Testament. The very fact that his precepts, teachings, and even the Bible have been handed down to us is because of — and through — the Church he left us.
By necessity the Church has always been a visible, concrete, and physical presence in the world, never just a loose association of like-minded individuals.
The purpose of the Church is to directly and concretely continue the ministry of Christ. The individual personalities of individuals who serve as priests, bishops, and even Pope must fall into the background. The purpose is transmit the full Christ – unabridged – and to make him present. Everything points to Christ.
Christ: the Real Self of the Church
“Christ the Lord is the real self of the Church. The Church is the body permeated through and through by the redemptive might of Jesus.
. . . So intimate is this union of Christ with the Church, so inseparable, natural and essential, that St. Paul in his Epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians explicitly calls Christ the Head of the body
. . . Christ and the Church can no more be regarded separately than can a head and its body.
Dogma has a bad connotation these days, yet all the dogmas of the Catholic Church are “stamped with the name of Christ,” They have been defined when necessary to “bring out all aspects of His teaching.”
Moral Teaching’s Goal
The moral teaching of the Church is to make the Christian a second Christ, an “alter Christus,” to make him”Christ-like.”
Worship – to make the Christ’s grace present
The Worship of the Church is “to make the redeeming grace of Christ present, visible and fruitful as a sacred and potent reality that fills the whole life of the Christian.”
Sacraments – Christ’s presence through all stages of life
Finally the sacraments are given as “a visible guarantee, authenticated by the word of Jesus and the usage of the apostles, that Jesus is working in the midst of us.
At all the important stages of our little life … at the marriage-altar and the cradle, at the sick-bed, in all the crises and shocks that may befall us, Jesus stands by us under the veils of the grace-giving sacrament as our Friend and Consoler, as the Physician of soul and body, as our Savior. “
“It is Christ who evangelizes, Christ who baptizes.” (Christus est, qui evangelizat, Christus est, qui baptizat.)
In the sacraments is expressed the fundamental nature of the Church, the fact that Christ lives on in her.”
It is a tragedy that some within the Church have sometimes scandalized the Church. Such was the prediction of Jesus that there would be wheat among the tares. However, from the Church’s perspective,
Man is only an instrument, the “causa instrumentalis,” through whom Christ Himself acting in the Church teaches and sanctifies and governs. And so in the functioning of the Church, the human self, the human personality, the individual as such, falls wholly into the background. Not any human personality, but the redemptive might of Jesus controls the Church.”
The significance of the Church was well articulated recently by Fr. Robert Barron in his response to the YouTube video that went viral, “Why I love Jesus but Hate Religion”:
There are a lot of New Age people today, famously, who want spirituality without religion, and there are a lot of evangelical Christians who want Jesus without religion. The problem is both those views end up with an abstraction. The one thing Jesus is not, is an abstraction. The Word became Flesh. Now that incarnation is prolonged over space and time precisely in and through the Church. Sacrament, liturgy, the Mystical body . . .of the lives of the Saints, the love we have for each other. That’s precisely where the real Jesus is.”