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The MOST Theological Collection: The Holy Spirit and the Church

"Chapter 7: The Pilgrim Church"


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§48. "The Church will reach its final perfection only in the glory of heaven." Before the Council some theologians had argued that if one reaches heaven, he is no longer a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Here it makes clear that they were wrong - really, oddly wrong, for we are saved not just as individuals, but inasmuch as we are members of Christ, of His Church, and like Him (cf. LG 9). In heaven everything will be perfectly reestablished in Christ. He is the New Adam. St. Irenaeus stressed this notion of recapitulation - putting a new head on things. The first head, Adam, had brought disaster - Christ the New Adam, undoes that work. (Irenaeus also applied this theme to Mary, the New Eve, and to the Antichrist, the head of all evil, and to the final restoration, a new beginning, which, sadly, he thought was a millennium - basing himself on Apoc. 20).

Even before the coming of Christ, people were saved inasmuch as they were members of His by anticipation, and received graces in anticipation of His work. Cf, comments on LG §§ 5 and also 2 and 16.

Rom 8. 19-15 puts it beautifully: "For the expectation of creation is awaiting the revelation of the sons of God. For creation was made subject to folly, not willingly, but because of the one who made it subject." Recall Augustine's image of disobedience as the penalty of disobedience. "It is subject in hope. Because even creation itself will be freed from the slavery of corruption, into the freedom of the glory of the Sons of God. For we know that all creation groans together and is in birth pains together even until now. Not only that, but even we ourselves, though we have the first fruits, the Spirit, we ourselves groan in ourselves, waiting for the adoption of sons, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in hope. A hope that is seen, is not a hope. For what a man sees, why does he also hope for it? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait in patience."

That slavery to corruption refers to incessant breaking down of every cell in the body. They are then rebuilt. At the resurrection we will no longer be subject to this corruption and weakness.

We are subject to a different kind of change also. We are on a planet that revolves every 24 hrs. and goes around the sun once a year - and the whole solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is rushing on at a dreadful speed. With death, we begin to be freed from this incessant change - for our contact with this constant change is the body. We then go into a realm with no substantial change, only accidental change, and not constant change at that, but only at some points, if we go to purgatory. If one goes right to heaven - no change until the resurrection. So one waits without a body only one instant. Similarly if one goes to hell - only one instant to resurrection.

After the resurrection - the body will no longer constantly change - so it will be freed from the slavery of corruption - and the physical world too will be freed for that slavery. Time will be no more. There will be no constant succession of future to present to past. Then there will be a renewed earth and sky, with no more corruption.

At present we are children of God, inasmuch as sanctifying grace gives the radical ability to take part in the infinite streams of knowledge and love within the Holy Trinity. But that is just the radical ability - no fruition yet. S o we wait for the full adoption of sons.

Since we know not the day nor the hour, we need to be on the watch constantly. We must, perhaps suddenly, appear before Christ the judge, for the eternal verdict. Then we will realize what Rom. 8:18 said: "The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us" if we have been faithful - nor are the sufferings of this life anything compared to the horror, eternal horror, if we have been unfaithful.

§49. When Christ returns, all will be subject under His feet, and then death, the last enemy, will be destroyed (1 Cor 15:26). Then God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. (Apoc. 21:4.) "And He who sits on the throne will say (21. 5): Behold, I make all things new."

Meanwhile, "All who belong to Christ, having His Spirit, coalesce into one Church." Objectively, this means that those who follow the Spirit of Christ (Rom 2:15) even without knowing what it is, do belong to Christ (cf. Rom 8:9). But as we said above, to belong to Christ means to be a member of Christ, and that means to be a member of the Church. This is what LG seems to be saying here, probably without seeing all the implications we have brought out. (Cf. OFP appendix).

What LG at this point seems to have in mind is the union of the faithful on earth with those in purgatory and in heaven - for all belong to Christ. Those in heaven are solicitous for our welfare - they know all about us in the vision of God. And to love God means to will that He may have the pleasure of giving. That requires that people be open to His gifts, that is, obey His commands. If we will that they do this, we in one act will that He have that pleasure, and that neighbor receive His gifts. This is love: to will good to another for the other's sake. Hence love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable - but not in such a way that we ignore Him, and love Him only indirectly, through neighbor.

The souls in heaven do not cease to intercede for us. In OT we often see Moses and others appealing to God to remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It means to recall their merits as a reason for helping.

God can do all things directly, by omnipotence. But He prefers to act in good order - and hence in that sense He really can need human work, for humans can do things without miracles which He could do only by way of miracles. It would be contrary to good order for Him to regularly do things by miracles. Then someone could say to Him: Why did you make such laws if you do not mean to stay with them most of the time?

He does love good order. ST I. 19. 5 c. says that God wills that one thing be there to serve as a title for another thing, even though the title does not move Him - He is unchangeable. This comes from the fact that His Holiness loves good order, as we said (cf. OFP chapter 4 ff). Hence even though the merits of Christ alone are more than sufficient, yet in good order He wills to have the merits of Our Lady and of the Saints. And these merits also make things richer. Hence LG speaks of an enrichment of the liturgy on earth by the Saints in Heaven.

If we can say that the Saints join in the Mass - all the more Our Lady - the body and blood offered are still those she gave. And her interior dispositions are still united with His as they were at the Cross. So the more closely we are united with her at Mass, the more closely we are united with Him - and vice versa.

St. Augustine says in Epistle 194 : "When God crowns your merits, He crowns nothing other than His own gifts." For every bit of good that we are and have and do is His gift to us (1 Cor 4. 7). Yet, in good order He loves to have these titles for further giving to us. And also, by grace He makes us have the intrinsic dignity of sons of God, and so works of the sons do in a secondary sense amount to a claim to a reward - this is what merit means. It is our sharing in the merit of Christ inasmuch as we are His members and are like Him. The Council of Trent says in DS 1548: "Far be it from a Christian man to trust in himself or glory in self and not in the Lord, whose goodness to all men is such that He wills that His own gifts be their merits," i.e., their titles to reward. So the very acceptance and possession of the first grace is a ticket to Heaven: DS 1582, and in that sense can be called a merit of heaven (secondary sense only).

§50. The souls in purgatory are in some way which we do not understand, informed of those who pray for them, and they in return pray for us.

The Church has always believed in the suffrages the martyrs make for us, for they have reached heaven. In the first centuries, many thought that only martyrs could have the vision of God, so that even if a person died in grace, and had (1) the refinement of soul needed for that vision (which should be gained in this life, often is not); and (2) has all his old bills paid - rectifying the imbalance of the objective order so far as he can in union with Christ - even then he would not get the vision of God until the end of the world. But gradually the belief spread that others too could reach that vision. Hence the veneration of Saints other than martyrs.

There is much spiritual inspiration to be had from the lives of the Saints. St. Augustine reached a point such that he tells us in Confessions 8. 5 that he had no more intellectual difficulties left - but he still did not reach conversion, until he heard the heroic examples of St. Anthony of the desert and others. Examples move. So it is sad that so many young people today know nothing of the Saints.

It is especially in the Mass that our union with Our Lady and the Saints is realized.

§51. So the Council repeats the decrees of Nicea II, Florence and Trent on the veneration of images of the Saints. Vatican II itself, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, ruled in §125. "The practice should remain firm of setting up the sacred images in the churches for the veneration of the people; however, it should be done in moderate number and suitable order, so as not to cause surprise in the Christian people, or to favor less sound devotions." LG 67 also gave the same injunction. So it is a violation of Vatican II to remove all images, especially those of Our Lord, Our Lady and St. Joseph from our churches.

Our veneration of the Saints in no diminishes our worship of the Father through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. As 2 Thes 1:9 says, at the end, "He will come to be glorified in His Saints." For their merits are His gifts, and when He crowns their merits, He crowns nothing other than His own gifts, as St. Augustine said (Epistle 194).