"Lumen Gentium" is Key to Council
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Last Sunday I announced that in the course of the next series of our Sunday Angelus gatherings, we would pause to reflect on the Second Vatican Council 30 years after its conclusion. In my reflection today I intend to call your attention to the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, "the keystone" of the Council's whole Magisterium. With it, the Second Vatican Council wished to shed light on the Church's reality: a wonderful but complex reality consisting of human and divine elements, visible and invisible (cf. N. 8).
It is the great merit of Lumen gentium to have forcefully reminded us that if we want to have a satisfactory understanding of the Church's identity without neglecting the institutional aspects, it is necessary to begin with her mystery. The Church is a mystery because she is grafted onto Christ and rooted in the Trinitarian life. Jesus, the Word of God made man, is the "light that shines out visibly from the Church" (cf. N. 1). He has brought ancient Israel's expectations to fulfilment, inaugurating the arrival of God's kingdom. Thus he has gathered all nations into a new People of God, uniting them to himself as his Body and his Bride, in the power of the Holy Spirit. A sublime mystery, which binds the baptized together and spurs them to continuous conversion, to the very heights of holiness. So this is the Church: a people journeying through history, its gaze fixed on the goal of Christ's second coming.
2. This conciliar vision of the Church, faithful to the Word of God and to the most ancient tradition, was meant to give the Christian community a new pulse of vitality, a renewed spirit of communion and participation. The Church in our time must increasingly resemble the family, in which no one feels marginalized or merely part of the herd. This requires us to grow in docility to the voice of the Spirit, in order to discern and to accept the charisms he bestows on us and to promote and make the most of the range of different ministries. Within this framework, the exercise of ecclesiastical authority is called to be increasingly distinguished by its style of service; the consecrated life is finding fresh enthusiasm, and an age of new initiative and responsibility has dawned for the laity.
The Church described in Lumen gentium is a Church rich in life; a Church which, far from withdrawing into herself, is opening up with greater energy to the world. A Church which feels she "owes the Gospel" to all men: evangelization is an intrinsic dimension of her life, as we are reminded by World Mission Day, which we are celebrating today.
3. Dear brothers and sisters, we are addressing our prayer to Mary. The Council Fathers chose to mention her at the end of this fundamental Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, almost as the culmination and synthesis of its entire ecclesiological reflection. May the Blessed Virgin, model of the Church and Mother of the Church, help and guide us on this conciliar path of discovery, which I would like to hold up to the whole Christian people as a specific commitment to the preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.
As I have just recalled, today we are celebrating World Mission Day. And this is "the occasion to implore from the Lord an ever greater zeal for evangelization".
I would first of all like to address an affectionate thought to the missionaries working in the front lines of God's kingdom. Dear brothers and sisters, the whole ecclesial community is deeply united with you who are living the mission ad gentes, a commitment that often leads to bloodshed. Thank you, on behalf of the Church, for your dedication!
All believers are called to share this missionary concern, with an outlook of concrete solidarity, through specific forms of cooperation such as prayer, sacrifice, concern for missionary vocations and also material contributions. I specifically urge all the faithful to give their indispensable support to the Pontifical Mission Societies, who do so much to respond to the needs of evangelization.
May the Mother of Christ, the first missionary, sustain the Church in an increasingly generous fulfilment of her missionary mandate, which is to proclaim Christ to all peoples and to all nations.
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