Chapter One, The Living Church (BLS 12-45) begins with a section entitled, “The Living Church: God’s Building.” Let’s look at it in its entirety:
§ 12 § God created the universe so that all might have a part in his divine life and be joined in communion with him. Thus did he call forth light from darkness, beauty from chaos, and life from the formless void (Gn 1:1-23). When all was in readiness, he fashioned Adam and Eve in the divine image and breathed life into them (Gn 1:24-31) in order to gather all men and women into the great and eternal hymn of praise which is the Church. This is why Christians, from the earliest centuries, could believe that “the world was created for the sake of the Church.” (CCC 760)
This is strikingly evangelical, don’t you think? How often we hear of the importance of separating the Church from the world, as if our people and treasures needed to be protected.
§ 13 § Despite the sin of Adam, God’s call to communion perdured. Gradually, he revealed his wish to save humanity “not as individuals without any mutual bonds, but by making them into a people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.”(Lumen Gentium 9) With Abraham and his descendants, God entered into an everlasting covenant. He promised to be their God and claimed them as his own, a holy nation, a people set apart to praise his mighty deeds throughout the ages. Through the waters of death he led his people, Israel, accepting their sacrifices at Sinai through the hands of Aaron and his descendants. “All of these things, however, were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant which was to be ratified in Christ. . . . this new covenant in His blood . . . calling together a people made up of Jew and Gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit.” (Lumen Gentium 9)
One theologian I knew said that he found the entirety of the Scriptures could be divided into one of two types of events: the Creation or the Exodus from Egypt. Even if that is a stretch, there’s no doubt that those two events form the bedrock of our Judeo-Christian self-understanding.
§ 14 § From the altar of the cross Christ accomplished our redemption, (SC 5) forming a holy people, a “temple of God built of living stones, where the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth.” (RDCA II, 1) The hymn of praise that Christ places within the heart and on the lips of the Church will be sung at the end of time in all its fullness, when all the members gather at the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.
The RDCA citation alludes to 1 Peter 2:5 and John 4:23; the hymn of the wedding feast is of course, Revelation 19:1-2, 5-8. Old and New Testaments bring us to the present day:
§ 15 § That same hymn is sung today by the Church whenever the liturgy is celebrated. For every time the Church gathers for prayer, she is joined to Christ’s priesthood and made one with all the saints and angels, transcending time and space. Together the members worship with the whole company of heaven, “venerating the memory of the saints” and hoping “for some part and fellowship with them”; together they eagerly await Christ’s coming in glory. (SC 8) The sacred liturgy is a window to eternity and a glimpse of what God calls us to be.
These citations from Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) are from early in the document, laying the groundwork for what came later, as these sections above do for Built of Living Stones. The hope of the heavenly liturgy is a high standard indeed, one that many of us do not always live up to. A building is an important element. Compared to bishops, pastors, music directors, musical instruments, and individuals in a faith community, a church will likely outlast all of these, and thus provide a substantive witness and formation tool for a very long period of time. In Europe, perhaps on the scale of centuries. That is no mean factor to consider in the construction of a church.
All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.