The first beneficiary of salvation is the Church. Christ won the Church for himself at the price of his own blood and made the Church his co-worker in the salvation of the world. Indeed, Christ dwells within the Church. She is his Bride. It is he who causes her to grow. He carries out his mission through her.
I suppose if we are talking about the Body, or institutions, or people, this is correct enough. If we read the Gospels, Jesus originally touched, healed, and taught individual persons. They came to faith–that is the Lord’s own witness. And some were outside of the Chosen people.
If his salvific act includes the whole sequence of his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, then yes–we need to wait for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost. It’s a cliché, but the “birthday of the Church” certainly marks a new stage in history. And Stephen the Deacon marks the first of the Church’s disciples to experience the completion of salvation through his martyrdom.
The topic of salvation was certainly covered widely at Vatican II:
The Council makes frequent reference to the Church’s role in the salvation of (humankind). While acknowledging that God loves all people and grants them the possibility of being saved (cf. l Tm 2:4), (Cf. Lumen Gentium, 14-17; Ad Gentes 3) the Church believes that God has established Christ as the one mediator and that she herself has been established as the universal sacrament of salvation. (Cf. Lumen Gentium, 48; Gaudium et Spes 43; Ad Gentes, 7, 21) “To this catholic unity of the people of God, therefore,…all are called, and they belong to it or are ordered to it in various ways, whether they be Catholic faithful or others who believe in Christ or finally all people everywhere who by the grace of God are called to salvation.” (Lumen Gentium 13)
The last point we should embrace with hope: salvation is predicated on God’s loving grace.
It is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all (humankind) and the necessity of the Church for salvation.
The Church is often referred to as a sacrament of Christ. If we accept the classic definition as “a sign instituted by God to give grace,” the role of Church as sacrament cannot be understated.
Pope John Paul II teaches both mercy as well as the responsibility of the believer.
Both these truths help us to understand the one mystery of salvation, so that we can come to know God’s mercy and our own responsibility.
If the Church is indeed that “universal sacrament,” we are obligated in the strongest way, every last Christian, to be mindful of that grave responsibility. Our self-congratulatory spirit as “saved” is drastically premature if we do not shoulder the explicit mandate of Christ (Cf. Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20) and live it out. If we decline, either through intention or ignorance or through direct antigospel behavior, we are clearly not in union with either the Church as instituted or Jesus himself.
Salvation, which always remains a gift of the Holy Spirit, requires (human) cooperation, both to save (themselves) and to save others. This is God’s will, and this is why he established the Church and made her a part of his plan of salvation. Referring to “this messianic people,” the Council says; “It has been set up by Christ as a communion of life, love and truth; by him too it is taken up as the instrument of salvation for all, and sent on a mission to the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.” (Ibid., 9)
A good question we might ask daily, in our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, families, and even at parish meetings, gatherings, and worship: have I been salt and light to the very best of my ability? Have I forgotten my part in the mission of grace? The urging in the Sermon on the Mount (Cf. Matthew 7:21-23) should give anyone pause. We have the Lord’s own testimony that many of us will be surprised at who “gets in” and who will be “left out.”
This document is available online here and is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana