The 50th Anniversary of Lumen Gentium

Today, November 21, 2014, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. Along with this major constitution, we also celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Orientalium Ecclesiarum (Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches) and Unitatis Redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism).

This document like all the documents from the Second Vatican Council, take their name from the first words of the document itself. The first two words – Lumen Gentium – the light of the nations is in reference to Jesus Christ who is the light to the nations. In the world, it is the Church that reflects the light of the Christ. Lumen Gentium is Christ and that is whom the Church must proclaim to all nations.

Like the document that accompanied Lumen Gentium (De Ecclesia – name during the council), Gaudium et Spes, or Schema 13 (name during the council) is a document with a more weighted subject matter – the permanent position of the Church. Where Gaudium et Spes provides the outward understanding of the Church – the Church is a mission, Lumen Gentium focuses on Holy Mother Church and the question, what does she say about herself? The role of Lumen Gentium is to answer the question by listening to the Holy Spirit in our times. This document focuses on the internal understanding of the Church. As a divine institution instituted by Jesus Christ himself, and given to St. Peter, the Church calls out to the world.

The document is composed of eight chapters: 1. The Mystery of the Church; 2. The People of God; 3. The Church is Hierarchical; 4. The Laity; 5. The Call to Holiness; 6. Religious; 7. The Pilgrim Church, and 8. Our Lady.

To conclude today’s blog post, I give you eight quotes for the eight chapters from the document. There are many great gems of theological insight in Lumen Gentium, but these are the ones that have recently stood out for me –

1. “Christ is the light of humanity; and it is, accordingly, the heart-felt desire of this sacred council, being gathered together in the Holy Spirit, that, by proclaiming his Gospel to every creature (cf. Mk. 16:15)…Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men – she here proposes, for the benefit of the faithful and of the whole world, to set forth, as clearly as possible, and in the tradition laid down by earlier Councils, her own nature and universal mission” (#1).

2. “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ, the visible society and the spiritual community, the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches, are not to be thought of as two realities. On the contrary, they form one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element” (#8).

Lumen Gentium

3. “Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are none the less ordered one to another; each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power that he has, forms and rules the priestly people; in the person of Christ he effects the eucharistic sacrifice and offers it to God in the name of all the people. The faithful indeed, by virtue of their royal priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist. They exercise that priesthood, too, by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, abnegation and active charity” (#10).

4. “From the marriage of Christians there comes the family in which new citizens of human society are born and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, those are made children of God so that the People of God may be perpetuated throughout the centuries. In what might be regarded as the domestic Church [italics mine], the parents, by word and example, are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They must foster the vocation which is proper to each child, and this with special care if it be to religion” (#11).

5. “The order of bishops is the successor to the college of the apostles in their role as teachers and pastors, and in it the apostolic college is perpetuated. Together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him, they have supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff…It is clear, however, that the office of binding and loosing which was given to St. Peter (Mt. 16:19), was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head (Mt. 18:18; 28:16-20)” (#22).

6. “They [the laity] live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit to the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as fro within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties” (#31).

7. “But if charity is to grow and fructify in the soul like a good seed, each of the faithful must willingly hear the word of God and carry out his will with deeds, with the help of his grace; he must frequently partake of the sacraments, chiefly the Eucharist, and take part in the liturgy; he must constantly apply himself to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service and the practice of all virtues…the true disciple of Christ is marked by both love of God and of his neighbor” (#42).

8. “Christ lifted up from the earth, has drawn all men to himself (cf. Jn. 12:32). Rising from the dead (cf. Rom. 6:9) he sent his life-giving Spirit upon his disciples and through him set up his Body which is the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Sitting at the right hand of the Father he is continually active in the world in order to lead men to the Church and, through it, join them more closely to himself; and by nourishing them with his own Body and Blood, make them partakers of his glorious life” (#48).

For an explanation of Chapter 8 – Our Lady, please read “Mondays with Mary” – The Blessed Virgin Mary in Lumen Gentium, Part I, Part II, and Part III).

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