By Veronica A. Arntz
In Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici Corporis from 1943, we are given a beautiful description of the Church as Christ’s Mystical Body here on earth, born out of love from his sufferings on the Cross. Toward the end of the encyclical, the Pope offers a heartfelt exhortation to love the Church:
Let this be the supreme law of our love: to love the Spouse of Christ as Christ wished her to be and as He purchased her with His blood. Hence not only should we cherish the sacraments with which Holy Mother Church sustains our life, the solemn ceremonies she offers for our solace and our joy, the sacred chant and liturgy by which she lifts our souls up to heaven, but the sacramentals too and all those exercises of piety which she uses to console the hearts of the faithful and gently to imbue them with the Spirit of Christ (art. 102).
For Pius XII, the Church is deeply sacramental and liturgical, for, by her very being, she is turned toward the Lord, anticipating with hope Christ’s second coming. In loving the Church, we love her liturgies and her sacramental life, for these things are part of her very being and essence. How much these words are needed for the Church in our own time! In a time when the sacraments are frequented less and less, piety is disregarded as being “individualistic,” and, most especially, the liturgy is viewed as a theatrical act by the priest rather than the eternal sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, we are in desperate need of a reminder of the true nature of the Church. In our time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has helped us to understand the true nature of the Church as Eucharistic and liturgical, oriented toward communion with God. To understand Ratzinger’s ecclesiological vision, let us first understand what the Church is not.