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The Church: a communio of prayer

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 29 January 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that after the risen Lord's ascension into heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem. "When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and his brothers" (Acts 1:12-14). This is the first image of that community, the communio ecclesialis, which we see described in a detailed way in the Acts of the Apostles.

2. It was a community gathered by the will of Jesus himself, who, at the time he was returning to the Father, ordered his disciples to remain united in expectation of the other event he had announced: "I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Lk 24:49).

The evangelist Luke, who was also the author of the Acts of the Apostles, introduces us to that first community of the Church in Jerusalem by reminding us of Jesus' own exhortation: "Eating together with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for 'the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 1:4).

3. These texts show that this first Church community, which was to be revealed in broad daylight on the day of Pentecost by the coming of the Holy Spirit, results from an order of Jesus himself, who gave the Church her own "form," so to speak. This last text reveals a detail which merits attention: Jesus made this arrangement while "eating together with them" (Acts 1:4). When he would return to the Father, the Eucharist would become for all time the expression of the Church's communion, in which Christ is sacramentally present. At this meal in Jerusalem Jesus was visibly present as the risen Lord, who celebrated with his friends the feast of the bridegroom who had come back among them for awhile.

4. After Christ's ascension, the little community continued its life. We read especially: "All these [the apostles] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers" (Acts 1:14). The first image of the Church is that of a community which is devoted to prayer. All were praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit who had been promised them by Christ even before his passion, and again, before his ascension into heaven.

Prayer--prayer in common--is the basic feature of that "communion" at the time when the Church began, and so it will always be. This is evidenced in every century--and today as well--by prayer in common, especially liturgical prayer, in our churches, religious communities and, may God increasingly grant us this grace, in Christian families.

The author of the Acts of the Apostles accentuates their being devoted to prayer, a constant and, one would say, regular prayer, well ordered and attended by the community. This is another feature of the ecclesial community, the heir to that beginning which remains an example for all generations to come.

5. Luke emphasizes the "unanimity" (homothymadon) of this prayer. This fact highlights the communal meaning of the prayer. The prayer of the early community--as would always be the case in the Church--expresses and serves this spiritual "communion," and at the same time it creates, deepens and strengthens it. In this communion of prayer the differences and divisions which come from other material and spiritual factors are overcome. Prayer produces the community's spiritual unity.

6. Luke also emphasizes the fact that the apostles devoted themselves with one accord "together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers." In this case, cousins related to Jesus are called brothers and are mentioned in the Gospels at certain moments in Jesus' life. The Gospels also speak of the presence and active participation of quite a few women in the Messiah's work of evangelization. Luke himself also attests in his Gospel: "Accompanying him [Jesus] were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources" (Lk 8:2-3). In Acts, Luke also describes how the situation in the Gospel continued at the beginning of the ecclesial community. These generous women gathered in prayer with the apostles. On the day of Pentecost they were to receive the Holy Spirit along with them. At that time there was already a lively experience of ecclesial community, in regard to which the Apostle Paul would say, "There is neither male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). At that time the Church was already being revealed as the seed of the new humanity which was called in its entirety to communion with Christ.

7. Luke wants us to note the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in that first community (cf. Acts 1:14). We know that Mary did not participate directly in Jesus' public activity. However, John's Gospel shows she was present at two decisive moments: at Cana in Galilee, when the "beginning of the messianic signs" took place through her intervention, and at Calvary. Luke in his Gospel highlights Mary's importance, especially at the annunciation, visitation, birth, presentation in the Temple and during Jesus' hidden life in Nazareth. In Acts, Luke teaches us how Mary, having given human life to the son of God, is now in turn present at the Church's birth: present in prayer, silence, communion and hope-filled waiting.

8. Gathering up the expressions of the 2000-year tradition which began with Luke and John, Vatican II, in the last chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, highlighted the special importance of Christ's mother in the economy of salvation which takes concrete form in the Church. She is the figure of the Church (typus ecclesiae), principally in regard to union with Christ. This union is the source of the communio ecclesialis, as we said in the previous catechesis. Therefore, Mary is with her Son at the origin of this communion.

The presence of Christ's Mother in the apostolic community on the day of Pentecost was prepared for in a special way at the foot of the cross on Golgotha, where Jesus gave his life "to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (Jn 11:52). On the day of Pentecost this "gathering into one of the dispersed children of God" started occurring through the action of the Holy Spirit. Mary--whom Jesus gave as mother to the disciple whom he loved and through him to the apostolic community of the whole Church--was present in "the upper room where they were staying" (Acts 1:13), to obtain and serve the strengthening of that communio which by Christ's will his Church was meant to be.

9. This is valid for all time, for the present moment as well, when we are especially aware of the need for recourse to her who is the type and mother of the Church's unity. The Council urges us to this in a text which summarizes Christian doctrine and tradition, and with which we will conclude this catechesis. We read: "The entire body of the faithful pours forth urgent supplications to the Mother of God and of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all the families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity" (LG 69)."

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