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The Church is a structured society

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 1 July 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Church, a priestly, sacramental and prophetic community, was instituted by Jesus Christ as a structured, hierarchical and ministerial society, to provide pastoral governance for the continual formation and growth of the community. Chosen by Jesus Christ as the visible foundation of his Church, the twelve apostles were the first to exercise this ministerial and pastoral role. As Vatican II says: "Jesus Christ, the eternal shepherd, established his holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as he himself had been sent by the Father (cf. Jn 20:21), and he willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in his Church even to the consummation of the world" (LG 18). This passage from Lumen Gentium first of all reminds us of the original and unique position of the apostles in the institutional aspect of the Church. From the Gospel story we know that Jesus called disciples to follow him and from among them he chose twelve (cf. Lk 6:13).

The Gospel account informs us that for Jesus it was a decisive choice made after a night of prayer (cf. Lk 6:12); it was a choice made with sovereign freedom. Mark tells us that Jesus went up the mountain and summoned "those whom he wanted" (Mk 3:13). The Gospel texts list the names of the individuals called (cf. Mk 3:16-19), which is an indication that their importance was perceived and acknowledged in the early Church.

2. In forming the group of the Twelve, Jesus established the Church as a visible society organized to serve the Gospel and the coming of God's kingdom. The number twelve referred to the twelve tribes of Israel, and Jesus' use of it reveals his intention to create a new Israel, the new People of God established as a Church. Jesus' intention to create appears in the very word used by Mark to describe the foundation: "He appointed Twelve.... He appointed the Twelve." "Appointed" or "made" recalls the verb used in the Genesis account about the creation of the world and in Deutero-Isaiah (cf. 43:1; 44:2) about the creation of the People of God, the ancient Israel. This creative will is also expressed in the new names given to Simon (Peter) and to James and John (sons of thunder), but also to the entire group or college considered as a whole. Indeed, St. Luke writes that Jesus "chose twelve, whom he also named apostles" (Lk 6:13). The twelve apostles thus became a special, distinct socio-ecclesial reality, one which in certain aspects cannot be repeated. In their group the Apostle Peter stood out. In his regard Jesus revealed most explicitly his intention of founding a new Israel by the name he gave to Simon: the "rock" on which Jesus chose to build his Church (cf. Mt 16:18).

3. Mark explains Jesus' purpose in establishing the Twelve: "He appointed twelve that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons" (Mk 3:14-15). The first constitutive element of the Twelve, then, is their absolute adherence to Christ. They are persons called to "be with him," that is, to follow him by leaving everything. The second element is missionary, expressed on the model of Jesus' own mission of preaching and driving out demons. The mission of the Twelve is a sharing in Christ's mission on the part of men closely joined to him as disciples, friends and confidants.

4. In the apostles' mission the evangelist Mark emphasizes the "authority to drive out demons." It is an authority of power over evil, which means positively the authority to give people Christ's salvation, for he drives out "the ruler of this world" (Jn 12:31). Luke confirms the meaning of this authority and the purpose of establishing the Twelve when he reports Jesus' words in conferring authority on the apostles in the kingdom: "It is you who have stood by me in my trials, and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me" (Lk 22:28). In this declaration, perseverance in union with Christ is closely linked to the authority conferred in the kingdom. This authority is pastoral, as we can see from the text on the mission specifically entrusted to Peter: "Feed my lambs.... Feed my sheep" (Jn 21:15-17). Peter personally received supreme authority in the pastoral mission. This mission is exercised as a participation in the authority of the one shepherd and teacher, Christ. The supreme authority entrusted to Peter does not nullify the authority conferred on the other apostles in the kingdom. The pastoral mission is shared by the Twelve under the authority of a single, universal shepherd, who is the agent and representative of the Good Shepherd, Christ.

5. These are the specific duties which are inherent in the mission entrusted by Jesus Christ to the Twelve:

a) The mission and authority to evangelize all nations, as the three Synoptics clearly attest (cf. Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:16-18; Lk 24:45-48). Among them, Matthew emphasizes the relationship established by Jesus himself between his messianic power and the mandate he conferred on the apostles: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:18). The apostles can and must fulfill their mission because of Christ's power which will be manifested in them.

b) The mission and power to baptize as a fulfillment of Christ's command, with a Baptism in the name of the holy Trinity (cf. Mt 28:29). Since it is tied to Christ's paschal mystery, it is also considered in the Acts of the Apostles as Baptism in the name of Jesus (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:16).

c) The mission and power to celebrate the Eucharist: "Do this in memory of me" (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25). The charge to do again what Jesus did at the Last Supper by consecrating bread and wine implies a power of the highest degree. To say in Christ's name: "This is my Body," "This is my Blood," is to be identified with Christ, as it were, in the sacramental act.

d) The mission and power to forgive sins (Jn 20:22-23). The apostles share in the power which the Son of Man has to forgive sins on earth (cf. Mk 2:10), that power which in Jesus' public life astonished the crowd. The evangelist Matthew tells us that they "glorified God who had given such authority to human beings" (Mt 9:8).

6. To fulfill this mission the apostles received, in addition to authority, the special gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 20: 21-22), which was manifested at Pentecost as Jesus had promised (cf. Acts 1:8). In virtue of this gift, from Pentecost on they began to fulfill the command to evangelize all nations. In the Constitution Lumen Gentium the Second Vatican Council tells us: "By preaching the Gospel everywhere, and it being accepted by their hearers under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the apostles gather together the universal Church, which the Lord established on the apostles and built upon blessed Peter, their chief, Christ Jesus himself being the supreme cornerstone (cf. Rev 21:14; Mt 16:18; Eph 2:20)" (LG 19).

7. The mission of the Twelve included a foundational role reserved to them which would not be inherited by others: being eyewitnesses of Christ's life, death and resurrection (cf. Lk 24:28), handing on his message to the early community as the link between divine revelation and the Church, and for that very reason, initiating the Church in the name and power of Christ under the action of the Holy Spirit. Because of their function the twelve apostles represent a uniquely important group in the Church which is defined by the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as apostolic ( Credo unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam ), due to this unbreakable link with the Twelve. This is also why the Church has introduced into the liturgy and reserved special, solemn celebrations in honor of the apostles.

8. Nevertheless, Jesus conferred on the apostles a mission to evangelize all nations, and this takes a very long time, a time which indeed will last "until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20). The apostles understood that it was Christ's will that they provide for successors, who, as their heirs and representatives, would continue their mission. Thus they set up "bishops and deacons" in the various communities "and arranged that after their death these other approved men would be successors in their ministry" (1 Clem. 44:2, cf. 42:1-4). In this way Christ established a hierarchical and ministerial structure in the Church, one formed by the apostles and their successors. This structure did not originate from an antecedent, already established community, but was created directly by him. The apostles were at one and the same time the seeds of the new Israel and the origin of the sacred hierarchy, as we read in the Council's Constitution Ad Gentes (n. 5). Therefore, this structure belongs to the Church's very nature, according to the divine plan fulfilled by Jesus. According to the same plan, this structure has an essential role in the whole development of the Christian community, from the day of Pentecost until the end of time, when in the heavenly Jerusalem all the elect will fully share in the new life forever.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Will kommensgrub an alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher, besonders an die Pilgergruppe aus St. Emmeram in Eschelbach. Seid Euch stets der Würde als Glieder des neuen Gottesvolkes bewubt und versucht, Euer Leben dieser göttlichen Berufung gemäb auszurichten. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie allen, die uns in diesem Augenblick geistlich verbunden sind, von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir les pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française venus à cette audience. En particulier, j’adresse mon cordial salut et mes encouragements aux responsables des Semaines sociales de France pour les réflexions approfondies qu’ils conduisent à la lumière de la doctrine sociale de l’Église. J’offre aussi mes vœux fervents aux couples qui ont fait le voyage de Rome pour fêter leurs noces d’or. Enfin, je salue amicalement les jeunes du Lycée du Sacré-Cœur de Saint-Maur, et tous les jeunes, en leur souhaitant un bel avenir chrétien. À tous je donne volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors, in particular to the members of the Across pilgrimage of the Sick from Great Britain. I also greet the Marian pilgrims from Hawaii and the Philippines, the group of Italo-Canadian young people from Toronto, the visitors from Indonesia and the catechists from South Africa. A special word of thanks to the Schola Cantorum of Ampleforth Abbey in England for their fine singing. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Ai visitatori di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me es grato saludar ahora a todos los peregrinos de lengua española que participan en esta audiencia. A los procedentes de España, doy mi cordial bienvenida al grupo de Valencia y les exhorto a continuar con generosidad y fidelidad su preparación para el ministerio sagrado. Igualmente dirijo un saludo afectuoso a los “Niños de Coro” de la catedral de Palencia, que nos han deleitado con sus voces, y a los grupos de alumnos del colegio de las Religiosas de María Inmaculada, de Vigo, y del colegio Nazaret, de Guimar. Así mismo saludo a los feligreses de la parroquia de Medinya y a las Voluntarias de la caridad de Gijón; exhorto a todos a perseverar en su compromiso apostólico.

Igualmente saludo a los peregrinos de Monterrey (México) y al grupo de periodistas de este querido País, a los cuales aliento en su importante profesión de servicio a la sociedad desde una información veraz y objetiva.

A todos os imparto cordialmente mi Bendición.

Ai pellegrini portoghesi 

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Cristo deu à sua Igreja a segurança da doutrina, a corrente de graças dos Sacramentos; e cuidou de que houvesse pessoas que nos pudessem orientar, que nos conduzissem, que nos trouxessem constantemente à memória o nosso caminho. Amai os vossos Pastores! Rezai para que sejam sempre fiéis dispensadores dos mistérios de Cristo. Saúdo com afecto os fiéis de Lisboa da Paróquia de Saõ Domingos e as religiosas da Associação das Religiosas da Instrução Cristã, pedindo ao Espírito Santo que as ilumine nos trabalhos do seu próximo Capítulo Geral; e saúdo também os peregrinos de diversos Estados brasileiros.

Que Deus vos abençœ e vos ampare!

Ai visitatori croati

Cari pellegrini di Spalato, Zagabria e Varazdin, vi saluto cordialmente. Benvenuti! Una moltitudine di profughi di guerra sia della Croazia che della Bosnia-Erzegovina, ha trovato rifugio nelle vostre città. Vi ringrazio a nome di questi nostri fratelli e sorelle, come pure ringrazio tutti coloro che continuano a offrire loro tanto urgenti e necessari aiuti umanitari. Tali aiuti sono un dovere umano e cristiano! Sempre in situazioni simili, i credenti hanno una particolare responsabilità. Continuate perciò a trovare nella fede e nella nobile e antica tradizione culturale del vostro popolo, la forza necessaria per superare le difficoltà che vengono create dalla guerra, che devasta ancora la vostra Patria, pensando nello stesso tempo al futuro nel quale vi attendono la ricostruzione materiale di quello che è distrutto e il rinnovamento spirituale dei singoli, delle famiglie e della società intera. Su di voi e su tutte le care popolazioni della Croazia e della Bosnia-Erzegovina invoco la benedizione di Dio. Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Nel rivolgere ora il mio saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, esprimo un cordiale benvenuto al gruppo dei nuovi Provinciali Salesiani, giunti a Roma per un corso di aggiornamento. Carissimi! Siate animatori ed educatori ferventi, ben consapevoli dell’urgenza di formare giovani che siano capaci di testimoniare i valori della famiglia, della vita sociale, del lavoro e della cultura secondo i principi del Vangelo. La figura di Don Bosco vi sia guida costante e sicuro punto di riferimento.

Saluto anche i giovani che hanno frequentato a Nettuno il corso per Sovrintendenti ed Ispettori di Polizia di Stato, e sono oggi accompagnati qui dal Vescovo di Albano, Monsignor Dante Bernini, e dal loro Cappellano. Su tutti invoco la protezione della Madre del Redentore e di San Michele Arcangelo, affinché il loro futuro servizio giovi a garantire l’ordine e la tranquillità sociale.

Rivolgo un pensiero ai fedeli della Parrocchia dei Santi Pietro e Paolo a Smerillo, nell’arcidiocesi di Fermo. So che sono venuti a Roma per ricordare il cinquantesimo anniversario della loro Chiesa ed il Giubileo sacerdotale del Parroco. Questa circostanza sia di stimolo per un nuovo impegno a camminare senza compromessi sulla via della perfezione cristiana.

Un saluto, ancora, va alla “Famiglia legnanese”, della Parrocchia prepositurale di San Magno, in Legnano. A tutti i componenti dell’associazione va il mio compiacimento soprattutto per le iniziative a favore dei giovani meritevoli, mediante l’istituzione di borse di studio. Auspico che la “Famiglia legnanese” si ispiri sempre alle grandi tradizioni cristiane della Chiesa lombarda.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Ed ora il consueto saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli. Esso trae spunto dalle figure dei Santi Apostoli Pietro e Paolo, dei quali abbiamo l’altro ieri celebrato la solennità liturgica. Attraverso la loro voce e quella dei loro Successori, ci giunge la parola dello stesso Signore Gesù, che annuncia la misericordia del Padre celeste e chiama ad essere testimoni coerenti della sua carità. Lo potrete essere con la vostra gioia e il vostro entusiasmo, cari giovani; con il vostro dolore, offerto in sacrificio spirituale, cari ammalati; con il vostro affetto coniugale, generoso e fecondo, voi sposi novelli. A tutti imparto la mia Benedizione.

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