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The Church is the new people of God

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 6 November 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. We can also begin this catechesis, following the program and method which we have chosen, by reading a passage from the Council's Constitution Lumen Gentium, which says: "God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness. He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto himself. With it he set up a covenant. Step by step he taught and prepared this people, making known in its history both himself and the decree of his will and making it holy unto himself" (LG 9). The subject of the preceding catechesis was this People of God of the old covenant. But the Council immediately adds: "All these things, however, happened as a preparation and figure of that new and perfect covenant which was to be ratified in Christ, and of the fuller revelation which was to be given through the Word of God made flesh" (LG 9). The entire passage quoted from Lumen Gentium is found at the beginning of chapter II, entitled "The People of God." According to the Council, the Church is the People of God of the new covenant. This is the idea already expressed by St. Peter to the first Christian communities: "Once you were 'no people,' but now you are God's people" (1 Pet 2:10).

2. In her historical reality and theological mystery the Church comes from the People of God of the old covenant. Although designated by the term qahà l (i.e., assembly), from the New Testament it is clear that the Church is the People of God established in a new way through Christ and in virtue of the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul writes: "For we are the temple of the living God, as God said: 'I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people'" (2 Cor 6:16). The People of God is established in a new way, because all those who believe in Christ are part of it, with "no distinction" between Jew and non-Jew (cf. Acts 15:9). St. Peter says this clearly in the Acts of the Apostles when he describes "how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name" (Acts 15:14). St. James declares: "The words of the prophets agree with this" (Acts 15:15).

During his first stay in the pagan city of Corinth, St. Paul was given another confirmation of this perspective when he heard these words of Christ: "Do not be afraid. Go on speaking...for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10). Lastly, there is a proclamation in the Book of Revelation: "Behold, God's dwelling with men. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them" (Rev 21:3).

All this clearly shows that from the beginning the Church was conscious of the continuity and, at the same time, the newness of her own reality as the People of God.

3. In the Old Testament, Israel already owed its existence as the People of God to God's choice and initiative. However, this people was limited to a single nation. The new People of God goes beyond this limitation. It includes people of all nations, languages and races. It has a universal character; it is catholic. As the Council says: "Christ instituted this new covenant, the new testament, that is to say, in his blood (cf. 1 Cor 11:25), calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God" (LG 9). The basis of this newness--universalism--is the redemption accomplished by Christ. He "also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood" (Heb 13:12). "Therefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).

4. Thus the people of the new covenant was formed. This covenant was proclaimed by the prophets of the Old Testament, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel. We read in Jeremiah: "The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah" (Jer 31:31). "This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer 31:33).

The prophet Ezekiel more clearly reveals the prospect of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in which the new covenant will be fulfilled: "I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees" (Ez 36:26-27).

5. The Council especially draws on the First Letter of Peter for its teaching about the People of God of the new covenant, which is the heir of the people of the old one: "For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God (cf. 1 Pet 1:23), not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:5-6), are finally established as 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people...who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God'" (LG 9). As you see, this teaching of the Council emphasizes, with St. Peter, the continuity of the People of God with that of the old covenant. But it also brings out what in a certain sense is the absolute newness of the new people who are established in virtue of Christ's redemption, set apart (purchased) by the blood of the Lamb.

6. The Council describes this newness of the "messianic people," which "has Christ for its head, 'who was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification' (Rom 4:25), and now, having won a name which is above all names, reigns in glory in heaven. The state of this people is that of the dignity and freedom of the sons of God, in whose hearts the Holy Spirit dwells as in his temple. Its law is the new commandment to love as Christ loved us (cf. Jn 13:34). Its end is the kingdom of God, which has been begun by God himself on earth, and which is to be further extended until it is brought to perfection by him at the end of time, when Christ, our life (cf. Col 3:4), shall appear, and 'creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God' (Rom 8:21)" (LG 9).

7. This is how the Church is described as the People of God of the new covenant (cf. LG 9), the nucleus of the new humanity which has been called in its entirety to be part of the new people. The Council adds: "That messianic people, although it does not actually include all men, and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, it is also used by him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-16)" (LG 9).

We will devote the next catechesis to this fundamental and fascinating theme."

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

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française. En particulier, j’adresse un salut cordial aux membres de l’aumônerie militaire du cinquième chasseurs de Périgueux: que votre pèlerinage aux tombeaux des Apôtres et des éminents témoins du Christ des premiers siècles vous aide à répondre généreusement au projet de Dieu sur chacun de vous!

A tous, jeunes et adultes, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai gruppi di lingua inglese

Dear Brother and Sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to the members of the General Chapter of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood and to the General Chapter of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambéry. I pray that you will be ever more generous in answering God’s invitation to make Christ known to all by the witness of your lives.

My special greeting also goes to the pilgrims from the Shrine of the Martyrs in Midland, Ontario. Dear Friends: I thank you for your visit, and I assure you and the native peoples of Canada of my affection and prayers.

I am also pleased to welcome the Delegates to the International Congress of Hydatidology meeting in Rome. Upon the Friends of the Pontifical North American College and all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Carissimi membri dell’Associazione “Devoti del Rosario”, vi incoraggio a recitare questa preghiera mariana secondo una intenzione che mi sta particolarmente a cuore, ossia affinché la Regina del Rosario guidi i responsabili delle nazioni nella ricerca della pace per tutto il mondo.

Con questo auspicio vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Am Ende dieser meiner Worte möchte ich dazu einladen, aus der Kraft der göttlichen Gnade danach zu streben, daß wir nicht nur Volk Gottes heißen, sondern es in Wahrheit auch sind. Zugleich begrüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt den Lesern der Kirchenzeitung für das Bistum Aachen, den Pilgern der Militärgemeinde Brannenburg / Inn und der Gruppe von österreichischen Ärzten.

Euch allen und Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo saludar ahora a los peregrinos de lengua española, venidos de España y de América Latina. Saludo de modo particular al grupo de Hermanas Hijas de María Madre de la Iglesia, que procedentes de diversos lugares de misión celebran aquí sus Bodas de Oro de profesión religiosa. También saludo a las Hermanas de Nuestra Señora de la Consolación. Que el Señor os bendiga copiosamente a todas por vuestros años de vida consagrada y de apostolado.

Saludo asimismo a un grupo del Colegio Oficial de Graduados Sociales de Madrid, en el trigésimo quinto aniversario de su promoción. Me complace saludar también a algunos grupos parroquiales y, de modo especial, al Orfeò Misericordia, de Canet de Mar (Barcelona).

Exhorto a todos a sentiros miembros vivos de la Iglesia, pueblo de Dios, y a dar testimonio de su universalidad y presencia salvífica en el mundo, mientras os imparto con gran afecto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

A todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa envio uma afetuosa saudação, rogando a Deus que envie sua Luz, para que todos acolham a Cristo em espírito de comunhão de vida, de caridade e de verdade. Com estes votos vos abençoo a todos vós, bem como às vossas famílias e às vossas comunidades locais.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Szczególnie serdecznie witam ks. bpa Juliana Groblickiego, z którym dane mi było przez wiele lat pracować dla Kościoła krakowskiego. Witam pielgrzymów z parafii Najświętszej Maryi Panny Matki Kościoła z Prądnika Białego (Kraków); policjantów i ich rodziny z Włocławka; służbę zdrowia z Gdańska; leśników-kombatantów z Radomia; grupę kolejarzy ze Strzegomia, jak również grupę kolejarzy z Dyrekcji Generalnej PKP w Warszawie; grupę turystyczno-pielgrzymkową z Chojnic; grupy turystyczne: “Almatur” z Krakowa, “Mistral” z Katowic, “Kolumb” z Tych i “Sigma-travel” z Warszawy; pielgrzymkę mistrzyń ze Zgromadzenia św. Elżbiety - siostry elżbietanki, oraz innych pielgrzymów z kraju i z emigracji, nie objętych tymi grupami.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana

Saluto tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana che prendono parte a questa Udienza, provenienti dalle Parrocchie, dalle Scuole e da varie Associazioni cattoliche di numerose diocesi d’Italia.

Saluto in particolare le Suore Figlie di Maria, Madre della Chiesa; i fedeli della Cattedrale di Ferrara, che ho avuto occasione di visitare; i Membri della Fanfara Alpina “Valle dei Laghi” di Trento e il gruppo dell’Apostolato della Chiesa della diocesi di Concordia-Pordenone.

Carissimi, in questo mese di novembre vi invito a far memoria nella preghiera dei cari defunti, che attendono il conforto della vostra solidarietà spirituale.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Ora, come di consueto, mi rivolgo a voi, giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli.

A pochi giorni dalla celebrazione della Solennità di Tutti i Santi, desidero esortarvi a riflettere sulla vocazione alla santità. Infatti, ognuno di voi, come ricorda il Concilio Vaticano II, è chiamato “alla pienezza della vita cristiana ed alla perfezione della carità”. È un cammino quotidiano esigente, quello della santificazione, ma è l’unico che vi permette di realizzare, veramente e completamente, la vostra vita. Affrontatelo, voi, giovani, con l’entusiasmo proprio della vostra età; voi, ammalati, con spirito di fortezza cristiana e voi, sposi novelli, con un sempre crescente amore reciproco, illuminato dalla fede.

Benedico di cuore tutti nel nome del Signore.

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