The Dual Profile of the ChurchJun 28th, 2012 | By Tom Riello | Category: Blog Posts
Recently, I wrote about the Bible and the Catholic Church. I was motivated in order to address two matters that those considering the Catholic Church as the Church established by Christ might have: 1. that the Church encourages the faithful to read and reflect on the Bible; and 2. that the Church, because of the Magisterium, actually brings a deepened vitality to Bible reading. We answered the former by demonstrating that the Church in her documents through the ages, including three Papal Encyclicals, encourages a deep and intimate engagement with the Bible on the part of the faithful. We answered the latter by explaining the Church’s criteria for interpreting the Sacred Scriptures. We also provided a brief example from the biblical story of David and Goliath to demonstrate how the Church’s hermeneutic deepens our understanding and application of the Bible.
In this post, I want to develop further the proposal that the Church deepens our understanding of Scripture and, in the process, I hope to demonstrate that the Church cannot be reduced exclusively to an institutional structure by discussing the Church’s dual profile. In our day and age, we have become very familiar with the term “profile” due to the prolific rise of social networking sites on the internet. Long before the advent of such sites, the Church had a profile — in fact, the Church has a dual profile that helps us discover who the Church is and what she is called to do. This dual profile of the Church refers to both her Marian (Mary) and Petrine (Peter) dimensions. Blessed John Paul II said that, “this link between the two profiles of the Church, the Marian and the Petrine, is profound and complementary” (Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 1987). Pope Benedict XVI, at his first Consistory in 2006, said to the newly created Cardinals, “You above all, dear new Cardinals, what great sustenance you can receive for your mission as the eminent “Senate” of Peter’s Successor! This providential circumstance helps us to consider today’s event, which emphasizes the Petrine principle of the Church, in the light of the other principle, the Marian one, which is even more fundamental” (Homily for the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 2006).
What does it mean to speak of this dual profile that both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI refer? Simply, that the Marian profile refers to the Church as she is concerning her discipleship in all its facets (Mother, Bride, Disciple). The Petrine profile refers to the Church’s institutional structure and order, as well as her divinely appointed role as Teacher (the Magisterial authority). These twin profiles are complementary, with the Marian dimension being more fundamental. In other words, the Popes are saying that the Petrine serves the Marian and not the other way around. So how does a discussion about this dual profile deepen one’s Biblical reflection? It does so because these dual profiles flow forth from the wellspring of the Scriptural story.
We shall begin by looking at the Marian profile. The Second Vatican Council writes in reference to the Blessed Mother:
By reason of the gift and role of her divine motherhood, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with her unique graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united to the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, “the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother” (Lumen Gentium #63).
Many non-Catholics believe that too much talk about Mary and the Church obscures the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Non-Catholics might ask, “Why did the Council write such things about Mary?” To put it simply, the Scriptural story compels the Church to write such things about Mary. Blessed John Paul II wrote, “The affirmation of the central place of Christ cannot therefore be separated from the recognition of the role played by his Most Holy Mother. Veneration of her, when properly understood, can in no way take away from ‘the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.’ Mary in fact constantly points to her Divine Son and she is proposed to all believers as the model of faith which is put into practice” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente #43). Mary is proposed, says the Pope, as the model of faith which is put into practice. Let us turn to the Scriptures to see how this proposal is made.
The Gospel of Luke, especially in three passages (1:26-56, 2:15-19, 2:33-35), provides the paradigm that proposes Mary as the model of faith. It must be said that Mary’s faith, while proposed for our emulation, is supremely unique to her (e.g., to her alone can it be said “Mother of God”). In the first passage, we read of Mary’s response to the words of the angel Gabriel, “let it be to me according to your word” (vs. 38). Mary’s “Yes” to the angel’s words models for us what our response should be to God’s call in our lives. Mary wants to do God’s will and her response demonstrates this. It must also be stressed that this “Yes” to God involved great risk for Mary, as Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal household pointed out, “to whom could she explain what had taken place within her?” (Mary: Mirror of the Church, pg. 41). Our “Yes” to God also involves risk. After her encounter with the angel, Mary, we are told, went in haste to her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Elizabeth rejoiced at Mary’s arrival, exclaiming, “why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 43). Mary, in her womb, brought Elizabeth’s Lord, the Son of God and the Son of Mary. As Blessed John Paul reflected, “It was in her (Mary’s) womb that the Word became flesh!” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente #43). We too, as followers of Christ, bring Christ to others. It is our calling to make Christ known to others, in word and deed. Elizabeth added these words to her praise for Mary, “when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy” (vs. 44). Mary was the first evangelist, if you will. She heralded Christ to Elizabeth and John the Baptist. It was John’s mission to prepare the way of the Lord, to make Him known to the people. It was from the sound of Mary’s voice that John was introduced to Jesus. We too, as followers of Christ, are called to introduce and herald Christ to others.
Elizabeth continued in her words to Mary saying she is, “blessed” because Mary “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (vs. 45). Mary trusted the promise spoken to her by the Lord and we, who follow Christ, are called to do the same, as James tells us (1:6-7). These words of Elizabeth produce within Mary her great song of praise, the Magnificat (1:46-55). Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord because Mary is very much aware of her low estate. These words of Mary anticipate John the Baptist’s own confession, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Mary is great because she is fully aware of her dependence upon God. Her blessedness is tied up in the fact that she knows that apart from God she is nothing. Mary manifests a trait that is present in the piety of the saints: the more holy one becomes, the more one is made aware of their dependence upon God. We too are called to recognize our utter dependence upon the Lord. Many saints, from St. Augustine of Hippo, to St. Theresa of Avila, to St. John Vianney, have said that the key to the Christian life is humility. Peter commands, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6). Pope Benedict XVI describes what it means to follow Christ, “Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God . . . humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from ‘what is mine,’ to give me gratuitously ‘what is His’ (Message for Lent 2010).
Luke describes Mary as one who kept the things said of her Son pondering them in her heart (2:19, 51). Mary contemplated what was said of her Son and her Lord. She was not passive in what was happening in her life, rather she entered into the mystery and pondered it. We too must allow the things concerning Christ to percolate within us and this happens by mediating upon and pondering Christ and His life. This, in fact, is what the Rosary is all about: looking at the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary, contemplating the beauty of Christ (Blessed John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae). St. Paul exhorts the followers of Christ to set their minds on things above (Col. 3:1-2) and to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly (Col. 3:16). As Mary did, we must also do, keeping within our hearts the things concerning Jesus Christ that we might ponder those things and live out those things in our lives.
Later in chapter 2, Luke records for us the words of Simeon, the great man of faith, to Mary about her child and how the events of His life will impact her, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (vs. 35). Blessed John Paul II spoke of this as something like a second Annunciation for Mary, in which she is told that her obedience of faith will be lived in suffering (Redemptoris Mater #16). The words to Mary will find their fulfillment in a deeply profound way at Calvary, when she witnesses with her own eyes the death of her Son. As followers of Christ, we too are called to share in the sufferings of Christ, as St. Paul reminds us (Rom. 8:17, Phil. 3:10, Col. 1:24, 2 Tim. 3:12). In fact, our suffering is so deeply united to Christ that Christ Himself could say to Saul (Paul), “why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4). Like Mary, our sufferings are not in vain, but in some mysterious way are taken up into the sufferings of Christ and help bring about the redemption of His people (Col. 1:24).
While there are so many other things that can be discussed about Mary from Luke’s Gospel (e.g., the connection between the Ark of the Covenant in 2nd Samuel 6 and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, Daughter Zion, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, etc.), there is one last story in the Gospels where we see Mary’s faith on display. John records for us the wedding at Cana (2:1-12), in which we learn of Mary making a request to her Son. We also learn of Mary telling the servants at the wedding to do whatever her Son tells them to do. As followers of Christ we must do whatever Christ tells us to do and we must be willing to tell others to do the same. As Christians, our liberation in Christ is found in our communion with Christ and His Church. Thus, we must be obedient to Christ’s word to us and we must be obedient to share His word with others. Mary was bold in her faith, making a request of her Son on behalf of others, and telling others to follow her Son’s words.
One can see how the Scriptural story describes Mary as the model of faith for all believers. She manifests what it means to follow Jesus Christ. And this is what the Church means when she speaks of her “Marian Profile.” This leads us to turn our attention to the other profile we mentioned, the Petrine profile. Before we discuss the Petrine profile, it is important that we recognize that some people erroneously think that the term “Church” only refers to the hierarchy. The Vatican reporter John Allen calls this “purple ecclesiology,” which is the view that what really matters in the Church is the hierarchy. Allen rightly rejects such a notion as wrong-headed. He tells a rather amusing story about the Blessed John Henry Newman, who, when asked what he thought of the laity, replied “Well, we’d look awfully silly without them.” In fact, the Church proposes very clearly that the term “Church” cannot be reduced to the hierarchy alone. The laity, it is said, “are in the front line of Church life . . . they in particular ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church, . . . the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the common Head, and of the bishops in communion with him. They are the Church.” (#899). The Church is the entire people of God: clergy, those in religious life and the laity, and yes, also the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory.
So what does it mean to speak of the Petrine profile of the Church? To what does this phrase refer? It refers to the Church’s magisterial authority as manifested in the hierarchy. This profile pertains to the Church’s institutional structure given to her by her Founder, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is founded upon Peter and the Apostles. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
When Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them.” Just as “by the Lord’s institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another. (#880)
The purpose of this Petrine foundation is to serve and assist the faithful as they seek to live out the faith as disciples. In fact, the very first description given about the Church’s hierarchical authority states, “the sacramental nature of ecclesial ministry is its character as service . . . ministers are ‘slaves of Christ’ . . . the word and grace of which they are ministers are not their own, but are given to them by Christ for the sake of others” (#876). The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood (#1547). The authority given to the clergy, especially the Bishops in communion with the Pope, is given to serve and not be served, just as it was with Jesus Christ, who said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
The charism of infallibility is given by Christ to the Magisterium to assist the faithful in seeking to live out the faith as disciples.
The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. (CCC #890).
Thus, the Petrine profile, as we can see, is not given so that the hierarchy could lord it over the laity, but that they might serve and bolster the faith of the laity, that they might live out the universal call to holiness expected of all God’s people. Many people have a distrust of authority, including Christians. However, we who name Christ as Lord should not be distrusting toward the Church He has given to us. The faith we possess is not something made or manufactured by us, but something received as a gift. It is not left to us as individual believers, including clergy and those in religious life, to determine what is and what is not fundamental to Catholic faith and practice. In other words, it is not our calling to stand in judgment over the Magisterium but to receive the faith from the Magisterium as coming not from men but from God.
The Scripture records for us the words spoken to Peter at Caesarea Philippi by Jesus in which Simon becomes Peter and is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:13-20). A bit later in his Gospel, Matthew tells another story in which the Apostles as a whole are given a share in Peter’s authority to bind and loose (18:18). St. Paul describes the Church as the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and Hebrews commands the faithful to obey their leaders (13:17). In Acts 15, we read how the Church, led by Peter, had the authority to act in Christ’s name and with His authority to make a judgment concerning the practice of the faith. They recognized in their decision collaboration between themselves as the Magisterial authority and the Holy Spirit, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28). Thus, we can see from Scripture that the Church is given authority from God to speak and act with God’s own authority. Christ willed to confer upon the Church’s Shepherds a share in His own infallibility in matters of faith and morals (CCC #889-890).
The Church has a faith to hand down which is what tradition really means. Pope Benedict recently reminded us of the responsibility of those who serve the Church in preaching, “We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are” (Homily for The Chrism Mass 2012). The Church can propose this faith with confidence because she relies on the promise of God and not the ingenuity of men. The promise of God is that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church and it was to Peter that this promise was spoken. Peter would be used by God to protect the Church from the enemy of God and His people, Satan, who prowls about the world seeking the ruin of souls. And this is what the Church means by the Petrine Profile.
We have learned that the Church has a dual profile, Marian and Petrine. And we have learned that both these profiles are fundamental to the Church’s understanding of herself. We also have learned that the Church’s authority, the Magisterium, is given not as an end but as means to help us become more and more conformed to Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid of Mary, do not be afraid of Peter, and do not be afraid of the Church, for the source of each is Christ Himself. Instead let us listen to the words of Mary, “Do whatever He tells you.”