I had just made the point to my catechumens last October that the Church is she—a mystical person, the Bride of Christ. Listen, I said, and you will hear Catholics refer to the Church as she, Holy Mother Church, not it.
Imagine my astonishment to go into mass later that week and hear clearly something I had inexplicably suppressed in my five years of Catholic worship:
…..for your holy catholic Church, watch over it, Lord, and guide it; grant it peace and unity throughout the world.
One of the best things about the new translation is that the Church is, once again, she in liturgy. No longer it, but she, as she properly should be:
Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world.
For what can the Bride of Christ be, if not a person in her own right? And because lex orandi, lex credendi, I look forward to a better, in my bones, understanding of just who this Bride of Christ is, nourished by the liturgy.
One of the things I found disconcerting when I first entered the Church was to encounter those who asserted with some asperity We are Church! Aside from the grammatical heresy and a crime against definite and indefinite articles involved (rather like Gift of Finest Wheat), I was put off by the fact that the statement was usually made in a foot-stomping tantrum against authority.
We are Church seemed to surface most often from people who were fuming against some affront, real or imagined from some nefarious them, usually the priest or the bishops; I rarely if ever encountered it when folk were discussing the humble and sacrificial service of self to others. We are Church seemed to me to be a rallying cry to wrest control, real or imagined, from the hierarchy of the Church to the people in the pews. Granted, I haven’t experienced firsthand the phenomenon of clericalism, which probably gave rise to the sentiment—but going from one extreme to another rarely remedies much of anything.
What the new translation makes clear for me is that while I am part of the Church, she, the Church (note the article), is more than just me. Or you. Or those who think like me. Or share my preferences in worship. Or church governance. Or…. anything else. And she is not limited by any group that claims to "be" Church, whatever the motive and whatever the message.
The Church is more than the sum of her parts, just as a body is more than the sum total of cells and organs. She has a life and a dignity and a purpose that surpasses my --or anyone's--narrow and individual tastes and experience.
Like any good mother, she has great wisdom to give me from the experience of her long, long life if only I am humble enough to listen. She is a mystery, in some ways a paradox, here and concrete and strong and visible even as she is gentle and loving and transcendental and eternal. As any Bride should be.
When the Church is viewed not as she but as it, there is the great temptation to treat her as Protestants do: a confection of man, of his interests and his foibles, malleable and subject to man’s control and whims and always in danger of re-creation. It, after all, implies a created thing, not a living one, and things can be used, re-formed, re-created, re-purposed and re-invented according to the desires of the creator, with no thought to the thing itself—which is, after all, just an it. Make the Church an it, and there’s the temptation to think of her as subject to us, rather than the other way around.
Ah, but when the Church becomes a person in her own right, both Bride and Body of Christ, she has her own identity, marred though it is by the all-too-human faces of those who comprise her temporal presence and govern in her name. She becomes both real and living, not just a construct for governance and worship. She becomes, truly, our loving mother, to whom we have a filial obligation.
From the Holy Father on down, we are all subject to the Church, for it is in her arms that we live the life of faith, through her we receive the sacraments that give and sustain life, in her we encounter Christ, because of her we take Him to the world at large who needs Him so very, very much. She has her own personality, her own essence, arising in part—but not in the whole—from those who form her and are at the same time are her children. It is the great both/and of the Catholic faith. True, we are in part, an integral part of the Church—but her life is so much more than our lives separately or combined add up to without the divine gift of Christ.
Who founded His Church. Note the possessive pronoun.