Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Church of Christ only “subsists in” the Catholic Church because only in the latter are there all the elements He instituted, this according to a document released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which contains “responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the church.”
The “responses” stem from “confusion and doubt” caused by the vast theological output that followed the release of documents on ecclesiology elaborated by the Second Vatican Council—Lumen gentium, Unitatis redintegratio and Orientalium Ecclesiarum—, by the insights and orientations elicited by Paul VI—his Encyclical Ecclesiam suam (1964)—, by John Paul II in his Encyclical Ut unum sint (1995), and by the Congregation itself in the declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae (1973), the Letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Communionis notio (1992), and the declaration Dominus Iesus (2000).
The document, which was approved by Benedict XVI, says that the Second Vatican Council attributed the term “Churches” to Eastern Churches by although separated they “have true sacraments and above all—because of the apostolic succession—the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds”. For this reason “they merit the title of ‘particular or local Churches,’ and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.”
For the same reasons, the term “Churches” was not given to the communities that came out the Protestant Reformation. “According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.”
Hence, the response to the question about the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church is that “Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one Church and instituted it as a ‘visible and spiritual community’, that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. ‘This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, Catholic and apostolic [. . .]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.”
“It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word ‘subsists’ can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe . . . in the ‘one’ Church); and this ‘one’ Church subsists in the Catholic Church.”
“Subsists” means “the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church,” which does not mean that other Christian denominations do not offer instruments of salvation. In fact, the document says that the “separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.”