The Essential Catholic Handbook of the Sacraments by Thomas M. Santa
“Discovering the Sacraments”
Church Is Sacrament
The conviction and understanding that it is through the Church that we may encounter
Christ in our world today is rooted in Scripture. in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus promises his disciples and, by extension, each of us that he would be with us, “always, to the end of the age” (Mt
28:20). In John’s Gospel (14;15-16) and in the Acts of the Apostles (1:4-5) Jesus promises us that
he would send the Holy Spirit to help build up the Church, and Saint Paul in his letter to the
Christian community at Colossae proclaims that Christ is the head of the body, the Church” (Col
But perhaps the most powerful statement that it is in the Church that we encounter the
Body of Christ can be found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though
many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one bodyJews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
The Church, which is the Body of Christ, demonstrates that it is filled with the Spirit of
God, just as Jesus was filled with the Spirit, whenever it preaches the just word, calls upon the
people of God to open their hearts and minds to conversion, and when it celebrates the healing,
forgiving, and saving ministry of the Lord. When Jesus walked among us, it was his words and
his saving actions that demonstrated to those who were willing to “see and believe” that the Spirit
of God was active in him. After his death and resurrection, and after the experience of Pentecost,
the same Spirit of God was alive and active in his apostles and disciples. Again, for those people
who were willing to “see and believe,” the “spirit-filled” lives and activity of the followers of Jesus reminded them of the person of Jesus and the kingdom that he preached.
Another way of understanding this development in relation to the sacramental theology of
the Church is to understand that just as people came to understand and appreciate that Jesus was a
sign of the presence of God in the world, people also came to understand that the community of
believers, the Church, was also the sign of the presence of God in the world. It is this understanding and appreciation of the activity of the Spirit of God that prompted Saint Paul to clearly identify the Church as the Body of Christ.
Whenever the Church, or any individual member of the Body of Christ, acts in the spirit of
Christ, they continue the saving ministry of the Lord in the world. When individuals love as Jesus
loved, when they forgive as Jesus forgave, or when they reach out to another, especially those
who are poor, alienated, or marginalized, they become the sign and, indeed, the presence of God
in the world.
The Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, §48, recognized
this understanding of the Church as sacrament. The council perceived that whenever the saving
message of Jesus was proclaimed, whenever people experienced the truth and love of God in the
myriad number of ways that this has been manifested in our lives and in our choices, the Church
is a sacrament for them. The Church is a sacrament because it is a sign and instrument of the presence of God in the lives of the faithful and a sign of the kingdom that has been promised (CC 774
To be continued in the next bulletin with “Seven Sacraments of the Church”…
Santa, T. M. (2001). The Essential Catholic Handbook: A summary of beliefs, rites and prayers. Liguori Publications.