What the Church Is, by Father Richard Brennan, LL.D.

Article

“Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” – Matthew 28:20

When we read in the New Testament how our be loved Lord Jesus Christ “went about doing good” in the land of Judea, preaching heavenly truths, imparting saving grace to men of good will, and infusing peace into the hearts of all, we are apt to indulge in feelings of regret that we too did not live in those happy days, that we were not permitted to enjoy his sacred presence and to hearken to his voice.

Although, under the guidance of the holy Evangelists, we may in spirit accompany the Redeemer all through his earthly life from Bethlehem to Calvary; although we may see him attesting and sealing his words of truth and his works of power and mercy by his atoning death on the cross, we are apt to ask ourselves: What is Christ to us, or to all the generations who have lived and died during the long lapse of time since he dwelt upon earth? No one of our generation has looked upon him with corporeal eyes. No one of us has heard the words of wisdom uttered by his sacred tongue, or felt the touch of his blessed, grace-imparting hand. We have not been permitted to stand with Mary and John and Magdalen under the cross, nor to be sprinkled like them with his saving blood. He has ascended into heaven, and now sits in unapproachable majesty at the right hand of his Father, whilst we are living in exile upon earth. How then can we have any share in the truth, blessings, and graces of this Christ?

Our Saviour appoints Saint Peter the head of the ChurchOur question is a vain and foolish one. If we but look with the eye of faith, we shall soon and easily discover that this same Christ, with all the fullness of his wisdom, power, and mercy, is still living in our midst, as he promised to do. “Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world,” is the consoling assurance that falls from his own divine lips.

Let us therefore examine and study carefully the plan adopted by our Saviour whereby he continues still to dwell on earth, forwarding the work of salvation in all lands and during all time.

What method has Christ followed in order to effect this object?

He delegated his threefold office and character namely, His teaching office, his priesthood, and his kingly authority to a number of chosen men, in union with whom he continues to act as Teacher, Priest, and King to the end of time.

It was in this threefold character, that Christ effected our salvation. He redeemed us as Teacher, as Priest, and as King: as Teacher, by preaching heavenly wisdom; as Priest, by the atoning sacrifice offered upon the cross; and as King, by enacting and inculcating laws or commandments. As Teacher, he rescued us from spiritual blindness by giving us the truth of heaven; as divine-human Priest, he redeemed us from the guilt of sin by offering himself in sacrifice on Mount Calvary; as God-man-king, he saved us, by his maxims and commandments, from the folly and wickedness of life.

This triple office he committed solemnly to a body of chosen men, a short time before his departure from earth. This truth can be plainly proven from holy Scripture. The divine Teacher sent forth his Apostles to preach to all nations, to teach all truth as he had imparted it to them, and to teach it with the same authority and infallible certainty as he himself taught it: “He who hears you hears me.”

Our divine High-priest, on the eve of his Passion, instituted and offered up, in a mysterious manner and by anticipation, the saving sacrifice of the cross, saying: “This is my body which shall be delivered for you, this is my blood which shall be shed for you.” He committed to the hands of the Apostles for all time to come this holy sacrifice of his body and blood, saying: “Do this,” as I have just done, “in commemoration of me.” He gave to the Apostles power to baptize, to forgive sins, to bless; in a word, to so dispense graces in his name, that these same Apostles were able to say later of themselves with truth, and with a consciousness of their power and dignity: (t Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ; and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1)

The Apostles are appointed Shepherds of the FlockFinally, our divine King transmitted his spiritual prerogatives of royalty to the Apostles, with the words: “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” It was by virtue of this charge that the Apostles prescribed for all the nations to whom they preached all those laws and regulations, and established all those institutions, which they deemed necessary for the spiritual welfare,1 or conducive to the eternal salvation, of men.

Hence we see clearly that although Christ has returned to heaven, he has not left us orphans, but has been pleased to remain mystically with us, carrying on, through his Apostles as his chosen instruments, his threefold office of Redeemer till the end of time. In union with Saint Peter, their visible Head, the Apostles were to traverse the earth, preaching, dispensing graces, ordaining, and becoming fishers of men, in order to bring all men to a share in the benefits of truth, grace, and salvation through Christ. They were to unite them to Jesus him self in oneness of life, and to join them together in one large and glorious mystical body, of which Christ was to be the invisible Head.

Such was the duty imposed by Christ on his Apostles. But the Apostles were mortal, and died, one after the other, during the first century of Christianity, whilst the three fold office of teacher, priest, and ruler committed to them by Christ should endure till the end of time. Hence it is clear that when the divine Founder of our Church imparted this threefold power to his Apostles in order to perpetuate his Church, he meant not only the twelve men standing there and then in his presence. His divine gaze extended to all their lawful successors, the Popes, bishops, and priests to the end of the world, as if they all stood in his presence when he spoke. In this sense it was that he said to them all: “Lo, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”

The Apostles, therefore, and their legitimate successors are the persons to whom Christ entrusted the duty of forming in his name, among all nations and in all ages, a holy community or spiritual society; or, rather, of ex tending and strengthening the original society established by himself.

This spiritual society, consisting originally of the Apostles, disciples, and a few devout believers, became like the mustard-seed of the parable, a great tree whose branches were spread over all the earth. And this is the universal or Catholic Church, in which Christ, by the instrumentality of his Apostles and their successors, perpetuates forever his work of salvation and applies it to each individual soul. His truth, his saving grace, his redeeming sacrifice, all his merits as God-man from his birth to his death these are the glorious treasures of this society, the riches of that grand corporation in which each member, who has been duly admitted by baptism, has a right to participate. Therefore, when we speak of the Church we understand that holy society in which Jesus Christ exercises throughout all ages, by the instrumentality of the Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests, his threefold office of Teacher, Priest, and King.

If the Church were a mere association of persons holding the same tenets, differing in no way from any other human society, it would not be the “mysterium fidei,” or the mystical body of Christians united to Christ. But the Church embraces, besides the visible that is to say, the laity of all nations and their ecclesiastical authorities also the Invisible; namely, the inheritance of Christ’s merits and the merits of his Saints, the treasures of truth and goodness, as well as supernatural guidance. It thus becomes a sublime mystery of faith, and hence the Christian can truthfully say, and with meaning, “I believe in one Holy Catholic Church.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Richard Brennan, LL.D. “What the Church Is”. Christ in His Church: A Catholic Church History, 1881. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 May 2018. Web. 21 November 2018. <>
  1. These laws and ordinances of the Apostles and their successors appertain to spiritual things, and not to civil affairs nor civic regulations. If, therefore, the management of political affairs has been in the hands of ecclesiastics from time to time, it was in consequence of divine providence, or on account of the confidence which Catholic princes and peoples reposed in their clergy.