The universal Church appears as a people made one from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and lives in the love of this mystery
At the General Audience of 9 October the Holy Father continued his catechesis on the mystery of the Church. In the 11th talk of the series, he discussed the relationship between the Church and the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Here is a translation of the address which the Pope gave in Italian.
1. The Second Vatican Council concludes the first part of its exposition on the Church in the Constitution Lumen gentium with a concise and profound phrase taken from St Cyprian: "The universal Church is seen to be 'a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit'" (Lumen gentium, n. 4). According to the Council, then, the Church in her very essence is a mystery of faith, which is intimately joined to the infinite mystery of the Trinity. We must now turn our thoughts to this mystery within the mystery, following our previous catecheses on the Church in the teaching of Jesus and the opus paschale which he accomplished by his passion, death and resurrection, and crowned on the day of Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. According to the teaching of Vatican II, which was the heir of tradition, the mystery of the Church is rooted in God the Trinity, and therefore has this trinitarian dimension as its first and fundamental dimension, inasmuch as the Church depends on and lives in the Trinity from her origins to her historical conclusion and eternal destination (cf. St Cyprian, De oratione dominica, 23:PL 4, 553).
2. This Trinitarian perspective on the Church was revealed by Jesus in his final words to the Apostles before his definitive return to the Father: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). "All nations", which have been invited and called to be united in one faith, are marked by the mystery of the triune God. They are all invited and called to baptism, which means being brought into the mystery of the Holy Trinity's divine life, through the Church of the Apostles and their successors, the visible foundation of the community of believers.
3. This trinitarian perspective, indicated by Christ when he sent the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the whole world, is expressed in Paul's greeting to the community of Corinth: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God [the Father] and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you" (2 Cor 13:13). This is the same greeting which, in the liturgy of the Mass as renewed after Vatican II, the celebrant addresses to the assembly, just as the Apostle Paul once did to the faithful of Corinth. It expresses the wish that Christians may all become sharers in the gifts which are ascribed to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: the love of the Creator Father, the grace of the Redeemer Son, the unity in communion of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity's bond of love, in which the Church shares.
4. This same trinitarian perspective is found again in another Pauline text which has great importance from the standpoint of the Church's mission: "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone" (1 Cor 12:4-6). Without a doubt the Church's unity reflects the unity of God, but at the same time it receives its vitality from the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which is reflected in the richness of ecclesial life. This unity produces many signs of life. The sovereign mystery of the triune God extends over the whole mystery of the Church's very rich unity.
5. In the Church's life one can discover reflections of the divine unity and trinity. At the source of this life one especially sees the love of the Father, who takes the initiative, both in creation and redemption, whereby he gathers individuals together as his children in his only-begotten Son. Therefore, the Church's life is the life of Christ himself who lives in us by giving us a share in his own divine sonship. And this sharing is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who enables us to say to God, like Christ and with Christ: "Abba, Father!" (Rom 8:15).
6. In this cry the new awareness of human sharing in the sonship of God's Son, through the Holy Spirit who gives grace, finds a formulation of its divine—and trinitarian!—origin. By grace the same Spirit fulfils Christ's promise about the indwelling of God the Trinity in the children of divine adoption. In fact, the promise made by Jesus: "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (Jn 14:23), is elucidated by an earlier promise: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always" (Jn 14:15-16). A similar teaching has been given to us by St Paul, who tells Christians that they are "the temple of God" and explains this marvellous privilege by saying: "the spirit of God dwells in you" (1 Cor 3:16; cf. Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16).
This is the great truth which we learn from these texts: the human person is, in the Church, the dwelling place of God the Trinity, and the whole Church, composed of persons in whom the Trinity dwells, is in its entirety the temple of the Trinity.
7. The essential source of the Church's unity is also found in God the Trinity. This is indicated in the "priestly" prayer of Jesus in the Upper Room: "... so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me" (Jn 17:21-23). Here is the source, and also the model of the Church's unity. Jesus says: may they be one, "as we are one". But the achievement of this divine likeness occurs within the unity of the Trinity: "they in us". The Church abides in this trinitarian unity and lives in the truth and love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The source of all the efforts for the reunion of Christians in the unity of the Church, wounded in the human and historical dimension of unity, is always in the one and undivided Trinity. At the foundation of true ecumenism we find this truth of ecclesial unity which the priestly prayer of Christ reveals to us as deriving from the Trinity.
8. The holiness of the Church—and all holiness in the Church — has its source in the holiness of God the Trinity. The movement from trinitarian holiness to ecclesial holiness occurs above all in the incarnation of God's Son, as is clear from the words at the annunciation to Mary: "the child to be born will be called holy" (Lk 1:35). This "holy one" is Christ, the Son who was consecrated by the anointing of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 4:18), the Son who consecrates himself by his sacrifice to be able to communicate to his disciples his own consecration and his own holiness: "I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth" (Jn 17:19). Glorified by the Father through this consecration (cf. Jn 13:31; 17:1-2), the risen Christ communicates the Holy Spirit to his Church (cf. Jn 20:22; 7:39), who makes her holy (cf. 1 Cor 6:11).
9. I want to conclude by emphasizing that our one and holy Church is called to be, and is placed in the world as, a revelation of that love which is God: "God is love", St John writes (1 Jn 4:8). And if God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then the divine Persons' infinite life of knowledge and love is the transcendent reality of the Trinity. Precisely this "love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).
The Church—"a people brought into unity by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", as St Cyprian has told us—is thus the "sacrament" of trinitarian love. Her most profound mystery consists precisely in this love.
L'Osservatore Romano October 14, 1991