“Happy Birthday to-the-Church,
Happy Birthday to-the-Church,
Happy Birthday to the Chu-urch,
Happy Birthday to the Church!
(Hip-Hip Hooray! Hip-Hip Hooray! Hip-Hip Hooray!)”
It is the Feast of Pentecost tomorrow – the Birthday of the Church…but why does the Church have a Birthday…shouldn’t it have an anniversary??? *Puzzled look, scratches head*
Well, you’ve heard the Church called the Mystical Body of Christ, but what does that even really mean?
It means…that the Catholic Church is the continuation of the Incarnation throughout time and eternity!!! The Church is the Body of Christ, the Word Made Flesh, present in all ages, as Christ promised before his Ascension into Heaven: “…and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:20)
In many places in Sacred Scripture this mystery is dwelt upon. Christ tells us to “make your home in me, as I make mine in you,” (John 15:4) and that “I am the vine, you are the branches,” (John 15:5). St. John tells us that “We can know that we are living in him and he is living in us because he lets us share his Spirit,” (I John 4: 13). Jesus prays: “Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.” (John 17:11). In Ephesians 4:13 we read “we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.” In Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” And in Acts 17:28: “For in him we live and move and have our being.”
I thought I’d share with you something truly striking: the parallels between the Life of Christ and the History of the Church.
Conception: Our Lady conceived by the Power of the Holy Spirit, and the Word was made Flesh. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room, and the Church became the Word Made Flesh, both human in her members and divine in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Birth: Our Lord, though God of the Universe, was born in obscurity and poverty; so too was the Church, whose first Pope was once just a fisherman, and whose bishops were little-known Galileans. But although it was not made up of any prominent men, the early Church, like Christ, had a huge impact on the world around it.
Infancy: King Herod tried to kill the child Jesus not long after his birth; so too, in the Church’s own infancy, the Romans tried to destroy the Church with a series of persecutions in which many Christians were put to death for the sake of Christ – much like the Holy Innocents.
The Hidden Life: The period of Christ’s childhood until his thirtieth year is known as His Hidden Life; in the Church throughout the ages, many men and women have consecrated themselves to God in the hidden life of contemplation in a cloister. Imitating Christ who lived a perfect life of poverty, chastity, and humble obedience to His parents, these religious also take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The presence of cloistered religious marks the Church’s “growth in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Lk 2:52)
The Ministry: During Jesus’ three years of public ministry He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and taught the crowds. The Church, through her members, missions, Religious Orders, and most importantly, her Sacraments, continues to carry out this work. Like Christ, she teaches with Authority, like Christ, she claims to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and like Christ, her teachings are opposed by many, and many rise up in opposition and hate against her. But she never fails in her mission to bring the salvation of Christ to the ends of the Earth.
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.” -St. Teresa of Avila
Judas: Just as Jesus was betrayed by one of His own Apostles, the Church too is often betrayed by her own – not only the apostates, but all those who call themselves Christians while publicly behaving in a way that contradicts all Catholic teaching – all those who bring scandal to the Church by their words and deeds – including some of our priests, bishops, and religious.
The Crucifixion: In an historical sense, all the persecutions and attacks on the Church, both from within and without, are her Crucifixion. Many have thought they could crush the Church – whether it was the Romans or Enlightenment Philosophers, like Voltaire. But in an eternal sense, the Crucifixion continues throughout all time, on altars all over the world. Christ, the Sacrificial Victim, is eternally offered to God in all the Masses that are said.
The Resurrection: Despite these persecutions, the Church still lives, and will live until the end of the world. If she were but a human society she would have died long ago – for no human society could have withstood the persecutions, the heresies, the hostility and the arguments against her doctrine, unless it were also divine. This is but a glimpse of the perfect and eternal glory she is to have in Heaven, to be gloriously fulfilled at the Second Coming.
So why does the Church have a Birthday? Because the Catholic Church is not just some human society, organization, or community of believers, but the mystical body of a real, living person – Jesus Christ. And through our Baptism, we too become members of His Body, living in Him, as He lives in us, One, like the Vine and the Branches.
Christ in the Church, by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson. Online version here
An Outline History of the Catholic Church, by Rev. Reginald F. Walker. (M.H Gill and Son, Ltd. Dublin. 1950)
And the Word Was Made Flesh Pt II. Magnificent Obsession Blog
The Didache Bible. RSV.