Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Many years ago Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote an instructive book titled Models of the Church. The work answers the question, what is the Church? Is it an institution with organizational offices and a clear line of authority? Or is it a messenger announcing the divine offer of salvation? Or perhaps it is a servant of the world caring for the weak and instructing the powers? Maybe it is a sacrament, a sign of God’s ongoing presence among humans?
Although Cardinal Dulles indicates a preference for the sacramental model since it suggests a spiritual core, he concludes that the Church encompasses all the given models. Without having an institutional structure, the Church could not address issues that arise. Without preaching the Good News, the Church would not fulfill the mission given her by Christ. Without caring for the poor, the Church would not practice what she preaches. And without representing Christ in the world, the Church would not be his Body.
People sometimes wince at Church bureaucracy wondering if Christ intended all the pomp. The regalia of bishops and monsignors is not necessary, but order is essential. We see the order functioning in the first reading from Acts today. Peter, the head apostle, speaks first to the issue of Gentiles’ following the Jewish Law. Then James, the chief elder of the Jerusalem flock, presents his view. Finally, the reading indicates, all Apostles and community leaders decide the matter. Today’s system of pope and curia with dioceses and religious institutions represents a significant evolution of structure. But we can be assured that the Church has always had and will always need to be a visible institution.