Session 4   The Church

 A picture of St.Peter's in Rome


Latin – Ecclesia  from the Greek: ek-kalein, also Greek kyriake  = Church (KircheGerman, Kirk – Scottish


Various Terms

The Church is an Assembly called by God.

The People of God.

The Second Chosen People.

The Body of Christ (Corporation)    St. Paul: 1.Cor.12:12-17)

Community of Believers.

Eucharistic Assembly.



A sheepfold – gateway to the Good Shepherd.

A vineyard – “I am the vine; you are the branches.”  (Jn.15:5)

The Building of God – Jesus is the cornerstone.

The Bride of Christ – St. Paul: Eph. 5:32;  3:8-11;  5:25-27

The New Jerusalem.

Mother Church.


The Church as part of God’s Salvation Plan

  • Continuation of the Covenant with Noah and Abraham
  • God sent his only Son (God incarnate) to be the New Covenant.
  • God wishes his people to join in community with the Trinity.  (God shared in our humanity so that we may share in his divinity)
  • Christ founded the Church in order to continue the Father’s plan of salvation.  Christ ushered in the Kingdom of God on earth.
  • He chose twelve Apostles with Peter as head (representing the twelve tribes of Israel.)
  • The main mission of the Church is to spread the Gospel: “Go ye and teach all nations….”


Gradual formation of the Church

  • In the preaching of Jesus.
  • Gathering of his Apostles.
  • Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
  • Death of Jesus on the Cross when he gives up his Spirit. (Church born from the blood and water from his side).
  • At Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples (and continually sanctifies the Church)
  • The Book of Acts of the Apostles gives us an account of the early Church


The Seven Sacraments of the Church

Signs by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ among his people.

Baptism incorporates us into the Body of Christ, his Church/makes us members of his Church and gives us a share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly ministries of Christ.  The other Sacraments are:  Confirmation, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Sacrament of the Sick.  They are all channels of God's grace. (See notes for Sessions 6,7,8,9 for further details of the Sacraments).


The Church herself is a Sacrament

A sign of community with God and of unity among human beings.  We cannot be in union with God unless we are in union with our fellow human beings.  God’s plan is that we all may be one.

“He called together a race made up of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit”  Lumen Gentium 9 (see  Acts 10:35;  1Cor. 11:25)


We are all Called to Holiness

The Church helps us to respond to this call through her guidance, pastoral care and the Sacraments


Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit

What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ.


Charisms or  Gifts

Read St. Paul’s passage about the various gifts in 1.Cor. 12:4-11


The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic

ONE       unity through government and Sacraments anywhere in the world.


HOLY    sanctified by the sacrifice of Jesus who was sinless and by the Holy Spirit.  (L.G.39-42)

               Canonised saints are examples to us of holiness.


CATHOLIC     universal, exists all over the world.


APOSTOLIC   the Church continues to teach the faith from the time of the Apostles.

                         The Bishops are direct successors of the Apostles.

1.      “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church ……”

2.      “Go ye and teach all nations, baptising them …….”  Mt.28:19)

3.      “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven;  whose sins you shall retain ….”


Government. The Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. The Church is said to be Christocentric. 


The Hierarchy 


THE POPE   (Francis I)  The Vatican is the Centre of Government.

  • Bishop of Rome  (Cathedral: St. John Lateran but makes appearances at St. Peter’s)
  • Successor of St. Peter;  Vicar of Christ;  Pontiff (bridge builder) 
  • Infallibility. This does not mean that the Pope cannot make a mistake!  He is only infallible when he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be observed by the whole church. It is said that he speaks ex cathedra (from the bishop’s seat in his cathedral, so to speak).  The last time this happened was in 1950 when the dogma of The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was defined.
  • Encyclicals – letters written by the Pope for the benefit of the whole Church.  Eg.

Ut Unum Sint  That they all may be one” (Jn.17:21)   Pope John Paul II.

Deus Caritas Est  (God is Love)  Pope Benedict XVI


THE CARDINALS  Princes” of the Church  (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is Cardinal of England and Wales and previously Archbishop of  Westminster)  Usually one Cardinal in each country.


THE BISHOPS    (An Archbishop is in charge of an Archdiocese and oversees a province which is a group of dioceses.  Eg.  Archbishop of Southwark oversees surrounding group of dioceses.

  • Heads of “particular” or local churches.  
  • In communion with Rome – meet regularly with the Pope to discuss his diocese.
  • Takes care of all the priests in his diocese who are his co-priests.
  • First task is to preach the Gospel:  “Heralds of faith who draw disciples to Christ;  they are authentic teachers” of the faith “endowed with the authority of Christ.”  (L.G.25)
  • Bishops belong to The Bishops’ Conference in each country and meet together regularly.
  • May be called by the Pope to meet in Rome for a Council  e.g Second Vatican Council which met in the 1960s
  • Archbishop Vincent Nichols succeeded Cormac Murphy-O'Connor in Westminster
  • Bishop Kieran Conry is Bishop of Arundel & Brighton.



  • Co-priests of the bishop
  • In charge of a parish
  • Looks after his parishioners
  • Administers the Sacraments to them
  • Provides them with pastoral care
  • Is responsible for the running of the parish which he may do with the help of the laity.

(Parishes are grouped into Deaneries). 



  • Ordained ministers but not priests.
  • Cannot celebrate Mass but can assist the priest on the altar
  • Cannot hear confessions
  • Can preach, baptise, perform marriage ceremonies and funerals.



  • Members of various religious orders – monks (some are ordained priests), brothers, nuns.



  • All the faithful not in Holy Orders (not priests or deacons or members of a religious order)
  • Can help to establish the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporary affairs – social, political, economic.
  • Can be engaged in the lay apostolate, working individually or in groups.
  • Can often have an influence and do work where a priest is unable to e.g. in government.
  • In the workplace, the family, at leisure, doing voluntary work.
  • Teaching;  lay missioners.
  • Take part in ministry such as Reader or Eucharistic Minister.
  • Trained Catechists work in the parish to prepare children and adults for reception of the Sacraments.
  • Can also be commissioned by the bishop in missionary situations to baptise and marry if a priest is not available.
  • Collaborates with the Parish Priest in helping to run the parish.


Ecumenism   (Christian Unity)

A very important aspect of Church life.  The Second Vatican Council produced an important document Unitatis Redintegratio  and Pope John Paul wrote his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, both urging us to do all we can to bring the various Christian denominations together.  We can meet with fellow Christians for certain activities e.g. Lent Groups, Bible Study, Discussions, Remembrance Day, Week of Prayer of Christian Unity, Women’s World Day of Prayer, Songs of Praise, collaboration in charitable works.  However, we do not share each other’s Eucharist. 



We see a certain unity with

  • Orthodox Christians who share the same Priesthood and Sacraments.
  • Other Christians who share baptism and belief in Jesus Christ and the Scriptures.
  • The Jewish people, God’s Chosen People who were the first to hear the word of God.

Both Christians and Jews await the Messiah 

Jews – his first coming and  Christians – his return on the Last Day.

  • Muslims who worship the one true God and acknowledge Abraham.
  • All people of good will – those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and his Gospel but lead a good life.