• Readings for today's Mass

Do we need the Church?

Summary of main ideas

"We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". Catholic faith recognises that the Church is essential to God's plan of salvation. Today, however, many people are dissatisfied with aspects of the Church. This is not unrealistic – Vatican II's call for "renewal" was an acknowledgement that the Church can improve its response to God's call.

What image do we have of the Church? Does it seem a big institution with demanding discipline and rules? Do we ever think of the Church as God's beloved "bride" or as our "mother"? For Vatican II, renewal means coming to understand the Church as a mystery of solidarity in all that God has given the world in Christ, as a "sacrament" – God's sign of hope and life for humanity.

Vatican II came together in the middle of the 20th century aware that the Church needed to renew its approach to its mission if it was to bring to the human family the truth of Christ it so badly needed. Discussion of this challenge soon led to a new appreciation of the essential mystery that is the Church's very life, and which must find expression in its mission.

The Paschal Mystery (God's achievement in our Saviour's death and resurrection) fulfilled - in a way on one could have anticipated - the boundless hopes of old Israel. All the themes of these hopes were fulfilled in the Risen Lord. And God's achievement of the New Humanity in him was shared with the Church – through the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist.

The Church should not think of itself as "the saved", in an exclusive fashion; it is the "first fruits" of God's designs – an encouraging sign ("sacrament" – effective sign under God) for the whole human family. Vatican II clearly teaches that what is achieved in Christ benefits all people of good will. We are called to leave behind the "exclusivism" which has always been a temptation of those called to a special role in the designs of God.

This outlook is unfamiliar to many believers. It invites us to share in the generosity of God, to embrace a new vision of the Church's mission or task in human history. The popes of the council, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II have given the lead as the Church seeks a new collaborative relationship with all people of good will in the world. In God's designs, the Church should show the human family, not a "worrisome face" but a "beautiful and desirable face", leading humanity towards the fullness of life.