The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith today published a short explication of several articles of the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium. The document deals with several questions about the nature of the Church, especially pertaining to the statement made in Lumen Gentium that the true Church of Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church. The document is brief (I hope this becomes a standard aspect of documents issued under Benedict XVI in contrast to John Paul II's 95 page encyclicals) and is layed out in a simple question and answer format. Some of the pertinent points of the document:
First, in the phrase that the Church of Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church, "subsists" is taken to mean "perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church" and as such, the word "subsists" can apply properly to the Catholic Church and to it alone.
Second, Eastern Orthodox Churches are rightly called churches because of their preservation of valid ordination and therefore valid sacraments. Nevertheless, because they lack communion with the Bishop of Rome, the symbol of the earthly unity of the Church, they still are not Churches in the fullest sense of the word. Unity with the Bishop of Rome is not accidental, but is essential to the identity of the true Church.
Third, Protestant ecclesial communities are not to be called "Churches" because they lack valid Holy Orders and have not preserved the continuity of Sacred Tradition, especially with regards to the Holy Eucharist, which is the center of the Church. Thus, while grace is found within certain Protestant communities in relation to their degree of unity with the Catholic Church, they are nevertheless not true Churches.
In short, this document basically reaffirms the age old teaching that the Catholic Church alone is the Church of Christ founded by Him. This is nothing new, but the interpretation given here on the word "subsists" is meant to curb some heretical impulses within certain sectors of the Church which say, errantly, that thet Catholic Church is but one "expression" of the True Church and that other Protestant and Eastern Churches are other different but equally valid "expressions." This proposition is denied by the document.
The Vatican sure is on a role this summer: when Benedict XVI changed the procedure for electing Pontiffs a few weeks back, he angered the liberal Bishops; Summorum Pontificum angered the liberals and, apparently, is stirring up some kind of agitation amongst the Jews; now this document will probably anger the Protestants because it teaches that their "communities" are not true Churches. If the Vatican continues this trend, we can expect the next document to anger the Muslims! Let is be so, Lord, let it be so!
Click here to read the Vatican Document on Lumen Gentium.