I’m open to your comments on this… I’m always open, of course, but having just whipped this up in the past thirty minutes or so, I’d be interested to hear input from others.

In these post Vatican-II days, the American Catholic Church has an affinity for the word ‘community.’  It’s used to highlight the significance of the Church as the Body of Christ and the importance of our role in something greater than ourselves as individuals.  But it has also been used as the justification for denying individuals private prayer time at Mass—after all, the liturgy is about community, right? 

The documents of the Second Vatican Council do highlight communion in a particular, radical way.  Cardinal Ratzinger said that the term was key to the ecclesiology of Vatican II.  But our English translation does a disservice in understanding what the Fathers were teaching.  “Communion” for us connotes fellowship and sharing, an association or unity of people.  In English, communion tends to refer to a horizontal relationship.  Therefore, you aren’t in communion with your brothers and sisters if you’re spending time in individualistic private prayer.

I urge us to return to the word that the Fathers of the Council used: communio.  Rather than translating the word, we should be using the Latin word in order that our comprehension is not tainted by an American understanding of the translation.  Communio is much more than a horizontal relationship, a fellowship with our brothers and sisters. Although this is an important aspect, it really is only a result of the real meaning of communio: a vertical relationship, a unity not just with fellow human beings, but with the Most High God.  Communio is that relationship that the Father calls us to when He calls us to be His children.  It is that friendship that gives us the great gift of becoming one with the Holy Trinity.

In the East, they have always emphasized theosis, or the divinization of man.  While sounding slightly scandalous to our modern ears and perhaps making us recoil or wince with fear of pantheism, theosis is a doctrine of the Catholic Church.  As St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that man might become God.” (On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B).  It is this union with the Trinity, whereby sinful man receives the life of the Triune God that gives us the real meaning of communio.

In modern America, you find Catholics walking around with a severe disconnect between their beliefs and their actions.  They claim to be Catholic and believe what the Catholic Church teaches, but they will not allow those beliefs to influence their actions.  Catholics will vote for the most pro-choice senator in the country because they will not allow their moral beliefs to accompany them into the voting booth.  Or, in a related way, there are Catholics who don’t even claim to believe what the Catholic Church teaches but still find it important to assert that they are Catholic. “I’m Catholic… is contraception morally wrong? Of course not!”

What does it mean to be Catholic? It means to be in communion— to be a part of this communio of which the Council Fathers speak.  While the sacrament of baptism is our entrance into the Church, to be Catholic is more than whether or not you were baptized—after all, the Council Fathers tell us in Lumen Gentium that there are some who are not baptized but are to some degree in communion with the Church.  There are also those who, although baptized, are not in communion, for “he is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity” (LG 14).

Communio is whether or not you are living an encounter with the living God.  If you are in communion, you are walking with the Triune God, allowing Him to accompany you… everywhere. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (Jn 14:6)  You are allowing your beliefs to impact your actions; not because a man in Rome told you, but because Truth is objective, not relative, and in your journey together that Truth has revealed Himself to you.  There is communio… between you and the person sitting next to you in the pew, yes, but only because it is first there between you and God. Our practice at Mass, whether it is singing together or walking up to receive our Savior in Holy Communion, is only possible because there first exists a communion between God and man.  The vertical comes first, produces the horizontal, which then enables us to go out and live our faith– everywhere.  Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi!

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