The progress of the human thought cannot be stopped, and it is associated with a lot of changes in the spheres of the people’s life which are traditionally discussed as invariable and their aspects as constant. This statement was considered as relevant for analysing the elements of religion and faith during a long period of time.
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However, the 20th century brought significant changes to all the spheres of the person’s everyday life, including the issue of spirituality and morality. From this point, the Catholic Doctrine was rethought according to the tendencies of the modern life in the middle part of the 20th century.
The triggers of the process could be observed even earlier when the representatives of the intelligence had concentrated on the problem of understanding the role of the Church in the life of a Christian in the 19th century. The approaches to the question which were typical for the Middle Ages were inappropriate for the discussion of the issue in the new era.
In spite of the fact the major norms and exegeses of the role of the Church for the Christians remained unchanged after the Second Vatican Council and its decision, the way of interpretation was altered significantly.
Being a witness to Christ, the present-day Church has the sacramental nature, but its mission is to be intelligible for everyone as the part of the real world; to serve everyone and support people on their way to Christ and salvation.
The nature and mission of the Church in the 21st century is associated with the long history of the Church’s development during the centuries, but today the role of the Church and its elements should be discussed with references to the modern reality. Moreover, it is possible to state that the role of the Church depends on changes in society.
To discuss the problem, it is important to focus on such an aspect as the sacramental character and nature of the Church which does not change, but new interpretations are added to the understanding of the concept. The Second Vatican Council emphasised the Church and its character as sacramental. To understand the fact, it is necessary to refer to the notion of a sacrament.
Thus, Gleeson states that the main elements of Christianity have the sacramental character because it is common to discuss Christ, the Church, or the Eucharist as sacraments along with the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church (Gleeson, 2004, p. 1).
Sacraments can be analysed from many perspectives and acquire different meanings according to the deepness of the person’s understanding the concept. That is why, it is possible to explain a sacrament as a sign of God’s presence.
The Church as a living witness to Christ is one of the main sacraments because it can be discussed as the place and notion in relation to which God’s presence is real. Stating that God is present in the Church, people state the sacramental nature of the Church.
The sacramental nature of the Church is also based on the aspect that a concept of sacrament is closely connected with the concept of mystery in relation to the character of the Church (Noll, 2006, p. 39).
The Church is the mystery as the reflection of God’s will in the world, and the Church is the main sacrament because the presence of God in the world is associated with the nature of the Church, basing on the notion of mystery.
Focusing on the rethought mission of the Church as the necessity to be an instrument for the people’s salvation, to serve them according to the aspects of reality and to be intelligible, it is important to discuss this interpretation characteristic for the 20th and 21st centuries with references to the earlier visions of the issue.
The Church the norms and rules of which were presented with references to the Council of Trent could be characterised as the hierarchical institution based on dogmas and laws. The connection of the Church with reality also depended on the hierarchical approach. Being an institution, the Church concentrated on its role and position, but not on the real service for the public.
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From this point, the universal position was more important than the local connection between the Church and people from the definite territory (McBrien, 1994). The orientation to the public in relation to the locality as the aspect of the real world became possible during the 20th century.
What is the most controversial interpretation of the Church’s mission presented by the Second Vatican Council? In his work, Drumm concentrates on the problem of the people of God, and this issue is closely associated with the aspect of connecting the Church with the real life and with the idea of salvation. It was stated earlier that people look to Christ to find the salvation.
Moreover, the Church is the community of the people called by God. From this perspective, it is important to belong to the Church to be saved because the Church has the special meaning for the salvation.
Nevertheless, Drumm accentuates that according to the present-day interpretation of the Church’s role, Christianity can be discussed from the point of an individual and the fact of belonging to the Church is not significant because the Church serves for all the people in spite of their status of belonging to it (Drumm, 1998).
Thus, this change in the interpretation can be discussed as the shift to focusing on the people’s spirituality and individuals’ salvation, but on the Church as the institution with its strict norms. The service for all the people is more important today because of the real practical character of the Church revealed with the help of this role.
That is why, it is possible to speak about Christianity and, as a result, the Church as the product of marketing. McGrath claims that the American approach to the aspects of Christianity is associated with the marketing strategies the main objective of which is to gain the definite benefits (McGrath, 2002, p. 46).
However, Phan connects the similar aspects with the problem of pluralism as it develops in the American society actively influencing all the spheres of the people’s life, including their visions of religion and spirituality (Phan, 2007).
Thus, discussing the new approaches to explaining the nature and mission of the Church presented according to the Second Vatican Council, it is possible to refer to the new interpretations as to new products which are necessary for the people in the 20th-21st centuries.
The Church acquired more connections with reality not only when the texts of the Mass were translated but also when the presence of God in the Church and Christ in the world were emphasised, depending on the Church’s mission to serve for all the people in spite of their belonging to the Church.
The mission of the Church in the society of the 21st century is a rather provocative question. Nevertheless, many researchers associate the Church as the influential instrument for affecting the people’s vision of morality which functions basing on a tradition. Birch and Rasmussen discuss the church as “a bearer of tradition” (Birch & Rasmussen, 1989, p. 127).
From this point, the Church is significant for leading the people on their moral paths where the Church provides them with the necessary knowledge of the moral norms and traditions and the understanding of the good and evil. According to Darragh, the role of the Church for the development of the people’s morality is based on the definite tradition.
From this perspective, the Church gives the person such a possibility to grow morally because the Church is associated with such a kind of tradition in relation to the principles of the practical theology (Darragh, 2007).
From the point of the Church’s impact on the public’s morality, the changes in discussing the Church as a sacrament brought the changes to the people’s understanding the norms of ethics. The world associated with the religion became Christ-centred, but not the Church-centred as it was earlier (Drumm, 1998).
Moreover, the significance of following moral norms and rules is based in the modern world on the individual’s viewpoint on the problem which is influenced by the theory about virtues, but it is not determined by strict laws proclaimed by the Church (Lovin, 2000).
The Church of the New Testament was oriented toward being an institution, proclaiming hierarchy and universalism. The Church of the 20th-21st centuries is oriented toward faith and religion as the necessary aspects of the social culture and individual’s spirituality (Lennan, 1998).
Today, self-expression in following the moral norms according to the Christian ethics is more significant for people than the usage of rules and laws which are not intelligible and unconnected with reality.
Reforms in discussing the role of the Church were important for the people because the aspects of their religious life should also be correlated with the events in the real world.
The changes in interpreting the mission and the role of the Church in comparison with the discussion based on the earlier explanation of the New Testament can be summarised with determining witness, worship, and service as the main aspects of the Church’s role (Noll, 2006, p. 37-38).
The Second Vatican Council shifted the accents from understanding the Church as the hierarchical institution which was rather opposite to the real world to presenting the Church as the base for the people’s salvation and for the everyday life dependent on the ethical norms and rules.
It is important to note that several centuries ago the meaning of the texts of the Mass was almost unavailable for the people because of the absence of translation. Moreover, the strict hierarchy of the Church’s authority and their power made people discuss the Church as a specific institution but not as the community of those people who are united to follow the Word of God.
Thus, the reforms and differences in interpreting the basic principles associated with the role of the Church proposed by the Second Vatican Council were important for the Christians. The Word of God, the celebration of the Sacraments, the importance of service were determined along with the other significant points.
Furthermore, the Church is a witness of Christ because Christ declared the Kingdom of God, and the Church was discussed as associated with the presence of God (Lennan, 1998). Joining the Church, people started their way to find the salvation. From this point, the mystery of the Church is discussed in the context of God’s will and the notion of sacrament.
To conclude, the main changes in interpreting the nature and mission of the Church in the 21st century in comparison with the earlier variants of their explanation are based on the tendencies in interpreting the presence of God in the world and the issue of salvation.
Today, each Christian is discussed as the person who can share the sacraments as the signs of God’s presence in the world. The fact of belonging to the Church is not as important as it was earlier with references to the person’s individual approach to his or her spirituality and following moral norms.
Thus, the Church is a sacrament, and the sacramental nature is accentuated by the mission of the Church to serve for all the people in relation to their salvation. According to its role, the Church became the part of the real world which supports people during their way to Christ. The Church should be also discussed as the community in which all the people have the opportunity to reach the holiness as the part of salvation.
Birch, B. C., & Rasmussen, L. L. (1989). Bible and ethics in the Christian life. USA: Augsburg.
Darragh, N. (2007). The practice of practical theology: Key decisions and abiding hazards in doing practical theology. Web.
Drumm, M. (1998). Modern trends in sacramental theology. Web.
Gleeson, B. (2004). Symbols and sacraments: Their human foundations. Web.
Lennan, R. (1998). An introduction to Catholic theology. New York, NJ: Paulist Press.
Lovin, R. W. (2000). Christian ethics: An essential guide. USA: Abingdon Press.
McBrien, R. P. (1994). Catholicism: New study edition. USA: HarperCollins.
McGrath, A. E. (2002). The future of Christianity. USA: Blackwell Publishing.
Noll, R. R. (2006). Sacraments: A new understanding for a new generation. New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications.
Phan, P. (2007). Evangelization in a culture of pluralism: Challenges and opportunities. Web.