© Copyright 2013, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)
Before reading this section please see /articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/the-church/what-catacomb-catholics-believe-on-indefectibility/ for a summary of Catacomb Catholics’ beliefs concerning indefectibility and why far form denying this attribute, as Traditionalists have accused, they wholeheartedly accept and embrace it.
Christ is the Head of the Mystical Body, defined by Pope Pius XII AS the Church; ergo, the Church can never fail or cease to exist. The Vatican Council may not have defined the meaning of the Church, but Pope Pius XII did. And in doing so he took up many of the issues raised at the Vatican Council on the constitution of the Church but never answered definitively. Without the Pope, the juridical Church cannot exist in an entirely visible manner, but the juridical Church is not all that comprises the Mystical Body.
The Mystical Body is comprised of the saints in Heaven, the poor souls in Purgatory and the Church Militant on earth. It is reminiscent of what St. Thomas More told his persecutors: “For I doubt not, but of the learned and virtuous Men now alive — I do not speak only of this Realm, but of all Christendom — there are ten to one of my mind in this matter; but if I should take notice of those learned Doctors and virtuous Fathers that are already dead, many of whom are Saints in Heaven, I am sure there are far more, who all the while they lived thought in this Cause as I do now. And therefore, my Lord, I do not think myself bound to conform my Conscience to the Counsel of one Kingdom, against the general Consent of all Christendom.” And this is precisely what Catholics today must keep at the forefront of their consciousness.
How could such a Body ever cease to exist with Christ as its Head and the saints as its members? For as Pope St. Pius X teaches in his “Lamentabili:” “There is only one chief head of this body, namely Christ. He never ceases personally to guide the Church by an unseen hand…” When a naturally occurring interregnum (usually lasting only a few months) occurs, does the Church cease to exist? It does not, for as John of St. Thomas says, the power of the papacy is only suspended until another pope can be canonically elected by the Cardinals.
We have the infallible word of Pope Pius XII that: “If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ — which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Roman Church — we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression, ‘the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ’ — an expression which springs from and is, as it were, the fair flowering of the repeated teaching of the Sacred Scriptures and the holy Fathers,” Mystici Corporis teaches.
And how is this to be fulfilled by the members of Christ’s Body?“The cooperation of all its members must also be externally manifest through their profession of the same faith and their sharing the same sacred rites, through participation in the same Sacrifice, and the practical observance of the same laws.” St. Robert Bellarmine defines the Church as: “Those who profess the same faith, participate in the same sacraments and submit themselves to the same authority, especially by recognizing one, visible head which is representative of Christ here upon earth,” (De Contorversiis Christianae Fidei, Vol. II c. 2, Opera Omnia, (Neapoli, 1856), II,75). So how is it that the most necessary element of this oft-quoted definition is missing today?
This definition offered in Mystici Corporis is an infallible definition of the Church, and the means to belong to this Body given above in no way excludes Catacomb Catholics from Her pale. It does, however, exclude Traditionalists for their violation of Canon Law, which Pope Pius XII infallibly forbids and sanctions during an interregnum in his Vacantis Apostolica Sedis. But what happens when the leading members of this Body — the hierarchy — are entirely absent in a given area, or even the entire world?
Why can Catacomb Catholics be included in the description above? Pope Pius XII, not long before his death, actually gave the laity permission to carry on the functions of the Church they are permitted to perform in the absence of the hierarchy. “The initiative of the lay apostolate is perfectly justified even without a prior explicit ‘mission’ from the hierarchy…Where contacts with the hierarchy are difficult or practically impossible…the Christians upon whom this task falls must, with God’s grace, assume all their responsibilities.”
But this is allowed only if the laity do nothing to violate “faith and morals, the explicit or implicit will of the Church or ecclesiastical discipline,” (“The Mission of Catholic Women,” Sept. 29, 1957, The Pope Speaks, Vol. IV). Here Pope Pius XII, as their Supreme Pastor, is speaking to ALL Christians about their obligation to work for the salvation of souls, so how could there be any doubt that this address binds us in conscience?
No one has ever said that the hierarchy has been taken away forever and will not be restored, even if Christ Himself chooses to perform a miracle to restore it. If this is the end proper and the Church has completed Her mission on earth, then the world will simply end at some point in the near future, (but we do not believe that this is God’s plan). The Church as Christ constituted it shall always last, but it can be partially held in abeyance by the will of Christ Himself for an indefinite period of time. For the good Lord who giveth can also taketh away. He alone knows the times when He will revive His Church in all Her former glory.
Those who accept Christ as the Head of the Mystical Body and have any understanding at all of what that Body is could never be accused of denying indefectibility. For this to be true, Christ himself would need to renege on His promises to the Church, and we know He will always be with the Church “unto the consummation.” As long as Christ exists, and we know He is eternal, His Church will exist — on earth as it is in Heaven.
The doctrine of the Mystical Body is the easiest and simplest explanation of why the indefectibility of the Church is guaranteed. Believe in that doctrine and you cannot help but profess belief in indefectibility. Understanding its nature and function in our lives is paramount to understanding our relationship with Christ and His Church. Please read the encyclical Mystici Corporis online and the two-part series on this site.
But if the Church does not possess the three attributes, she cannot posses the four marks. If She exists today only as the Mystical Body, what about those claiming to be the juridic Church? Are they members of this Body as well? This we will consider next.