See also past Guest columns.

Theme nine: Mother, Teacher, Family — The Nature and Role of the Church Print
Guest column
Written by Veronica Arntz, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Feb. 04, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Guest Column

In response to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this past September, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison is providing a monthly series on a particular theme on marriage and family. Each theme is a chapter in the preparatory catechesis developed for the event entitled Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, available in paperback from or for free online at This is the ninth of 10 themes that will be explored.

Understanding the nature and mission of the Church is intrinsic to understanding the family, and specifically, the family as the domestic Church.

On the night before His passion and death, Christ prays for those who will believe in Him through the words of His disciples, “that they may all be one; even as you Father, are in me, and I in you” (John 17:21).

United in the Lord

In brief, Christ prays for the Church, His bride, and through His prayer, we can see that communion is central to the Church, for Christ prays that the members of His Church might be one just as He and the Father are one.

For this reason, the author of Ephesians writes, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” (4:5).

All are meant to be united in the one Lord, a union that is begun through the visible structure of the Church on earth and completed in the Mystical Body of Christ in heaven.

Comparison to marriage

Furthermore, we see this communion of the Church manifest in the comparison of the relationship of Christ and His Church to the marriage of a husband and wife (Ephesians 5:21-33). There are two aspects of this relationship.

First, the author writes, “As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:24). Since the Church subjects all things to Christ, who is her Head and great High Priest (cf. Hebrews 4:14), the wife is likewise called to subject herself and give obedience to her husband as her “head.”

Second, he writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Christ gave everything for His bride, the Church, when the blood and water poured forth from His side. Therefore, the husband ought to sacrifice everything for his own beloved bride through his actions and the sufferings that he undergoes for her, imitating what Christ did on the cross.

The domestic Church

Thus, through both Christ’s prayer for unity and the imagery presented in Ephesians 5, we have a model not only for the Church established by Christ but also for the family itself. It is for this reason that we call the family the “domestic Church,” for its life mirrors the universal Church (Lumen Gentium 11).

Indeed, St. John Paul II writes of the essential link between the Church and the family in his 1996 Letter to Families: “The Church cannot therefore be understood as the Mystical Body of Christ, as the sign of man’s Covenant with God in Christ, or as the universal sacrament of salvation, unless we keep in mind the ‘great mystery’ involved in the creation of man as male and female and the vocation of both to conjugal love, to fatherhood and motherhood” (19, emphasis added).

Thus, the “great mystery” of the Church is also the great mystery called the family. The family imitates the Church and even the Trinity when it acts as a communio personarum, as a communion of persons living together in faithful love.

Therefore, when the fundamental unit of the Church is the communio personarum, she will be more like the sacrament of unity for which Christ prays at the Last Supper (Lumen Gentium 1).

The family also has a mission within the Church, of which St. John Paul II speaks in Familiaris Consortio, quoting Lumen Gentium 11: “The Christian family is grafted into the mystery of the Church to such a degree as to become a sharer, in its own way, in the saving mission proper to the Church: by virtue of the sacrament, Christian married couples and parents ‘in their state and way of life have their own special gift among the People of God’” (49).

Through her liturgies and sacraments, especially Baptism, the family participates in the life of the Church and is thus prepared to go forth and preach the Gospel of Christ to others. The family builds the Kingdom of God in the world through its connection to the Church as its teacher, and if it is severed from her, then the family will find it difficult to encounter others in the New Evangelization.

Mother, teacher, family

Illuminating the title of this particular chapter, we look to the words of St. John XXIII in Mater et Magistra: “Mother and Teacher of all nations — such is the Catholic Church in the mind of her Founder, Jesus Christ; to hold the world in an embrace of love, that men, in every age, should find in her their own completeness in a higher order of living, and their ultimate salvation” (1).

The Church is a mother because she unites all the members of the Body of Christ in communion with the Lord. She is a teacher because she prepares her members for Christ’s mission, which is to preach the Gospel to every individual and bring all into the one fold.

Finally, the Church is a family because, as the Body of Christ, she brings together all the domestic Churches into one family, which is the family of God, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).

Therefore, all families are called to participate in the mission of the Church as mother and teacher to become unified in the one Mystical Body of Christ and to likewise fulfill the Church’s evangelizing mission in its life.

Next month: Choosing Life

God made us for a reason. His love is our life mission. Our mission of love will require courage and fortitude. Jesus is calling, and we can respond, choosing lives of faith, hope, charity, joy, service, and mission.


Veronica Arntz is an intern in the Marriage and Family Program in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison. She is a senior at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyo., and is pursuing a degree in liberal arts.