When the word church is used, what often comes to mind immediately is a building where people gather to pray. This is certainly one of the ways to understand this word, but the meaning goes much deeper than this.
Church signifies a group of people called together by God. So we find God saying to Moses: “Call the people round me that I may let them hear my words” (Deuteronomy 4, 10). Jesus, as a new Moses, taught people the fulfilment of the Law which God had given through Moses. Among those who chose to follow him, he called some to be apostles, that is messengers who would spread his teaching. To be their head he chose Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, which means rock. After Simon had expressed his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus said to him: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). So, for Christians, the Church is the new People of God, those who follow Jesus Christ as their Leader, Lord and Saviour.
Different images are used to describe the Church in order to understand better what it really is.
It is a flock of which Jesus himself is the shepherd. Jesus leads the sheep of his flock to rich pastures so that they may have life in abundance.
The Church is also like a field which God himself cultivates in order to bring about good fruit in abundance.
The Church is sometimes called a building, a spiritual building, of which Jesus Christ is the foundation, which the apostles have built up, and of which the individual Christians are living stones.
The Church is also a body, the body of Christ. The Christians are members of this body, and Christ is its head. This is a very powerful image. It suggests that just as in a human body the members all have different functions, so the spiritual body of the Church is organised with the members having different roles. At the same time it underlines how Christians should be united, as members of the same body, receiving life from Christ the head.
So when Christians speak about the Church, they may be referring to those who gather together (often in a church building) to pray and worship God in the name of Jesus Christ. They may also mean the local Christian community. Finally they may use the word Church to signify the whole community of believers in Jesus Christ spread all over the world.
Source: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 751-757.
- the phrase “a new Moses”: “In the Gospel according to Matthew, especially in chapters 5-7, Jesus is presented as a teacher like Moses offering the essential teachings and the “Good News” of the Reign of God. Jesus reflects on the ten “Words” or Commandments given to Moses and exemplifies them for his time.”
- the phrase “the new People of God”: “The Church does not replace or supercede the Jewish people as the “People of God.” Instead, as the Second Vatican Council citing St. Paul to the Romans, stated: The Church, like a wild olive branch has been grafted onto the good olive tree (the people with whom God established the ancient Covenant).” God called together Jews and Gentiles, to be one “People of God” not according to the flesh but in the spirit” (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church #781).