CHAPTER III: PARTICULAR CHURCHES (a)
Chapter III of Ad gentes (nos. 19-22) is the Council Fathers’ description of what the
new mission Churches should look like and what they should do, once they are established
or, as no. 19 says, once “they enjoy a certain stability and permanence.”
Briefly, the Council Fathers ask that these new Churches mature quickly and begin to
act and to be as full member Churches of the Catholic Church. They go on to explain what
Once a particular mission Church has a clergy of its own, its own religious and laity,
and “possesses those ministries and institutions which are required for leading and spreading
the life of the people of God,” it has reached a point of maturity in which it should begin to
function fully as a mature Church among the Churches of the One Universal Church. The
Council Fathers explained what they meant: “In these young churches the life of the people
of God ought to mature in all those spheres of the Christian life which are to be renewed in
accordance with the norms of this Council.”
In its various constitutions and decrees the Council did, in fact, lay down norms for
rejuvenating the liturgical, priestly, religious, and missionary life of the Church and the life of
the laity in all its spheres of activity by ordering all to return to the sources of our Faith, i.e.
to Jesus and to the sound traditions of the past (cf. Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life,
no. 2). Did the Council Fathers have in mind the wish or hope that these new Churches
would lead the way in a return to Jesus Christ and sound traditions, seeing that they did not
have as much of the “old wine” (cf. Mt 9:16f) to lay aside as the older Churches? In any
case, they certainly envisioned them as fully equal to the older Churches.
This, however, did not blind the Council Fathers to the fact that, materially speaking,
the mission Churches at that time were usually very poor, both in finances and in personnel,
and still needed the support of the rest of the Church for their full development. The
situation, by the way, is still very much the same in most of them.
In asking the older Churches to continue their support of the newer ones, the Council
Fathers said: “This missionary activity should also help those churches which, although long
established, are in a state of decline or weakness.” Generosity to the missions wins graces
for the donors, according to Jesus’ principle: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”
(Acts 20:35). This justifies our working here in the USA as missionaries to raise money for
the missions. It helps not only the missions but also our own American Church, for giving to
the missions is an act of faith, and faith is strengthened when it is activated. Pray for a
strong missionary spirit in our American Church.