"Separated Churches -Instruments of Salvation"
"Given the universality of Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate."
"This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him".
The early Christians identified the Church Jesus started by 4 marks. It was one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Why did the early creeds bother to mention these four marks if there was no question or controversy regarding how to identify the Church Jesus started? At the time of the creeds, there were many sects and heretical cults springing up claiming to be the Church of Christ (referred to as *The Catholic Church*, since 105 AD) So how did one know the one true Church from another? It had to be one in doctrine and faith, it had to be holy because it was the bride of Christ. It had to be universal. Any where in the world when you walked in, the teaching and beliefs had to be identical. Finally, if it was the Church that Jesus started, it had to show that it was in direct historical succession from the apostles. The Creed has always held the standard for what constitutes the true Church. (The Nicean Creed was written before the New Testament was officially canonized, compiled, etc available or circulated)
So is Rome saying that non-Catholic churches are counterfeit or illegitimate? Absolutely Not!
It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word "subsists" can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the "one" Church); and this "one" Church subsists in the Catholic Church.
...there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure, but which "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity".
"It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church".Finally, Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?
Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense.
My take on this last statement is that the Church uses the creedal template of apostolic succession for making this determination. These communities can't have the Eucharist because the ability to confect it has always been based on the unbroken apostolic succession, which they don't have. I hope that it can be seen that these statements are not made in a spirit of triumphalism or in a condescending fashion.
My concluding "spin" on all of this : The Church is reiterating their belief for 2000 years that Jesus truly intended us to all be one Church in unity of belief, doctrine and praxis. They say that the creedal definition of "Church" is found in the 4 marks.
The Church acknowledges, that despite the fact that our separated brethren do not share these 4 marks, "they are not deprived of significance or importance in the mystery of salvation."
Jesus, may we all be one as you and the Father are one.
We pray in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen