What is the Purpose of the Church Today?

The story of the Catholic Church is ongoing. Its destiny is the reign of God in all its fullness. Its present is that of a pilgrim’s existence, “at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, and incessantly pursuing the path of penance and renewal.” Its abiding mission is “to show forth in the world the mystery of the Lord…until at the last it will be revealed in total splendor” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n. 8).

No event in the 20th century, or indeed in the modern era, has shaped and influenced the Catholic Church today more substantially than the Second Vatican Council. It was convened by Pope John XXIII (1958-63) for the sake of updating the Church, bringing an end to the era known as Tridentine Catholicism.

The history of the Catholic Church since Vatican II has been shaped largely by the Church’s efforts to come to terms with the various challenges and opportunities that the council presented and at the same time to remain faithful to its distinctive Catholic identity. These efforts have not been without great difficulty. Although the majority of Catholics, especially those who have had the advantage of education, have been generally responsive to the council’s teachings, a vocal minority continue to resist and oppose them. Pope Paul VI agonized over the divisions in the post-conciliar Church. Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) was often criticized for seeming to encourage the discontented minority to believe that elements of pre-Vatican II Catholicism could somehow be restored. Pope Benedict VI (2005-2013) continued to move the Church toward a pre-Vatican II era. Then, Pope Francis signaled a new openness.