According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the word “Church” (Latin ecclesia, from the Greek ek-ka-lein, to “call out of”) means a convocation or an assembly. It designates the assemblies of the people, usually for a religious purpose. Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people. By calling itself “Church,” the first community of Christian believers recognised itself as heir to that assembly. In the Church, God is “calling together” his people from all the ends of the earth. The equivalent Greek term Kyriake, from which the English word Church and the German Kirche are derived, means “what belongs to the Lord.” (CCC 751)

In Christian usage, the word “church” designates the liturgical assembly, but also the local community or the whole universal community of believers. These three meanings are inseparable. “The Church” is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ’s Body. (CCC 752)

As the Church, we have been called and gathered together by God from all parts of the world to live out and to continue the Mission that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to his disciples – “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Christ’s instruction to the apostles is a call that is still relevant and which still resonates today. As Christians, there is a missionary mandate that we need to fulfil. We are told to go ad gentes—that is, “to the nations,” to those who did not know Christ, and to proclaim the Gospel. As the apostles were faithful and obedient to Christ’s command, his Church has grown and flourished. Many too, are the numbers who for their faith, have given up their lives, so as to plant the seed of Christianity on foreign soil.

The responsibility for fulfilling that mandate passes on unchanged to the bishops and to all the Catholics of today. The word “catholic”—that is, “universal”—embodies God’s purpose for his Church. He wants to extend it to the farthest corners of the earth. He wants to show all people his love and mercy.

However, the mission of the Church is far from complete. In these special and challenging times of COVID-19, the Church needs to reconsider our Mission and Mission Field in a new way.

By Brian Bartholomew Tan