My last reflection on Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, spoke about the importance of our being formed throughout our lives by the sacraments. The last section of the chapter on the People of God describes for us who are the people included in this group.
The short answer to that question is, everyone. The council fathers point to the fact that the People of God come from all nations on earth and that unity is one of the primary aims of the Church. This is expressed beautifully in the conclusion of one of our current Eucharistic Prayers,
In that new world where the fullness of your peace will be revealed, gather people of every race, language and way of life to share in the one eternal banquet with Jesus Christ the Lord.
The longer answer that is given by the council fathers lists several groups, beginning with those who are clearly within the Catholic Church, but they also mention catechumens, those who are already connected to the Church as they have committed to join in full communion with the faithful upon completion of their preparation through Christian formation.
Next to be mentioned are other Christians who are united to the Catholic faithful through baptism but with whom we still lack full communion and unity.
Probably most striking to me when I first read Lumen Gentium, and is still a powerful reminder to me is the paragraph that describes how even non-Christians are connected as part of the People of God.
Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways. There is, first, that people to which the covenants and promises were made, and from which Christ was born according to the flesh: in view of divine choice, they are a people most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentance. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives all men life and breath and all things, and since the Savior wills all men to be saved. Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience-those too may achieve eternal salvation.
This paragraph describes how God is always at work and close to every person he has created and should inspire Christians to see the common values held by all people of good will. However, the fathers of the council also immediately remind the faithful that this does not mean that we are not called to the task of evangelization. Christ himself instructed his apostles to bring the good news to all and that we who claim to bear the fullness of God’s revelation are still bound to share that revelation with others. As members of the People of God we are all called to bring one another closer to God and one another. Each of us, with our own gifts and to the best of our ability, are called to bring others to Christ. This is what it means to be part of the Church.