Pope Pius XII 

By Andrea Tornielli

Jun 30 2023

Our Editorial Director reflects on the 80th anniversary of the publication of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical “Mystici Corporis”, which describes the Catholic Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

There is a passage in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici Corporis that is particularly topical at a time in which the transmission of the faith in the family is in crisis and the Church is about to experience the first phase of the Synod on synodality that has mission as its goal.

In the encyclical published on 29 June 1943, Pope Pius describes the Church, the Body of Christ, as “organically” and “hierarchically” composed. He invites us not to believe that the organic structure of the Church “contains only hierarchical elements and with them is complete; or as an opposite opinion holds, that it is composed only of those who enjoy charismatic gifts (though Christians gifted with miraculous powers will never be lacking in the Church)”.

Not only bishops and clergy on the one hand, and persons with special charisms on the other.

“Indeed,” the Pope adds, “especially in our days, fathers and mothers of families, those who are godparents through Baptism, and in particular those members of the laity who collaborate with the ecclesiastical hierarchy in spreading the Kingdom of the Divine Redeemer, occupy an honourable, if often a lowly, place in the Christian community, and even they under the impulse of God and with His help, can reach the heights of supreme holiness, which, Jesus Christ has promised, will never be wanting to the Church.”

“In our days”, that is, in the year 1943 marked by the catastrophic horror of the Second World War, the Successor of Peter indicates the “place of honour” that “fathers and mothers of families” occupy (or should occupy), the people of God who work and live the ordinariness of Christian life and its sacraments.

Not only does Pius XII recall the path to holiness for them, but he emphasises their fundamental contribution to the expansion of the Kingdom, that is, to the mission.

Today, perhaps more than was true eighty years ago, it is to the daily and hidden witness of fathers and mothers of families that the mission of witnessing to the faith is entrusted.

By redesigning the structure of the Synod and opening it up to the effective contribution of the laity alongside that of the bishops, Pope Francis continues to deepen an awareness that comes from afar and that had as its cornerstone the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council.