Why must the Church suffer?

Letter from the District Superior, Rev. Robert Brucciani

The Church is disfigured by the Council

The revolution that began with the Second Vatican Council has progressively disfigured the Church of Christ over the last 60 years to the point that she is barely recognisable in her four marks (see editorial of Ite Missa Est, Jul–Aug 2023).

Since the close of the Council in 1965, the Church’s influence and extension in the world are so diminished that many expect her to be all but extinct within a generation or so. If the Church were a purely human institution, this would most probably be the case, but the Catholic Church is both human and divine.

Comprising of men, she is human and therefore mortal; animated as a corporate body by the Divine Life, she is divine and will live for ever.

The Church, therefore, cannot pass away, but why must she suffer?

The Mystical Body of Christ

To answer this question we have to understand the nature of the divine side of the Church: Our Lord reveals the truth of the divine side of the Church most clearly at the discourse of the Last Supper:

I am the vine; you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:5)

As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me; That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (Jn 17:18–21)

The letters of St. Paul to the Colossians and the Corinthians elaborate this doctrine further:

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He may hold the primacy: Because in Him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fulness should dwell... (Col 1:18–19)

For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ. (1 Cor 12:12)

The supernaturally animated corporate body is known as the Mystical Body of Christ. It is the Catholic Church as a divine reality.

The Mystical Body of Christ is Christ on earth

The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ is treated extensively in the 1943 encyclical of the same name: Mystici Corporis Christi by Pope Pius XII. If one is to understand how God can allow his Church to be so disfigured at the hands of its own ministers, it is necessary to read and ponder this encyclical.

But for those who find the rich and dense exposition of doctrine in the encyclical difficult, Mgr. Robert Hugh Benson exposes the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ in his book Christ In His Church, and explains why it behoves the Church to suffer. The author is an artist with words and so no apologies will be made for quoting him at length.

Catholics believe that as Jesus Christ lived His natural life on earth two thousand years ago in a Body drawn from Mary, so He lives His Mystical Life to-day in a Body drawn from the human race in general—called the Catholic Church—that her words are His, her actions His, her life His (with certain restrictions and exceptions), as surely as were the words, actions, and life recorded in the Gospels: it is for this reason that they give to the Church the assent of their faith, believing that in doing so they are rendering it to God Himself. She is not merely His vicegerent on earth, not merely His representative, not merely even His Bride [except analogically]: in a real sense she is Himself.

The written Gospel is the record of a past life; the Church is the living Gospel and record of a present life. ... Here Our Lord reproduces, in century after century and country after country, the events and crises of the life lived in Judaea.

The Living Gospel of the Church

In the Church today, we see the same followers of Christ as we saw in the Gospels, and the same enemies: Judas, Caiphas and Pilate. We see the same vicarious suffering and the same utter failure of mission in the eyes of the world.

Followers of Christ and members of the Church: Shepherd & Kings

Just as, two thousand years ago, only the shepherds and the magi worshipped Jesus at Bethlehem, in general, two kinds of persons are drawn towards Catholicism and remain faithful to it—the extremely simple and uneducated and the extremely shrewd and thoughtful.

‘How hardly shall they who trust in riches,’ says our Lord, ‘enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Riches themselves are no obstacle; it is the bourgeois attitude towards them—whether riches of wealth or intellect—that is really hopeless.

The simplest are those accustomed to silence, stars and the elementary facts of birth and death: those who have none of that knowledge that may so obscure clear vision; the wisest are those who have reached the confines of wisdom and have acknowledged their smallness before the Supreme Being, the Supreme Truth.

Later in the public life of Our Lord:

There were the fishermen on the one side—men, like shepherds, accustomed to manual work—that marvellous mind-cleanser—to silence, to stars and night and great spaces; and certain great doctors on the other—Joseph, Nicodemus, and the rest.

And there stand out in that later band of apostles two great figures, as they stand in Rome today—Peter and Paul. Peter, the scarred fisherman, talking with a Galilean accent; and Paul, fresh from a Greek-speaking university of a Roman town, soaked in aristocratic traditions of religion, a quoter of the Greek poets, accustomed to dialectics.

Enemies of Christ: Judas

Without Judas, humanly speaking, the tragedy of Calvary would have been impossible. The mob had held Christ in its bands before now, and had lost Him again; the soldiers had come out against Him, and had returned without Him; the Pharisees had sought to entrap Him in His talk, without effect. It needed a friend to betray Him. He does not escape from those hands to whose loyalty He has committed Himself.

It is reserved, in its full luxuriance and malice, for the closest and warmest lovers of Jesus Christ—for those who have a kind of right to kiss Him and call Him friend.

And so through the ages. Are there not ministers and religious—intimates, friends of Christ—who betray Him again and again? Do they not kiss Him and betray Him when, feigning charity, they lead their flock into the bondage of sin by the scandal of their lives or their apostasy.


Caiphas knew perfectly well, in the bottom of his heart, that underneath all their apparent agreement there was a fierce and irreconcilable antagonism; that their ideals were not the same; that Jesus Christ meant one thing by ‘the Law of God’ and himself another; that their whole conceptions of even the character of God Himself were different; and that there was not the faintest chance or possibility of winning Jesus Christ over to his side.

The Caiphases of this world— Liberals, Protestants and the Orthodox—want God to fit their own world vision; they want God to work for them as individuals, as the establishment, or the state.


Then we have the Pilates for whom the Truth, when revealed to them, is too simple:

A man of this type often calls himself an Agnostic. ‘Yes,’ he tells us, ‘I should very much like to believe as you do; but I cannot. It must be delightful to have a creed, and no qualms about it; to have sacraments in which you really believe; to feel confident that you really have got the truth in an adequate form, that you possess a Divine Teacher who cannot err. But I cannot possibly imagine myself taking up such a position. It is too simple to be true. I do not know what Truth is, but at any rate it must be larger than your little Church; it must be larger than any system.'

It is too simple and common and direct. If he is an Agnostic, he says it is too positive and too much systematised; if he is a Gnostic, he says it is not esoteric enough.


Let us consider the Herods of the world, for whom the Truth is too deep.

Their view of religion is that, unless it can produce extraordinary and startling results which can be verified in five minutes, it cannot be true.

There is a school of psychologists which so treats religion, which takes the abnormal cases, the ecstasies, the apparitions, the levitations, and neglects the quiet piety of millions, the countless uneventful but heroic lives of simple faith and suffering, and thinks that it has really examined religion.

Religion is not a matter of mere emotion, any more than of mere intellect. The man who says, 'Unless I feel, I will not believe,' is as narrow and foolish as the man who says, ‘Unless I understand, I will not believe.’

Herods place personality of Christ, dwelling in His Church, at the same level as his own personality.

This point is key to understanding the evacuation of the supernatural in the Church today: the profanation of all that is sacred, and the rationalist and reductionist understanding of God and the religion He revealed. Instead of supernatural faith nourished by scripture and tradition, we have natural faith nourished by feelings, by soundbites, and by bloggers on the internet.

Vicarious Suffering

Every well-instructed Catholic knows how to offer his own sorrow for the sake of another soul; for in the Catholic Church alone is manifested that Nation of Priests of whom the first Pope writes [1 Pet 2:9]; for in the Catholic Church alone is that vast principle of vicarious pain welcomed, recognised, and used, on which the whole chain of life, even in the physical order, hangs together.

Again and again souls living in union with Christ are named His Body considered as a whole, or as members considered separately; they are said to possess the “Mind of Christ”; they are described in a mysterious phrase, lucid only on the Catholic interpretation, as filling up what is “wanting of the sufferings of Christ” [Col 1:24]—carrying out, that is to say, on the stage of the world’s history, the agony and death recorded in the Gospels, extending before the eyes of the world to-day—and, indeed in every period of history—the bloody sweat, the nails, and the scourge seen in Gethsemane and Calvary.


That the Church is in one sense the greatest failure that the world has ever seen, is an obvious fact, from the very magnitude of her claims and the apparent smallness of her achievements.

It is the Catholic Church, and she only, among all the denominations of Christendom that is at once too worldly and too other-worldly to be tolerated. Too divine for the Scribes & Pharisees, too like a human king for Pilate.

Why the Church must suffer?

It behoves the Church to suffer like Christ; she has to give herself so completely to the Father as to be the perfect sacrifice of love. She will be a complete failure in the eyes of the world of course, but she will attain her perfection in glory.

Mgr. Robert Hugh Benson sees the Church as dying and rising again repeatedly across the centuries. There will, however, be a final death and final resurrection at the end of the created time—perhaps when every living member has perfectly died to self.

If the life of Christ is mirrored in the life of the Church, perhaps all the previous deaths and risings of the Church are but a preparation for the final death and resurrection, just as the sacrifices of the Old Testament were a preparation for the one Sacrifice of the New Testament.

One naturally wonders if our present crisis is the last. Is the suffering of the Church now the same as that suffering of Christ two thousand years ago? In the one Sacrifice, the betrayer of the Christ was a friend and a bishop; the judges of Christ were the head of the divinely established religion, and the representative of the greatest secular power. Today these circumstances are realised again. All that is missing is the perfect victim—souls that are so configured to Christ that they have become Christ.

This is our vocation, my dear brethren. As the end of this liturgical year approaches, let us all yearn to conform ourselves to Christ and realise the wishes and example of St. Paul:

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister according to the dispensation of God, which is given me towards you, that I may fulfil the word of God: The mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but now is manifested to his saints, To whom God would make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ, in you the hope of glory. Whom we preach, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Wherein also I labour, striving according to his working which he worketh in me in power. (Col 1 24–29).

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