the grace of God beyond the corporate expression

“Does the grace of Christ operate beyond the borders of the visible Church? What could this mean? If the Church is defined as the visible sacrament of Christ’s invisible grace, the question may be rephrased to read: Can the grace of Christ be present and operative and yet fail to achieve its appropriate corporate expression? The answer, I suppose, is that the expression is never fully appropriate. The Church never fully achieves itself as Church, at least not in the conditions of this world. It is true Church to the extent that it is tending to become more truly Church. On the other hand, something of the Church as sign will be present wherever the grace of God is effectively at work. The Christological and corporate dimensions of grace will assure a certain ecclesial quality to the life of grace wherever it occurs.

God’s gifts are not confined to people who employ biblical or Christian symbolism. The Church understands God as the loving Father of all men; it celebrates and prefaces God’s redemptive love extended to all. The Church therefore takes it for granted that others besides Christians are recipients of God’s grace in Christ. The Church, then, is the place where it appears most clearly that the love that reconciles men to God and to one another is a participation in what God communicates most fully in Christ. Christians are those who see and confess Jesus Christ as the supreme efficacious symbol—the primordial sacrament—of God’s saving love stretched out to all.” (Avery Cardinal Dulles, Models of the Church, pg. 63.)

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