Here’s a sample of what I mean:
The opening words of the [Vatican II] Constitution on the [Roman Catholic] Church Lumen Gentium, “the light of the nations,” refer not to the church but to Christ. But the next sentence introduces the church as “in Christ a kind of sacrament: that is, a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and the unity of all humanity … [Consider] St. Augustine’s description of the origin of the church: “It was from the side of Christ as he slept on the cross that there came forth the wondrous sacrament which is the whole church.” This one sentence suggests some of the reasons that prompted St. Augustine to describe the church as sacramentum where the word clearly means “mystery.” First of all, he sees the church as the fruit of Christ’s passion and death, thus having its origin not in a mere act of institution, but in the redemptive work accomplished by Christ on the cross. He sees the church as symbolized by the blood and water that flowed out from the side of Christ: no doubt because this blood and water were identified with the sacraments of baptism and eucharist, the most fundamental elements in the life of the church. Finally, the reference to Christ “sleeping the sleep of death” presents Christ as the “new Adam” from whose side the church came forth as the “new Eve,” thus suggesting that as the first Eve was drawn from Adam’s side to be his bride and “helper (Gen 2:18), so the church is the bride of Christ who has a helping role to play in Christ’s ongoing work for the salvation of humanity…. No mere human institution could be described in terms such as these.Sullivan is a Roman Catholic theologian, a professor of Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. This is foundational to what the post Vatican II Roman Catholic Church thinks about itself. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church equates itself and its hierarchical structure, its “sacramental priesthood,” its continuing “succession” of priests with this image of “one church”. One can imagine why they think this is a good thing. It is a winsome story that ties the Roman Church today with this “bride of Christ” that was “mysteriously” born “while Christ slept on the cross.”
Article seven [of Lumen Gentium] develops further aspects of this doctrine, found mainly in Colossians and Ephesians. In these letters St. Paul introduced an idea that he had not used in the earlier letters, namely, that of Christ as head of his body the church…. The final paragraph involves the passage of Eph 5:22-28 where St Paul applies to Christ and his church the idea from Gen 2:24 that a man and his wife become “one flesh.” So also, the church is both Christ’s bride and his body, which he loves, nourishes and cherishes, fills with divine gifts…. [Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., “The Church We Believe In: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”, New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, ©1988, pgs. 9].
Here are some of the foundational doctrinal statements from Vatican II that clarify this meaning (from Sullivan):
In three important documents, Vatican II has further developed this concept [of church as sacrament] by speaking of the church as the universal sacrament of salvation. In Lumen Gentium we read: “Christ, having been lifted up from the earth, is drawing all men to himself (John 12:32). Rising from the dead, he sent his life-giving Spirit upon his disciples and through this Spirit has established his body, the church, as the universal sacrament of salvation” (LG 48). Gaudium et Spes declares: While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the church is the ‘universal sacrament of salvation,’ simultaneously manifesting and exercising the mystery of God’s love for man” (GS 45). Finally, the decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity (Ad gentes: AG) opens with the statement “The church has been divinely sent to all nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’” (AG 1)So you, my friend, according to Rome, are saved because “the Roman Catholic Church” is the “universal sacrament of salvation,” because “all grace of salvation is not only ordered toward [the Roman Catholic Church], but in some way comes fromand through the [Roman Catholic] Church. As a sign and instrument of all salvation, the church is not merely the goal toward which grace is directed, it is the channel or medium through which grace is given. You are in a “certain, though imperfect communion” already with the Roman Catholic Church.
The appearance of the word “universal” in these texts suggests that we are dealing with an aspect of the catholicity of the church. If the role of the church as sign and instrument of salvation really means that the church not only signifies but helps to bring about the salvation of everyone who is saved, we have another important reason for professing our belief in the church as “catholic.” In this chapter we shall have to see in what sense the church [“the Roman Catholic Church”] can be said to be both a sign and instrument of salvation, and what grounds there are for claiming a universal role for it in the salvation of all humanity.
… We have seen that there is no salvation without the grace of Christ, and that every offer of grace is intrinsically directed toward the church, even when it does not bring about actual membership in the church on earth. In this sense, the catholicity of the church consists in the fact that the universal offer of grace involves a relationship to the church on the part of every human person—a relationship, to be sure, that will vary according to the response each person makes to God’s grace. [“All who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are brought into a certain, though imperfect communion with the Catholic Church”. This “certain, though imperfect communion” also is extended to non-believers.] In some cases, as we have seen, people respond to grace in such a way as to enter into spiritual communion with the church, living in Christ without knowing him as the source of their supernatural life. In other cases, a person may not have responded, and yet the offer continues to be made. The common factor here is that everyone without exception is placed in some relationship to [the Roman Catholic Church]. All those who do not actually belong to her are at least “ordered toward her” (ad eam ordinatur) [Sullivan, 109-110].
This is the reason you’ll find the following language in the CCC:
The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.”When we see converts to Roman Catholicism today, this is the “gospel” that they are buying into. Rome may be losing members, but Rome is not going to let you alone. You are saved, according to Rome, because Rome exists as the universal sacrament of salvation.
“However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [of the Reformation that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”
… the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church.”
“All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God. . . . And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.”
“Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.”
“The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; 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.”
The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race: …
The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”
To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” …
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. (Selections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 811-847).