It is impossible to make sense of Christianity without a hearty and complete understanding of Church. Different types of Christianity have different understandings of what “Church” means; however, all Christian ideas of “Church” contain at least part of the Catholic understanding, which traces itself all the way back to Jesus and is consistent with the beliefs of the early Christians.
For us, the Church is not just a group of individuals that happen to agree with what Catholic Christianity teaches. What makes someone a member of the Church is not primarily one’s beliefs (although these are important), but rather, one’s free and active participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
Why is this an important point? Because until recently, Christians never thought of the Church as something “man-made” (as it would be if it were just an organization of people that agree with each other). No, from the earliest times, Christians understood that at every level, the Church is born from, survives by, is shaped by, is destined towards, and is loved by: God. The Church is, in a way, a Creation within Creation—the baby tree of the Kingdom of God, planted in the soil of the old, broken creation, and nourished by the water and sunlight of God’s Grace.
As Saint Augustine said, “God, who created you without your help, will not save you without your help.” What this means, and what the existence of a Church means, is that God chooses to save the broken world in one, and only one way: through a mutual love relationship with a self-aware, willing, and active community. This would not be true if God simply saved everybody with a snap of his fingers. And this fact—that God gives us the ability to love him, and to be saved by that love—itself is reason to celebrate.