The word "Catholic" is one of the most difficult and troublesome in the Christian vocabulary. It's one of those words which, by accumulating so many meanings, runs the risk of finally having no meaning. At the very least it is necessary to specify which sense of the word is meant almost every time one uses it.
But amongst all the various senses of this important term there is a core meaning from which all of the others are derived. LCMS pastor Father Rick Stuckwisch explores this core meaning in a marvelous post on his weblog entitled Preaching the Catholic Christ.
I commend, of course, the whole challenging post, but here are a few teasers. Fr Stuckwisch begins:
The catholicity of the Church, as confessed in the Creeds, is not simply its universal spread throughout the whole world. It is especially the gracious and glorious presence of Christ — in all His fullness and with all His gifts and benefits — in each and every parish of His Church on earth, wherever His Gospel is preached and administered in His Name.
Here Fr Stuckwisch makes two important points: that catholicity is about fulness, not extensiveness in space (or even time); and that each local Church itself has that fulness, not by virtue of being a "piece of the whole" but by virtue of the divinely-promised presence of Christ.
With that foundation Fr Stuckwisch goes on to an in-depth discussion of preaching, showing how in the preaching of repentance and forgiveness the fulness of Christ is manifest and delivered. He devotes several paragraphs to explicating the kerygmatic, catechetical, liturgical, and sacramental character of proper preaching. He shows particularly forcefully that in preaching, just as in the administration of the sacraments, the pastor is acting in the stead and by the command of the Saviour:
This preaching of the catholic Christ is not simply preaching "about" Him (although it's always good to be talking about Jesus), but, better still, it is really His own preaching. The pastor preaches in the Name of Jesus, in His stead, from within His Office. The pastor preaches in the same way that he baptizes and absolves, as the one who has been called and ordained to speak with the voice of Christ Himself. In preaching, therefore, it is Christ Jesus who is speaking to His people, calling them to repentance, forgiving their sins, giving them His life and salvation.
In other words, Christ Jesus is the proper Subject of the preaching in a two-fold sense: both as the One who is "doing the verb" (i.e. He is the Preacher), and as the Content of the preaching. Christ is the One who preaches, and Christ is the One who is preached.
For me, there is an echo in that last sentence of some language that occurs in the priest's prayer during the Cherubikon in the Byzantine rite: For Thou, O Christ our God, art the Offerer and Thou art the One offered; it is Thou Who receivest the offering and Thou art Thyself the offering which is distributed. That language reflects the fact that even though it is the priest who stands at the altar, it is Christ Who performs the action. But the priest is just as much in persona Christi in the pulpit as he is at the altar.
Finally, Fr Stuckwisch tells us that sound preaching is always liturgical; not because its subject is the liturgy, but because the sermon has its own structural and functional role to play in the liturgical action, which is to explicate the witness to Christ which has been made by the appointed readings, and to point the people of God to the delivery of forgiveness in the sacrament of the altar:
The sermon is "liturgical" when it proclaims what has been read in the appointed Lections as fulfilled in the hearing of the people, and when it brings them by that particular Word to the Altar of Christ in repentance and faith
There was a time (not so long ago) when such emphasis on preaching would have sounded too "Protestant"; I thought that a Catholic Christian should value the sacraments more highly than preaching. But I have come to appreciate that when a sermon fulfills its role within the liturgy, applying the canon of truth to the Scriptures which are proclaimed in the liturgical assembly, there is nothing more "Catholic."
I have included a lot of excerpts, but there is a whole lot more goodness where that came from. As they say, read the whole thing.