In this last segment of the Creed, we will be talking about the four marks of the Catholic Church which we recite at Mass every week during the Nicene Creed. But just wondering if we all know what they are… In the creed, we profess believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These words are often called the four marks of the Church. These four characteristics or attributes, inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission. The Catechism teaches us that “it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is He who calls her to realize each of these qualities.” (CCC 811) It is very important for us as Catholics to have a good knowledge and understanding of these attributes that define the heart and mission of our faith. This little catechesis will help us, so take your time to read through.
The Catechism of the Church explains three reasons: first, because of its source, which is the Holy Trinity; second, because of the founder, Jesus Christ, whose mission was to reconcile us with the Father; the third, because of its “soul”, the holy Spirit, who dwells in the souls of the faithful, who unites all of the faithful into one communion of believers, and who guides the Church (CCC 813). There is another “oneness” of the Church which is visible. As Catholics, we are all united through our faith and teachings, the sacraments and of course the heirarchical structure of the church which is based on apostolic succession from the time of the apostles. For example, wherever you attend Mass in the country or any part of the world, the Mass is the same – readings, structure, prayers, except for the language. This is celebrated by the faithful who share the same Catholic beliefs, and offered by a priest who is united to his bishop who is united to the Holy Father, the pope, the successor of St. Peter. There is also diversity in our oneness. We all bear witness to many different gifts and vocations, but work together to continue the mission our Lord entrusted to the Church. However, sin threatens this unity. For where there are sins, there are divisions, heresies, and disputes. Despite these, salvation subsists in the Catholic Church which remains united. We sympathize with those who are currently away from the Church due to no fault of theirs. The Church always reaches out to them in a dialogue of ecumenism.
The Church is also holy.
Our Lord Himself is the source of all holiness. Christ sanctifies the Church, and in turn, through Him and with Him, the Church is His agent of sanctification. Through the ministry of the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit, our Lord pours bestows abundant graces, especially through the sacraments. Therefore, through its teaching, prayer and worship, and good works, the Church is a visible sign of holiness. The Church has a universal call to holiness, and each of us as a member of the Church has been called to strive for holiness. Through baptism, we have been freed from original sin, filled with sanctifying grace, plunged into the mystery of our Lord’s paschal mystery, and incorporated into the Church, “the holy people of God.” By God’s grace, we strive for holiness, to sainthood, as this is the calling of all the baptized. The Church has been marked by outstanding examples of holiness in the lives of the saints of every age. By canonizing some of the faithful, the Church recognizes the power of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. Our Mother Mary is that perfect model in this regard.
The Church is Catholic.
Catholic means “universal, a sense of totality. The Church is indeed Catholic because Christ is universally present in the Church and that He has commissioned the Church to evangelize the world — “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus extended the covenant to all nations, and not just a particular or single nation. And so the Church was founded for all people, and teaches all nations. Moreover, we must not forget that the Church here on earth (what we call the Church militant), is united to the Church triumphant in Heaven and the Church suffering in Purgatory. Here is the understanding of the communion of saints — the union of the faithful in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on earth.
Finally, the Church is apostolic.
Christ founded the Church and entrusted His authority to His apostles, the first bishops – “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone… (Eph. 2:19-21). He entrusted a special authority to St. Peter, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome, to act as His vicar here on earth. This authority has been handed down through the Sacrament of Holy Orders in what we call apostolic succession from bishop to bishop, and then by extension to priests and deacons. If possible, our Archbishop, His Grace, Adewale Martins could trace his apostolic succession as an Archbishop back to one of the apostles. When he ordains priests for our archdiocese, he does so with the authority of apostolic succession, and those men in turn share in the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. No bishop, priest, or deacon in the Catholic Church is self-ordained or self-proclaimed; rather, he is called by the Church and ordained into the apostolic ministry given by our Lord to His Church to be exercised in union with the Pope. The Church is also apostolic because she is founded on the Apostles and the deposit of faith (the full treasure of the Church’s teaching handed on by Christ)) found in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition was preserved, taught, and handed on by the apostles. These four marks of the Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic — are fully realized in the Catholic Church. While other Christian Churches accept and profess the Creed, and possess elements of truth and sanctification, only the Roman Catholic Church reflects the fullness of these marks; and through the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church fulfills these marks. Take the time to learn and discover how to live out these marks as children of God so you can be true witnesses of the Catholic Church in your communities.
• Rev. Sr. Mary Judith Madueke, EHJ, is the Director of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Lagos.