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Understanding the Four Marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic

If we want to dive deeper into our Catholic faith then we must first recognize and reflect on what the Catholic Church stands for. For us to do this it is essential to delve into what we mean when we profess our belief in the Church as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Each Sunday we profess this when we say the Nicene Creed, but if we are to avoid them becoming simply empty words to recite then we need to know in our hearts and believe what it is that we are saying. These four characteristics, which are inseparably linked with each other, clarify the essential features of the Church and her mission in this world. The Church does not possess them of herself; 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. Paragraphs 811-865 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church break these open in much greater detail.

One: The Church is one because of her source and founder who is Jesus Christ. The Word who was made flesh, the prince of peace, who reconciled all men to God by the cross, the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. Unity is of the essence of the Church: despite our diversity in culture, language, and background, we are bound together as one body, the mystical Body of Christ. This unity is visible in our shared creed, sacraments, and hierarchical structure centered around the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who serves as a symbol of our unity.

Holy: The Church is holy not because of the perfection of her members but because she is sanctified by Christ himself. Through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, we receive grace to grow in holiness and become more like Christ. Since the Church still includes sinners, she is the sinless one that is made up of sinners. 

Catholic: The term “Catholic” means universal. Our Church is not confined by geographical or cultural boundaries but embraces all peoples, cultures, and times. The Church proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. This universality is a testament to the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to be a sign of unity for the entire human family.

Apostolic: Our Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles whom Jesus chose and sent forth to preach the Good News. She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops. The apostolic succession ensures that the teachings and authority of the apostles are passed down through the bishops, in communion with the successor of St. Peter, the Pope. This continuity links us directly to the early Church and grounds our faith in the teachings of Christ.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

In Christ,
Seminarian Sean Lee