Today, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. In an address in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI preached that the “Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is… a memorial of the great witnesses of Jesus Christ and a solemn confession for the Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. It is first and foremost a feast of catholicity” (Homily of his Holiness Benedict XVI, June, 2005).
One. Holy. Catholic. Apostolic. Each of these qualities, which we call a ‘mark,’ is so joined with the others that all of them form one coherent and interrelated idea of what Christ’s Church must be. These identifying marks grow out of the very nature of the Church, help strengthen the faith of the believer and at the same time attract the unbeliever to investigate the Church more fully.
The One Church
The Church is one because her source is found in the unity of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 813). The Church is one because of her founder, Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh and who came among us to restore the unity of all in one people and one body. The Church is also one because of her soul. “It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about the wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity” (Unitatis Redintegratio 2.2). Finally, the Church is one in the faith that its members believe and profess. All are united to the one saving sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist, and eat of the one sacred bread that unites all in Christ.
The Holy Church
It is the grace of Christ that also makes the Church holy. First and foremost, this holiness exists in its founder, Jesus Christ. Because of Christ’s presence, the doctrine the Church teaches is holy; it remains unalterably his teaching that brings us to salvation. The Church’s worship is holy. It is to this holiness that the Church invites all of us. In this holiness rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit and manifested in the sacramental life of the Church, particularly the Eucharist, the Church continues in spite of the many sins of its members. In spite of this sin, the holiness of Christ’s Church continues to be evident wherever the Catholic faith is lived sincerely in the lives of the faithful followers of Christ.
The Catholic Church
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we learn that the word “catholic” means “universal” in the sense of “according to the totality.” The catechism notes that the Church is catholic both because of Christ’s presence in her and because she has been sent to proclaim his Gospel to all people of the World (See sections 830-831). The Catholic Church makes its home throughout the entire world, with the successor of Peter – the Pope – as its head.
The Apostolic Church
The Church is apostolic because it is founded on the faith of the apostles. The Church today is in living continuity with the Church of the Apostolic age. Christ founded his Church on the apostles, and they in turn appointed successors. The Church is apostolic because it continues to be governed by such successors, who pass on the faith “that comes from the Apostles.” It is these successors – the Pope and the college of bishops – through whom Christ governs his Church today.
Living, as we do, in an age that is not always open to public expressions of religious belief, we can look to Saints Peter and Paul as models of unshakeable faith in Christ – models we are called to emulate as agents of the New Evangelization. By following their example, we, too, build up the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.