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A Beacon Of Light . . . One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic

October 12, 2021 Frontpage No Comments

By FR. RICHARD D. BRETON JR.

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + For the last three weeks we have surveyed the first pillar of the Catechism which invited us to consider the Profession of Faith. We explored our belief in God, in particular, we reflected on God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Basically, we were reminded of our belief in the Blessed Trinity.
    Remembering these points, today we will begin to look at the final section of the Creed. We will look at what it means when we say: “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”
    So that we may have a starting point from which we can expand our discussion, it is important for us to return to the Second Vatican Council’s document entitled, Lumen Gentium. Lumen Gentium, or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, begins by explaining this in its opening lines: “Christ is the light of humanity…being gathered together in the Holy Spirit, that, by proclaiming his Gospel to every creature, [the Second Vatican Council] may bring to all men that light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church” (Lumen Gentium, n. 1).
    If the Church’s mission is to be the “lighthouse” from which the light of Christ is to shine out and reach all humanity, then it is vitally important that we profess our belief in the true Church of God. Christ founded the Church as a perfect means of salvation for man. We say the Church is one because it exists only through Christ:
    “The Church is one because of her source: ‘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.’ The Church is one because of her founder: for ‘the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross,…restoring the unity of all-in-one people and one body.’ The Church is 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 that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 813).

Unity And Diversity

In order to do this, however, the Lord had to include workers in this process of His divine love for us. These workers we know as the apostles, bishops, priests, and the entire people of God; co-workers in the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel message. The Catechism beautifully expresses this in n. 814:
“From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. Among the Church’s members, there are different gifts, offices, conditions, and ways of life.
“‘Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions.’ The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity. Yet sin and the burden of its consequences constantly threaten the gift of unity. And so the Apostle has to exhort Christians to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in bond of peace’.”
To say the Church is one implies that we are participants fully engaged in the same work of bringing about the salvation of all.
If the Church is called “one,” being united together, how does this happen and how does it continue? This is possible by the next word we profess in the Creed when we say the Church is Holy. This holiness that exists within the Church is not taken on by herself, but it is bestowed on her by Christ:
“The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. The Church, then, is ‘the holy People of God,’ and her members are called ‘saints’” (CCC, n. 823),
In recent times the idea of the Church being Holy has been challenged by many as a consequence of the clergy abuse scandal. I often find myself reminding the faithful that the actions of a few priests among many in no way spoils or hinders the holiness that exists in the Church. We need to remind the faithful that if we believe that the Church is divinely founded by Christ, then, the holiness that exists through her remains. This holiness has no meaning if it does not rest on the foundation of love and charity. Charity is the soul of holiness to which the Church is endowed. Similarly, charity is also the soul of the holiness of the faithful “that governs, shapes and perfects us in sanctification.” The Catechism expresses this beautifully when it says:
“If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn’t lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart burning with love. And I realized that this love alone was the true motivational force which enables the other members of the Church to act; if it ceased to function, the Apostles would forget to preach the gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. Love, in fact, in the vocation which includes all others; it’s a universe of its own, comprising all time and space — it’s eternal” (CCC, n. 826; the above quotation is from St. Therese of Lisieux).
We also experience the holiness of the Church through the example of the saints. Throughout the great history of the Church, there have been many saints who are examples of the holiness that exists in the Church and her faithful for those who believe.

The Eternal Shepherd

In 1995, I had the privilege of meeting St. Teresa of Calcutta. St. Teresa was a true model of holiness for all. Her humble demeanor and approachableness were contagious and many, both believers and nonbelievers, were brought closer to Christ. The Church is Holy because she has Christ as her Head!
What do we mean when we say the Church is apostolic? By this we mean she is founded on the apostles. This happened the moment Jesus chose Peter on whom the foundation would lie. Remember in the Sacred Scripture when Jesus asks the apostles: “Who do people say I am?” It was Peter who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and because of this Jesus exclaimed: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.” It was through this divine commission that the apostles have their foundation.
Thus, the Church’s apostolic character is maintained in three ways. First, because she is founded upon the apostles then and now. The apostles are witnesses sent out into the world to preach the message of the Kingdom of God. Second, this apostolic character is maintained through the Holy Spirit, who continually hands on the Deposit of Faith. Third, the Church is continually taught, sanctified, and guided through the unbroken line of apostolic times. This means apostolic succession is maintained through the College of Bishops with priests acting as co-workers in this endeavor. None of this is possible, however, except through the Supreme Pontiff who is the Successor of St. Peter himself.
The document Lumen Gentium offers the following prayer to help us understand this responsibility: “You are the eternal Shepherd who never leaves his flock untended. Through the apostles you watch over us and protect us always. You made them shepherds of the flock to share in the work of your Son” (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).
Having discussed the Church as being, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, the question that remains is this: How is this accomplished, or how are these three characteristics exercised in the world today? The answer is really quite simple. These are carried out in the apostolic works of the Church. The Church has the divine responsibility to spread the Gospel message far and wide. This is accomplished through the involvement of all the faithful. It is the College of Bishops, priests, and the laity who participate in the mission of the Church.
The Catechism does a good job of further explaining this:
“The Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that ‘the Kingdom of heaven,’ the ‘Reign of God,’ already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time” (CCC, n. 865)
Next week we will finish the Creed by examining the final lines where we show our belief in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the Resurrection of the body.

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