In one of my courses this past summer, we discussed the four marks of the Church. You know the ones, right? We mention them every time we recite the Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” But what do we really mean? And is that lowercase ‘c’ for ‘catholic’ a typo? Prior to our discussions, I guess I had thought that I understand what these meant, but after reflecting on them further, I discovered that I had barely scratched the surface of this great gift that has been given us, these four marks that are “inseparably linked with each other” as we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Okay, now to those marks: How, exactly, is the Church one? The Church is one because God is one: her source is one (the Triune God), her founder is one (the Word made flesh), her very soul – dwelling in and guiding her – is one (CCC 813).
What about holy? The Church is holy because it is an expression of God’s love and God’s love is holy. Holiness does not mean that we, either as individuals or collectively, are without sin; rather it describes our capacity for mercy and forgiveness, our ability, through grace, to love as Christ has loved. Wow! Much food for spiritual thought (and action) here.
That brings us to apostolic. As Catholics we believe that the Church is “apostolic because she is founded on the apostles” (CCC 857). And this is so in terms of having been built upon the apostles and also in the sense of continuing this teaching mission with the help of the Holy Spirit.
This I believe: in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. So the next time you recite the Nicene Creed (well, technically, it’s referred to as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed) and come to the words “one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” thank God and celebrate the rich tradition that is ours!
Sister Kathleen Del Monte
Kathleen Del Monte is a novice at St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally from New York, she worked as a policy analyst for a state legislature before getting that all important ‘call’ from God (God can, indeed, be persistent!). So in August, 2011, she knocked and the Sisters opened the door to her becoming an affiliate. On July 15, 2012, she became a postulant. On August 22, 2013, the Sisters ceremonially accepted her into the Community as a Novice and she is now Sister Kathleen.