On his first catechesis on the Church, Pope John Paul II recalls that “the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed says: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” This creed, like its antecedent, the Apostles’ Creed, straightaway connects the truth about the Church with the Holy Spirit: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church.” To go from the Holy Spirit to the Church has its own logic, which St. Thomas explains at the beginning of his catechesis on the Church: “As we see that in man there are one body and one soul, and yet this body has various members, so too, the Catholic Church is one body and has many members. The soul which gives life to this body is the Holy Spirit. For this reason, after expressing our faith in the Holy Spirit, we are commanded to believe in the holy catholic Church.” (See Aquinas, Commentary on the Apostles Creed, art. 9).
“The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed speaks of the Church as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”, says the Pope. We know that these are the so-called “marks” of the Church, and we are used to the expression. However, good theology leads us to think that these marks are not purely “external” characteristics of the Church, but rather manifest her very “essence.”
The first Vatican Council said of the Church, the Pope recalls, that “The eternal shepherd…decided to establish his holy Church in which the faithful would be united, as in the house of the living God, by bonds of the same faith and charity” (cf. DS 3050). And Vatican II, in turn, states: “Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation.” It also says: “The earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things… form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element…. This is the one Church of Christ which in the creed is professed as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” (Lumen Gentium 8). The Council teaches us that this Church “…is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (LG 1).
I believe that these beautiful conciliar expressions are thought provoking. We are members of this house of the living God. We are united because we have the same faith. And share in hope and charity, expressions of a spiritual reality of which we are members. Truly, members of an institution “enriched with heavenly things.” Is there anything more precious, for instance, than the Eucharist? Or the grace given to us in the sacraments? Or the share in the divine life and the protection of our Blessed Mother that all Catholics enjoy…?
Dear friends: at the beginning of the new year, let us reflect on this: as sons and daughters of holy Mother Church we are called to become reflections of these divine realities.
God bless you all.