Tuesday, February 21, 2006
How the Church Leads us to God

The Meaning of “Church”

Before considering who is part of the Church or the marks of the true Church established by Christ, the Catechism of the Council of Trent begins by explaining the various meanings of the word “church”. The Church is referred to as the flock of Christ, the House of God, and the Spouse of Christ. In Scripture, the word “church” is often used to describe the assemblies of the faithful. Far more than describing a mere building or even the communities in which we gather on Sundays to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Church collectively refers to the totality of all those who are baptized Catholics in communion with the Lord’s established religion.

“In a word, The Church, says St. Augustine, consists of the faithful dispersed throughout the world.”  Such a statement is echoed by the Baltimore Catechism: “The means instituted by Our Lord to enable men at all times to share in the fruits of His Redemption are the Church and the Sacraments. The Church is the congregation of all those who profess the faith of Christ, partake of the same Sacraments, and are governed by their lawful pastors under one visible head.” 

The Role of the Church in the Plan of Salvation

“And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father Who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matt. 16:17-19).

This solemn declaration by Our Lord is the first instance in which He promised to build His Church. In fact, this is the first time the Lord used the word “church” and He did so by telling St. Peter, who would become the first Pope, that He would establish the Church on Peter. And Our Lord gave Simon a new name, Petros (Peter), meaning “rock.” The Roman Catechism expresses this divine origin of the Church by stating:
“This Church was founded not by man, but by the immortal God Himself, who built her upon a most solid rock. … Since this power, therefore, cannot be of human origin, divine faith can alone enable us to understand that the keys of the kingdom of heaven are deposited with the Church, that to her has been confided the power of remitting sins, of denouncing excommunication, and of consecrating the real body of Christ…” 
While Jesus Christ is the invisible head of the Church, He chose to build His Church on St. Peter. The Pope is the visible head of the Church who occupies the Chair of Peter and acts as Christ’s representative, His Vicar, on earth. Yet, Jesus Christ remains the ultimate head of the Church. The Church preserves the Faith as taught by the Lord and handed down over the centuries in her teachings. And she also passes down the ability to confer the Sacraments through Apostolic Succession. Catholic priests today are ordained in the same line that can be traced back, bishop by bishop, ultimately to Christ Himself, Who ordained the Apostles on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper.

The Four Marks of the Church

In order to determine which institution on earth is the true Church, there are four marks that distinguish it from all false religions and institutions. They are unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. 

One: It was the first and is the one Church founded by Christ (cf. Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17, 12:13). St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians asserted that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). The Church is one because she was founded by Jesus, the one and only Son of God, Who taught one unified body of doctrine. Granted, there is great diversity in the Church regarding cultures, gifts, ways of life, and offices, yet there is unity in government (under the visible head, the Pope), faith, and sacraments. The Roman Catechism explains, “The first mark of the true Church is described in the Nicene Creed, and consists in unity….”  Likewise, the Baltimore Catechism teaches, “The Church is one because all its members agree in one faith, are all in one communion, and are all under one Head.” 

Holy: The Church is holy because she teaches holy doctrine and her Founder is the Source of all holiness (cf. Eph. 5:25-27; Apoc. 19:7-8). Christ joined the Church to Himself as His Mystical Body and gave her the gift of the Holy Ghost. Through Him and in Him, she becomes the means of sanctification for others. On this second mark, the Roman Catechism states: “The Church is called holy because she is consecrated and dedicated to God…. The Church is also to be called holy because she is united to her holy Head, as His Body; that is, to Christ the Lord, the fountain of all holiness…. Moreover, the Church alone has the legitimate worship of sacrifice, and the salutary use of the Sacraments, which are the efficacious instruments of divine grace, used by God to produce true holiness. Hence, to possess true holiness, we must belong to this Church.” 

There is a genuine paradox between the holiness of the divine dimension and human dimension of the Church. The divine dimension of the Church is holy, but the human dimension contains sinful members. Concerning this paradox, the wisdom of the Roman Catechism again helps clarify the matter: “It should not be deemed a matter of surprise that the Church, although numbering among her children many sinners, is called holy. For as those who profess any art, even though they depart from its rules, are still called artists, so in like manner the faithful, although offending in many things and violating the engagements to which they had pledged themselves, are still called holy, because they have been made the people of God and have consecrated themselves to Christ by faith and Baptism.” 

Catholic: The term literally means “universal.” We are the universal faith established by Christ and meant for all people of all corners of the world for all times (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Apoc. 5:9-10). The etymology of the word “catholic” is the Greek adjective katholikos, which is related to the adverb katholou, meaning “in general” or “according to the whole.” This definition helps communicate the fact that the Catholic Faith is for people of every place, culture, and class. There is no one who is not called to a member of the true Faith. As St. John relates in the Book of the Apocalypse: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; because Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in Thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Apoc. 5:9).

Apostolic: The title of “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolus, which means “to be sent.” Through the unbroken line of bishops going back to the Twelve Apostles themselves, the “foundation” upon which the Church was built, we can trace our Faith back to Christ Himself, Who is “the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). As the Baltimore Catechism succinctly states: “The Church is apostolic because it was founded by Christ on His Apostles, and is governed by their lawful successors, and because it has never ceased, and never will cease, to teach their doctrine.” 

The Church is founded on the Apostles in three ways. First, the Apostles were the actual witnesses of what Christ taught and then were sent to evangelize by Christ. This is the origin of the Church.

Second, the Church has the “Deposit of Faith” (Scripture and Tradition) through the Apostles. The Deposit of Faith is the body of saving truth entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and handed on by them to be preserved and proclaimed. Jesus ordered them to teach the nations “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” and assured them, “I am with you always, even until the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20). Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are the two unique sources of public Revelation, which together form the one Deposit of Faith.

The third way that the Church is apostolic is through Apostolic Succession. The whole Church continues to be guided by the Apostles through their successors, the bishops, as well as priests. The whole Church is apostolic because she is sent into the whole world and all members of the Church share in her mission. to pray and work for the conversion of all non-Catholics, as well as the return of all Catholics who have fallen away from the Faith.

The Church is Necessary for Salvation

Above all, in the manner in which our Lord has made the world, it is necessary to be a member of God's True Church, which is the Catholic Faith, in order to be saved. See: Can Non-Catholics Be Saved?

1 comment(s):

del_button February 26, 2006 at 3:04 PM
Matthew said...

So what exactly are you saying then in respect to my post's purpose?

Post a Comment

Copyright Notice: Unless otherwise stated, all items are copyrighted under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. If you quote from this blog, cite a link to the post on this blog in your article.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links on this blog are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate, for instance, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made by those who click on the Amazon affiliate links included on this website. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”