Since the protestant revolt in the 1500s many ‘churches’ have sprung up all over the world, each of them suiting the personal opinions and the changing values and morality of any given age. The Catholic Church is not one among many churches but is the Church that was established by Jesus Christ Himself. The Catholic Church prays that all who claim to follow Christ will one day return to the ‘one true fold of the Redeemer.’ (Blessed Cardinal Newman)
In the creed as formulated at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the Church is described as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
One- Jesus Christ founded the one true Church as the united body of all believers in all ages and places throughout the world. We are united in prayer, in faith, in law and in the sacraments. The Church exists in three modes. Firstly, the Church Triumphant, are those who have attained eternal life and share in Christ’s triumphant victory and glory in heaven- the Saints. On earth is the Church Militant who is fighting the temptations of the flesh, the world and the devil and with the divine assistance of God’s grace work to attain holiness, eternal life and the same for all people. The Church Suffering are those who are undergoing purification in Purgatory before reaching Heaven. The Holy Souls in Purgatory need the prayers and sacrifices of the Church Militant and the Church Militant asks for the prayers of the Saints of the Church of Triumphant- the whole Church supporting one another to that goal of holiness, eternal life and union with our Creator. Only through the one true Church, founded by Our Lord can we hope for this as only she retains the true religion and right worship of God as was revealed by Jesus in obedience and without compromise.
Holy- The Church is called Holy because she is the only custodian of revealed truth and right worship and because her founder and King is the second person of the Godhead, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. When giving the Keys of the Kingdom of God to St Peter, the symbol of authority given to the first Pope, Jesus said
“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.” Matthew 16:18.
Therefore the Church, guided and protected by the Holy Spirit cannot ever be destroyed or be in error. It is sorrowfully true that throughout history, individuals who are part of the Church have done evil things but this is down to their own personal failures and not down to the Church herself. In his second letter to the Corinthians, St Paul explains “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us.” St Paul points out that Catholics aim to be vessels of God’s love and power within the world but these vessels are weak and human and make mistakes. Therefore, while members of the Church on earth can make mistakes, the Church herself is Holy and incorruptible.
Catholic- ‘Catholic’ comes from the Greek word ‘Katholicos’ which means ‘Universal.’
Apostolic- The Apostles are the twelve who Jesus chose to be his closest disciples. They permanently accompanied Jesus through his earthly work and witnessed his teaching and miracles first hand and it is them who He ordained as His priests giving them the power to celebrate the Eucharist and change the bread and wine into His Body and Blood at Mass and the Authority to pronounce the forgiveness of sins, heal the sick and cast out demons in His name. The Apostles then were the principle authority on what Jesus taught and passed on without alterations this divine revelation. As they grew older, they ‘laid hands’ on those who would succeed them as Bishops of the Church. This unbroken line of ordination-laying on of hands- has continued through history right to the very present. Any current Bishop, Priest of Deacon can trace his ordination right back to the St Peter, the first Pope and the Apostles themselves and therefore right back to Jesus Christ, the High Priest. The Church then is Apostolic because she has retained all of the teaching of the Apostles through the Bible and Sacred Tradition. This is unique to the Catholic Church. No other ‘Christian’ group retains the authority of the Apostles as they have removed themselves from the Church of Christ. Only the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, true sacraments and authority to continue the mission that God gave to the Apostles.