What are the four marks of the Church?
A mark is a characteristic that identifies or distinguishes a thing from among other things. The Church Jesus founded is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These are the characteristics that identify His Church from among the hundreds of ecclesial communities, or “churches,” that exist today. The Catechism contains an excellent exposition of all four of these marks (cf. nos. 811-870). I’ll provide my own summary remarks below.
The Church is one, first of all, because She is united under the Pope, the Vicar of Christ. Anyone who does not acknowledge his authority is not one with us in the fullest sense. The Church is also one in Her teaching. Preserved down through the ages is the one deposit of faith, and our common adherence to this faith binds us together. We have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” as St. Paul tells us (Eph 4:5). Finally, all Christians are united by their faith in Christ and their Trinitarian baptism.
The Church is holy because of the great fountain of grace that is available in the Sacraments. Through them, the Lord presents His Bride, the Church, to the Father without spot or wrinkle. The Church is also holy because of the abundance of saints that She has produced, those holy men and women who act as a great cloud of witnesses, interceding for us with perfect prayers to the Father. Finally, the Church is holy because Her doctrine is without the stain of error. It is unchangeable and incorruptible.
The Church is catholic because She is universal. The word “catholic” means “universal.” The Catholic Church is a worldwide Church that encompasses men of every culture, race, nationality, and language. By living out Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” we make the Church the truly catholic Church that Jesus desired it to be. The word “catholic” also means “whole” and thus likewise refers to the Church where God’s truth and grace exist to the fullest extent. In the Church, we lack nothing that God wished to hand on to us.
Finally, the Church is apostolic. The authority first granted to the apostles is preserved through their successors, who are the bishops. Through this succession, and through the charism of infallibility, the Church preserves and safeguards the teaching of the Apostles. Thus, the Church is apostolic not only in the authority of Her shepherds but also in the content of Her teaching. Lastly, the Church is apostolic because She identifies Herself as “one who is sent.” That is the definition of the Greek word apostolos, from which we derive our word “apostle.” The Church is apostolic whenever She engages in missionary activity and evangelism as one sent out to bring Christ to the world.
Again, this is only a short summary. I highly suggest reading what the Catechism has to say about these four marks as well.
Peace of Christ to you,
WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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