3 Reasons: The Marks of the Church

3reasonsThat title might seem a little off–everyone knows that there are four Marks of the Church. But I’m linking up with Micaela again and she makes the rules: three reasons I love Catholicism. So we’re just going to say that the first mark, the mark of unity, of being “One,” manifests itself beautifully in the other three. That way I can have all four marks and still play the three reasons game. Okay? Good.

1. The Church is Holy.

Now before you get all cranky, I know that Catholics aren’t necessarily holy. In fact, Catholics are often among the worst sinners out there, all the worse because we claim to have standards for our behavior. So when I say that the Church is holy, I don’t mean that everything her members does is good–or even that everything she does as an institution is good.1 But really, how much sense does it make to condemn an institution which teaches dogmatically that people are sinners when her members prove her right? Certainly, we ought to be better than that. But our Church is a saint factory, not a saints club.

Note that this wasn’t Pope Paul VI–it was Gandhi. (Source)

No, what I love about the holiness of our Church is her doctrines. Leave it to the Catholic Church to teach what is true–what she has always taught to be true–even when it’s awkward and inconvenient. When the Church of England first allowed contraception in 1930, every other mainstream Protestant denomination soon followed suit, leaving the Catholic Church alone holding the position that was held by all Christians and pretty much everyone else–including Gandhi–until the 20th century.

I love that our Church refuses to conform to secular models of liberal and conservative but runs instead after what is true, good, and beautiful. Find me a church that does as much good for the poor. Find me a church that defends all life–even that of the criminal and the immigrant and the handicapped–at whatever cost. Find me a church that works as hard for justice. This Church does all three and more.

A few months back, I was at a Catholic retreat with 800 teens. On the last day, they had us sing Happy Birthday to a few people who were celebrating that day. A few hours later, they announced that somebody else would be celebrating a birthday in a few weeks and asked us to sing to him, too. We all started off, quiet and rather confused because who cares if his birthday is coming up eventually? So is everybody’s.

Extra chromosomeAt the end of the song, a young man with Down Syndrome climbed up onto the stage and stood grinning at us as we sang to him. The auditorium erupted with cheers, teenagers screaming and shouting because they saw his need and loved him for it. I don’t know that I’ve ever been prouder to be a Catholic. We say we’re pro-life, and apparently we really mean it–before birth, after birth, for the handicapped and sinful and unwanted and alone and refugee and just everyone. And our kids know it.

And you know what? This isn’t just true in some Catholic churches–it’s true across the board. Some of us are better at it than others, but our holy teachings bind us together even when we reject them. When you say, “I’m Catholic, but I believe in…” you’re proclaiming the one, holy teaching of the Church–and your refusal to consent. And yet, despite your best efforts, it remains the teaching of the Church. Even the disunity among our members can’t break the unity of our Church. What she teaches in Denver she teaches in Dubai and Delhi and Dover and everywhere, even when she’s ridiculed or marginalized or persecuted. Praise the Lord for our One, Holy Church.

2. The Church is Catholic .

This picture is from a church in Texas and I’m in Colorado but they have the same name and I forgot to take a picture so…deal with it.

Okay, this is the reason I’m thinking about the Marks of the Church today. Because we belong to a Church that is truly universal. Yesterday I went to Mass in Vietnamese. And I understood the whole thing. No, I don’t speak a lick of Vietnamese–but I speak Mass. And so I whispered all the prayers in English as the congregation responded in Vietnamese. I even beat my breast at the same time as them! I understood when the priest was saying Phillip and James, I understood which form of the penitential rite was being used–aside from the homily and the propers of the Mass, I got it all. And after Mass, when the celebrants and congregation turned to face a statue of the Holy Family and began to chant, I realized that it was the Magnificat.2 Even the parts that weren’t liturgical, I understood because it’s a universal Church.

I’ve been to Mass in ten different languages3 and it’s always the same. If I kind of understand the language, I completely understand the Mass. If I don’t know a word, I can still pray right along with it. And even when I go to Eastern Rite churches, there’s a marvelous universality to the fact that I can join with people of any nationality and worship this one God in His Church.

Korean Martyrs

The many rites in our Church show our unity in diversity and the Saints back it up. I’ve heard it claimed that Christianity is an inherently Western religion. Well, riddle me this: there are 11 American Catholic Saints. There are at least 120 Chinese Catholic Saints, at least 103 Korean Catholic Saints. The Blessed Mother has appeared in North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe4 and every time she’s taken on the race of the people she’s speaking to. This is a universal Church.

All across this world, I know that if I find a church with a picture of the Pope in it, I’m home. In every country in the world, I have a church. Find me another Church that can make that claim. Whatever divides me from tribal Catholics in a remote village or persecuted Catholics in a totalitarian regime, we are united by our One, Catholic Church.

3. The Church is Apostolic.

And this Church which is universal in space is universal in time, too. Since the Resurrection, there has always been a Catholic Church.5 There aren’t a lot of churches out there that can claim an unbroken line back to the Apostles. Aside from Catholics (as far as I know) only the Orthodox and the Church of England even try. And while the former absolutely are and the latter can make a claim, there’s more to being apostolic than being descended from the Apostles.6

Not that I’m saying Jesus used a paten and chalice, but the doctrine of the real presence was just as clear then as it is now–maybe more so.

When I’m looking for the church that is most truly apostolic, my first question isn’t even apostolic succession. My first question is, “Would the Apostles recognize it?” This isn’t an issue of chant vs. drum kits. I don’t think anybody’s claiming that the Novus Ordo or even the Extraordinary Form would look entirely familiar to one of the Twelve. But would it feel right? I’m fairly certain that whatever the words of the Mass, the Apostles would recognize the use of Scripture in the prayers and the offertory and the many Jewish undertones of the liturgy. But most of all, they would recognize the Catholic reverence for Christ truly present in the Eucharist. The men who heard him say, “This is my body” the day before he was killed would be appalled–outraged, even–to hear churches say, “No, it is not.” I’d stake my life on it. As it happens, I already have.

To be an apostolic Church is to embrace apostolic doctrines: the real presence (John 6), the power of confession (Jn 20:21-23), the primacy of Peter (Mt 16:18-19). Catholics get accused of being unbiblical, of exalting human doctrines above the truth of God. Well, I’ve read the Bible 11 times and (even ignoring the fact that there is no Bible without the Church) I just don’t see it. And the minute you read the Church Fathers, the disciples of the Apostles, you begin to see that the early Church was, in fact, the Catholic Church. St. Edmund Campion famously asked an Anglican priest who was an expert on the Church Fathers how he could read the Fathers and not become a Catholic. “If I believed them as well as read them, you would have good reason to ask,” came the response, and Campion, who was trying his best to stay Protestant, was lost to the Church of England forever.

This is the Didache, an apostolic document that supports any number of the Church's doctrines. Note that it's a lot older than the 95 theses.

This is the Didache, an apostolic document that supports any number of the Church’s doctrines. Note that it’s a lot older than the 95 theses.

This Church that is descended from the Apostles, that honors the Apostles, that finds its guidance in the successors of the Apostles–this Church also teaches the one truth handed down by the Apostles. The Church’s stance against abortion and open communion, her commitment to Sunday as sabbath and the confession of sins,7 these unite us even when they upset us. They come to us from the writings of the Apostles and their disciples and from the guidance of the Holy Spirit through their successors. It is those teachings and those bishops that make us One, Apostolic Church.

 

So there you have it, friends–my fangirl love for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Click over to Micaela’s to see why else people love our Church–or post yourself!

  1. The Catechism tells us that the Church is “at once holy and always in need of purification”–CCC 1428. []
  2. I heard the word Abraham at the end, it was an evening Mass, they were facing Mary, and they bowed for the last stanza–the Glory Be, I assume. I suppose I could be wrong, but it sure sounds like the Magnificat to me. []
  3. English, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Arabic, Croatian, Polish, Korean, and Vietnamese. []
  4. Australia and Antarctica need to get with the program. []
  5. Okay, they weren’t called “Catholic” until 107 by St. Ignatius of Antioch, but it’s clearly the same Church that it was. And it continues, the same Church in 100 as in 500 as in 1500 as today. The Orthodox could say the same thing. No Protestant denomination could. []
  6. The Orthodox would assert that their Church also has much of what I’m about to list and they’re right. My point is to say what is apostolic here, not what makes only us the apostolic Church. []
  7. All four from the first century Didache, the earliest Church constitution written by the companions of the Apostles. []

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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14 Responses to 3 Reasons: The Marks of the Church

  1. Micaela says:

    Megan, this is a wonderfully thoughtful piece. I’ve bookmarked it and will be returning to read it again and again. I loved the whole thing, but my favorite lines are:

    The Church is a saint factory, not a saint club.
    And
    I speak Mass.

    Great stuff. Thanks for linking up!
    Micaela recently posted…3 Reasons, Vol. 2My Profile

  2. Anne Bender says:

    You are an amazing apologist. Who wouldn’t want to be Catholic after reading what you write! Wonderful list!
    Anne Bender recently posted…Three Reasons I Love Catholicism Vol. 2My Profile

  3. Mary Beth says:

    Wonderful piece to read on Sunday morning, Meg. Just what I needed. Thank you and God Bless you!

  4. Hi Meg! Greetings from Jerusalem! I’m a long-time follower, first-time commenter and I just wanted to thank you for all the apostolic work you’re doing, especially through your blog! I love your writing, and I always find myself nodding along and having successive “a-ha” moments while reading your thoughts. I particularly enjoyed this post so I wrestled up the courage to finally comment so I could thank you for your wisdom. 🙂 I love attending Mass in other languages for the same reasons you mention, and there is no shortage of opportunities in the Holy Land! I never stopped to count them all, but just within the past year I know I have attended Masses in Arabic, Latin and Italian in the Holy Sepulchre, Spanish in Nazareth and Cana and Magdala, Malayalam at Mount Tabor, and Slovenian and French-Arabic Byzantine Catholic Mass in Bethlehem. There is also one Hebrew-speaking Catholic parish in Jerusalem, and we plan to attend Mass there this evening with some friends, so that will be one more for the list. I just wanted to let you know that I’m praying for you from the Holy Land! May God bless you abundantly and keep you in His care!
    And Happy Orthodox Easter! Christos Anesti! 🙂
    Jessa @ Shalom Sweet Home recently posted…Pomelo Que Quiero: Weird Fruits of Israel, Part 2My Profile

    • Meg says:

      I’m so glad you did because now I’m loving *your* blog! I spent a month in the Holy Land 2 summers ago and I know exactly what you mean about all the Masses there. Was the French-Arabic Mass at the Greek Catholic convent just inside the wall facing the icon of Our Lady of the Wall? I love that community! And I’m so jealous that you get to go to the Hebrew parish–I’ve heard amazing things from a number of friends and I wanted so badly to go but I was staying in Bethlehem and couldn’t go to their evening Mass and still get a bus back :/ Next time! Thanks for the prayers–they’re coming back your way from the holy land of Colorado 🙂

      • Hi Meg! Yes, the French-Arabic Greek Catholics are those exactly! The Emmanuel Monastery. I stayed there for a week learning to write icons, and my own iconography teacher and good friend is the one who wrote the icon of Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls! (You can see the icon I wrote of the face of Jesus on my right sidebar.) He also started a school to teach iconography to the locals to raise the quality of this dying art form in the area and to give them gainful employment so they stay in the area. There are also future plans to open a fair trade store and workshop for pilgrims to visit when they come to Bethlehem.

        The Hebrew Mass last night was beautiful; I really enjoyed the community feel of the place. Our own regular church (the only one in town with regular Mass in English) is a bit more formal, and we have to walk 5 kilometers on Saturday nights (no public transport for the Jewish Sabbath) to get there! We also happened by chance to stumble in upon a very important Mass; to celebrate the Feast of St. James the Just (the “brother of the Lord”), the first patriarch of Jerusalem and the patron saint of Christians in Jerusalem, they had a beautiful new icon dedicated, about 12 concelebrating priests, and the principal celebrant was the Franciscan Custos! Wow!

        We will be here for another year and a half at least, and the doors of our guest room are open to you, so if you find yourself wishing to come back, we can take care of your accommodation. In Jerusalem this time, so we’ll make sure to get you to that Hebrew-speaking parish at least once while you’re here. 🙂 Is there anything else you missed while you were here? Let me know and maybe I’ll write a blog post about it in your honor.

        My mom is from Colorado and she would definitely agree that it is the “other Holy Land.” 🙂
        Jessa @ Shalom Sweet Home recently posted…Pomelo Que Quiero: Weird Fruits of Israel, Part 2My Profile

        • Meg says:

          You wrote that icon? You’re amazing! And I love the fair trade shop and workshop–anything to support Palestinian Christians.

          If I can figure out a way to get back to Israel, you’ll be my first stop–thank you so much for the invitation! I don’t think there was anywhere I really wanted to go but didn’t, but my favorite places were the synagogue at Nazareth (John 6 and no joke this is really the place!!) and Bethany because I love the image of anointing Jesus. So next time you’re in either of those places, pray for me. God bless, friend!

  5. Amanda says:

    I LOVE children with Down Syndrome!!!! (One certain one in particular;) Meg, if you ever need cute pics of a child with Down Syndrome just let me know and I can hook you up!

    • Meg says:

      I totally wanted to use the awesome one of Felicity in the swing but I wanted to get the post published right that second–I’ll take this as permission to use that one in the future. It’s one of my favorite pictures of all time. Seriously, sometimes I pull up your profile to show people how awesome she is 🙂

  6. Ute says:

    Well said, Meg! I’ll let it slide that you used my number one reason from last month here, but only because you said it so much more eloquently.

    (I’m joking of course)
    Ute recently posted…Ivy, revisited (or: why is it so difficult to live with the personality God gave me?)My Profile

  7. Bonnie Way says:

    Wow – do you want to come blog for me??? This is beautiful! I want to share this all over the internet. I love your explanations and I totally agree with you. Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂
    Bonnie Way recently posted…I’m Featured at the All Canadian Link Up!My Profile

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