The Marks of the Church

Just as it is more than appropriate, even necessary in the classical understanding of piety, to give thanks to parents on one’s own birthday, so the Church worships the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost for giving it birth.

By a united action with the Eternal Father and Eternal Son, the Eternal Love between them gave life to the Church. Of course, like an ungrateful child who thinks only of himself, it is possible, but fatally so, to think of the Church as only a human institution. Christ was not unaware of the frailty of humans, and his crucifixion was not an understated commentary on the defects of this world. He prayed that Peter’s faith might not be shaken when Satan would try to “sift” him, and told the Prince of the Apostles that he must then strengthen frail believers.

The divine architecture of the Church is in four dimensions: unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity. That holy genius Saint Robert Bellarmine expanded on those marks of the Church.

Catholic: a universal reality.

Antiquity: established by Christ himself.

Durability: perduring in essence through the changes of time.

Extensiveness: encompassing a vast number of loyal members.

Apostolic Succession: an unbroken witness to the Resurrection from the first apostles.

Doctrinal Agreement: consistent teaching from the ancient proclamation of the Resurrection.

Unity: an organic bond of believers with the Roman Pontiff as their visible head.

Holiness: purity of doctrine reflecting the glory of God Efficacy: the ability to change lives.

Heroism: virtue lived to a supernatural degree by the saints.

Miracles: outward signs of supernatural encouragement and consolation.

Prophecy: infallible warnings, encouragements and instructions.

Opposition: hostility to the Church today for the same reasons enemies opposed Christ in his time.

Unhappy End: the inevitable sorrow of those who fight against Christ in his Church.

Temporal Peace and Happiness: the serenity of those who love the Church even in the midst of this world’s difficulties.

All this was in the Divine Mind before Pentecost: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16: 12). In the latest chapter of the Church’s life, Pope Benedict XVI, confirming the brethren in the Faith, preached on May 13 to half a million pilgrims at Fatima in Portugal, recalling how the same Mother given to us from the Cross helps all the faithful of the Church, as she did when she gave joyful promises and solemn warnings in 1917: “May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the apparitions hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.”

Father George William Rutler, catholiceducation. ora. May 22, 2010.