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A friend asked me, what does ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church’ mean when we say the Creed at Mass?

First of all, a creed is a statement of a community’s belief. The corporations I worked for had creeds which professed the mission of our company, our business ethic (values and virtues), and how to treat employees, clients, and the environment. The Latin word “credo” means “I believe.” The Creed we say at Mass is a profession of our Christian faith. Our Catechism tells us when we say I believe, it means “I pledge myself to what we believe (CCC 185). Our Creed gives us the four characteristics, or “marks,” of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

The Church is one. Christ comes to establish one Church, one body through which to continue his ministry on earth. Jesus does not establish different churches, but one Church, with apostolic succession and sacraments as the guarantee of the Church’s unity. This is the fulfillment of Jesus’ explicit desire when he prays in John 17: “Father, may they be one, as you and I are one” (v. 21).

The Church is holy. This does not mean all her members are sinless saints! Rather, to be holy is to be “set apart.” Her mission is to be “salt and light,” a communion of Christian love that points to the reality of Jesus as the savior of the world. Her members, then, are called to be saints to help this mission become a reality.

The Church is catholic. The word catholic means “universal.” This is closely tied to her unity and oneness: the Church exists for the whole of humanity. This universality allows the Church to have a multitude of liturgical expressions and traditions united around the one faith. To be catholic means to be for the whole of humanity.

The Church is apostolic. The Church’s existence is rooted in the apostles, upon whom Jesus established his Church. These apostles ensure what Christ hands on to them is handed on continuously through apostolic succession in the ministry of the bishops. The unity of these bishops is further guaranteed by their union with Rome, where the Pope is the principle of unity for the whole Church.

Scott Hahn wrote “if we don’t get the Creed right, we don’t get Jesus right. And if we don’t get Him right, we don’t get anything right.” So, the next time we stand at Mass to recite the Creed, let’s remember that we are boldly proclaiming to EVERYONE what we believe – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

Deacon John

Adapted from

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