April and May 2019 Faith Community Reflection
The Church is Apostolic
Fr Richard Marsden
Throughout April, we will hear much in the Scriptures about the apostles. At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we’ll celebrate the Institution of the Eucharist, where the apostles (and their successors) are commanded by Christ to celebrate the memorial of his death and resurrection until the end of time. Throughout Eastertide, we’ll hear every day from the Acts of the Apostles, the enthralling account of the growth of the early Church. The mysteries of April, therefore, remind us of the apostolic foundation upon which the Church is built. They provide us with a good opportunity to reflect on one of the “four marks” of the Church that we profess in the Creed – the Church as apostolic.
The Catechism presents three subsections on this topic. Firstly, it explains that Christ continues his own mission in that of the Twelve (CCC 858). They can do nothing without Jesus, “from whom they received both the mandate for their mission and the power to carry it out” (CCC 859). Since the apostles are “the chosen witnesses of the Lord’s Resurrection and so the foundation stones of the Church (CCC 860),” they are given much prominence in the Church’s life and liturgy. They are always celebrated in the Church’s calendar as Feasts, if not Solemnities; they appear high up the list in the Litany of the Saints; and their tombs are significant pilgrimage sites. It’s important that our devotion to the apostles remains steadfast, so that our faith is firmly rooted on the foundation stones of the Church.
Next, the Catechism speaks of the bishops as the successors of the apostles. With this apostolic succession comes the treasure of the Magisterium, the guarantee that whenever the bishops in unity with the Successor of Saint Peter teach on matters of faith and morals, that teaching is infallible. Thus, the Second Vatican Council tells us, “bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 20). A reflection on the Church as apostolic, then, leads to a renewal of our love of the Magisterium and a desire to study it more and more with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, the Church remains “in communion of faith and life with her origin…in that she is ‘sent out’ into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways” (CCC 863). In other words, all of us are called to be “apostolic”. For priests, our “apostolicity” is marked by our reception of Holy Orders, by which we share in the apostolic succession by assisting the bishop in teaching, sanctifying, and governing God’s faithful. For religious, apostolic identity emanates from an order’s particular charism and is manifested in a life or prayer and service of God’s people. The laity, by virtue of their baptism, are called to apostolic activity both in the Church and in the world through evangelisation and charitable works.
May our reflection on the apostolic Church this month lead us to stand ever more firmly on the apostolic foundation stones and to listen ever more attentively to the voice of Christ through his apostles’ successors, so that we might carry out our apostolate with love and zeal.