Pope Francis reflects on the fourth mark of the Church

The Church is apostolic “because she is based on the preachings and prayer of the Apostles…"

A Swiss Guard watches as Pope Francis leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A Swiss Guard watches as Pope Francis leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) From Vatican Information Service:

Vatican City, 16 October 2013 (VIS) – After considering the unity, holiness and catholicity of the Church, as defined by the Creed, the Holy Father today addressed her apostolic nature. During the catechesis of the Pope’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, he stated that “to profess that the Church is apostolic means underlining her constitutive bond with the Apostles, with that small group of twelve men whom Jesus called to Him by name one day, to ask them to stay with Him and to send them to preach. Indeed, ‘apostle’ is a Greek word meaning ‘messenger’, ‘envoy’.

“The Apostles were chosen, called and sent by Jesus in order to continue His work, that is, prayer, the first task of an apostle, and secondly, to proclaim the Gospel”, continued the Pope, recalling that in the first years of the Church, to enable the apostles to have enough time for prayer, they instituted deacons to help them with their evangelising mission. “And when we think of their successors, of the bishops – including the Pope, because he too is a bishop”, he added, “we have to wonder if this successor of the Apostles prays, first of all, and then proclaims the Gospel. This is what it means to be an apostle, and this is why the Church is apostolic”.

The Church is apostolic “because she is based on the preachings and prayer of the Apostles, on the authority given to them by Christ Himself”, said the Pope, quoting St. Paul who, in his letter to the Christians of Epheseus compared them to “living stones, forming a house that is the Church, and this edifice is based on the Apostles, who are its columns, and the cornerstone of Jesus Himself. Without Jesus there can be no Church – he is the base and foundation. The Apostles lived with Jesus, they listened to His words, they shared in His life and, above all, they witnessed His Death and Resurrection. Our faith, the Church that Christ wanted, is not based on an idea, on a philosophy, but on Christ Himself. And the Church is like a plant that grows throughout the centuries … and has borne fruit, but the roots are planted deeply in Him, and the fundamental experience of the Apostles, chosen and sent by Jesus, reaches us”.

“But”, Pope Francis asked, “how is it possible for us to connect with this testimony of those who lived with and listened to Him?” He responded that it is the Catechism that affirms that the Church is apostolic, since she “keeps and hands on the teaching, the ‘good deposit’, the salutary words she has heard from the Apostles”; that is, “she conserves over the centuries the valuable treasure of the Sacred Scripture, the doctrine, the sacraments, the ministry of the pastors, so that we can be faithful to Christ and participate in His life. It is like a river flowing through history … but the water that flows is always that which emerges from the source, from Christ Himself. He is the Risen One, the Living One, and His words do not pass away from us. Christ never passes away from us, He is here, among us”.

Addressing the thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father said, “Do we ever think of how it has been precisely the Church who, in her path across these centuries, in spite of difficulties, problems and weakness, who has transmitted Christ’s authentic message to us, and who gives us the security that what we believe in is really what Christ communicated to us?”

Finally, the Church is apostolic because “she is sent to bring the Gospel to all the world. She continues, on her path through history, the very mission that Christ entrusted to the Apostles: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations. … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’. I insist on the missionary aspect of the Church, because Christ invites us all to the encounter with others, He sends us, He asks us to be on our way, to bring the joy of the Gospel to all!”

The Holy Father concluded, “The Church has her roots in the teaching of the Apostles, authentic witnesses of Christ, but looks to the future, and has the fixed awareness of being sent by Christ, of being Christ’s missionary, of bringing forth Christ’s name by prayer, proclamation and witness. A Church closed in on herself and the past, a Church who focuses only on minor rules and habits, betrays her own identity”.

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