Now that we have become accustomed to the new translation of Holy Mass, it is possible that we risk hearing and reciting texts without much thought for the words they contain. With this in mind, I’d like to consider the end of the Creed, in which we affirm our belief in the Church. What does it mean to believe in a Church that is one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic? Does this mean more than being a member of a particular parish? How might it impact the way we live our lives as men, as women, as members of our families?
The first word that we associate with the Church, which I will refer to with feminine pronouns for reasons that will become obvious, is that she is one. If there is one God and Creator, and His triune nature is something that cannot be intuited, then we depend on revelation to know Him. Thus, in order to avoid confusion, the voice that tells of His nature and His plan for us must have one source. With this in mind, St. Clement of Alexandria wrote within a century of Christ’s Resurrection: “What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same; there is also one virgin become mother, and I should like to call her ‘Church.’”
Interestingly, in the Middle Ages St. Thomas Aquinas explained that everyone was a member of this Church — in potential. Whether or not this potential was actualized depended on grace, which is freely available to all. The response to God’s invitation to love and partake of Communion in Him is dependent on how we use our free-will, for God does not force Himself on anyone.
Of course there are many gradations between the potential for holiness and actually being holy, which explains the wide array of examples around us. While many people seem utterly immersed in the world, there are also many who seek a deeper meaning and yet become easily distracted, as well as those who search for the truth more earnestly, and finally those who manage to find and embrace Christ, attempting in their own way to imitate Him. What we must accept, as we say in the Creed, is that there is one Church. St. Cyprian of Carthage, writing just decades after Clement of Alexandria, insisted: “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”
Through revelation we understand that God wishes for us to call Him “Father,” and by implication wanted our families to echo that relationship. That His covenant was revealed and renewed repeatedly in Holy Scripture in marital terms says a great deal about His fidelity and that which He wanted in return from us. Our parentage is rooted in God and the Church, and in that embrace, we are loved more fully and more perfectly even than that of our earthly parents.
Gazing around us at any Mass, it may be difficult to grasp the mystical reality, but it is more real than the neighbors on each side of us — and expands to include all believing souls who have gone before us. If we understand that the Church, as Bride, was taken from the pierced side of Christ (just as Eve was taken from the side of sleeping Adam) then we begin to see what lies beyond the brick and mortar. With Mary as the most perfect image of the Church — actualizing all her potential — we have a model of holiness. Moreover, just as Eve was called “the mother of the living,” Mary, as the new Eve, is the Mother of Grace — that grace that allows us to return to God.
It remains for us to live up to our potential—as fathers, as mothers, as spouses, as children of the one Father God and Mother Church, revealed so that we would know the perfect life-giving love to which we are all called.
Anchor columnist Mrs. Kineke is the author of “The Authentic Catholic Woman.” She blogs at feminine-genius.typepad.com.