By Vic Scaravilli

We are called Catholics, but what does it mean to be one?

This word is used to describe a group of Christians who have existed since the time of Christ who profess their belief in Jesus. The Catholic Church is the largest church in the United States as well as the world with over one billion members, comprising more than one sixth of the human race!

Our beliefs are based on the teachings of Christ transmitted to us by the apostles and their successors. We believe Christ gave authority to His Church to speak for Him after He ascended to heaven and through Scriptures, Oral Tradition, and the teaching body or Magisterium.

Catholics belong to a structured society that is united in common belief, morality, and worship. With Christ as the head of the Church, the visible structure on earth comprises of an organized body consisting of the Pope, bishops, cardinals, priests, and deacons.

The Pope is the visible leader of the Church. He is called the Bishop of Rome who exercises universal jurisdiction over the whole Church as the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Peter. Pope John Paul II is the 264th leader of our Church. Cardinals serve as advisors to Pope and help in administering Church affairs. The Bishops are the successors of the apostles are responsible for preserving the truth and unity in the Church. Parish priests are the ministers ordained to celebrate mass, administer sacraments and preach the Word of God. Deacons are ordained in a ministry of service especially to preach and baptize.

There are certain characteristics that have been defined to identify the Church Christ established. The Nicene Creed states, “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” These are called the four marks of the Church and help us define what the church is.

“One” means Jesus established a single church and it teaches just one set of doctrines which is the same as those taught by the apostles. These beliefs cannot change over time and serves as a core to unite all believers to Christ. Jesus said in John 10:16, “…there will be one flock and one shepherd” and Paul talking about unity in the Church in Eph. 4:5, “…one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

“Holy” refers to Jesus sanctifying His Church by His grace. Something is holy only because it is chosen or set apart by God and He, in 1Pet. 2:9, calls the Church “a holy nation, and God’s own people.” Also, the Church is holy because it is the source of holiness and is the guardian of the special means of grace Jesus established, the sacraments.

The word “catholic” means universal and refers that Christ’s Church is found all over the world and all its members follow a set of common beliefs. Just as Christ is everywhere, so too is His Church. The Church is catholic because Christ has sent her out on a mission to the whole human race (Mat. 28:19).

“Apostolic” refers to the Church being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ being the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). Jesus appointed apostles to be the first leaders of the Church and gave them authority to preach, preserve, and define what Christ taught. All authentic teachings can be traced back to the apostles.

Also, apostolic succession guarantees an unbroken line of authority to the present day.

As Catholics, we are the only Church that meets all of the marks of the true Church Christ established. And since the Holy Spirit protects it, it will exist until the end of time.