The meaning of the terms “Catholic” and “apostolic” when we speak about the Church was the theme of Pope Francis' catechesis at this morning's Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square, attended by 50,000 faithful.
When we profess the Creed, we state that we believe in a Catholic and apostolic Church. “Catholic means universal”, said the Holy Father, “and a clear sign of this Catholicity is that she speaks all languages. This is none other than the effect of the Pentecost: indeed, it was the Holy Spirit that enabled the Apostles and the entire Church to communicate to all, to the very ends of the earth, the Good News of salvation and of God's love. Thus, the Church was born Catholic – that is, 'symphonic' since the beginning, and she cannot be otherwise, destined as she is for evangelisation and for encountering everyone”: The Pope, remarking that everyone is able to read the Word of God in his or her own language, again encouraged those present always to carry a copy of the Gospel and to read one or two passages each day.
“If the Church is born Catholic, it means that she was born to go forth, missionary”, continued Pope Francis. “If the Apostles had stayed in the Cenacle without going out to preach the Gospel, the Church would have remained there, in that city, in that country, in that room. It is what we express when we describe her as 'apostolic'. But they went forth. An apostle spreads the good news of Jesus' resurrection. This term reminds us that the Church, on the foundations of the Apostles and in continuity with them, is sent to proclaim the Gospel to all humanity, with the signs of the tenderness and strength of God. The Apostles went forth, they travelled the world, they founded new churches, they consecrated new bishops and in this way, we continue their work”.
“And this too derives from the Pentecost. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is able to overcome any resistance, to defeat the temptation to remain wrapped up in ourselves, an elect few, and to consider ourselves as the only ones destined to receive God's blessing. Imagine if a group of Christians were to consider itself in this way; they would die out. First in soul and then in body, as they would not be able to generate new life. They would not be apostolic. The Holy Spirit leads us towards our brothers, even to those who are far away in every sense, so that they can share with us the gift of love, peace and joy that the Risen Lord has left us”.
“What does it mean, for our communities and for each of us, to be part of a Church that is Catholic and apostolic? First of all, it means taking to heart the salvation of all humanity, not to be indifferent or removed from the fate of so many of our brothers, but rather to be open and in solidarity with them. It also means having a sense of the fullness, the completeness, the harmony of Christian life, always rejecting partial and unilateral positions that close us up in ourselves”.
Being part of the apostolic Church means “being aware that our faith is anchored in the proclamation and the witness of Jesus' Apostles, and therefore always being aware that were are sent out, in communion with the successors of the Apostles, with our hearts full of joy, to proclaim Christ and His love for all humanity”.
Pope Francis recalled the “heroic life” of all the missionaries who leave their homelands to take the Gospel to others, encouraging those present to give thanks to God for the missionaries the Church has had and will continue to need.
“Let us ask the Lord to renew in us the gift of His Spirit, so that every Christian community and baptised person may be an expression of the Catholic and apostolic Holy Mother Church”.