Today is the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the two great apostles and pillars of the Church martyred for their faith in Christ in the same city of Rome at about 64-67 AD. Today the Church is joyfully celebrating the memory of both of them. The “Rock” and the “Chosen Instrument” to preach the gospel to the Gentiles definitively met each other in Rome. There they brought to completion their apostolic ministry, sealing it with the shedding of their blood.
As we celebrate this feast of Sts. Peter and Paul let be us reminded once again that the Church is apostolic, one of the distinguishing marks of the true Church founded by Christ. Every Sunday, Solemnity and Holy Day of Obligation, we profess all that we believe as Catholics by reciting the Creed. If you notice, one of the articles of faith is our belief in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ. In the context of today’s feast of Sts. Peter and Paul allow me to focus more on the Church as apostolic.
This sole Church of Christ is apostolic. The apostolic origin and basis of the Church is what is termed its “apostolicity”, a special characteristic of the Church which we confess in the Creed. Apostolicity consists in the Pope and the Bishops being successors of Peter and the Apostles, holding the authority of the Apostles and proclaiming the same teaching as they did. “The sacred synod teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the Apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and Him who sent Christ (cf. Luke 10:15)” (Vatican II, “Lumen Gentium”, 20).
The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:
– she was and remains built on “the foundation of the Apostles” (Eph 2:20; rev. 21:14), the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself (cf. Mt 28:16:20; Act 1:8; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:7-8; Gal 1:1);
– with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching (cf. Acts 2:42), the “good deposit of faith,” the salutary words she has heard from the apostles (cf. 2 Tim 1:13-14);
– she continues to be taught, sanctified and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successors of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor” (AG 5):
“You are the eternal Shepherd who never leaves his flock untended. Through the apostles you watch over us and protect us always. You made them shepherds of the flock to share in the work of your Son…” (Roman Missal, Preface of the Apostles I) (CCC 857).
The apostles’ mission. Jesus is the Father’s Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, he “called to him those whom he desired; …And he appointed twelve, whom also he named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach” (Mk 3:13-14). From then on, they would also be his “emissaries” (Greek apostoloi). In them, Christ continues his own mission: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21); cf. 13:20; 17:18). The Twelve apostles’ ministry is the continuation of his mission; Jesus said to the Twelve: “he who receives you receives me” (Mt 10:40; cf. Luke 10:16).
Pope – successor of Peter. Bishops – successors of the apostles. In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death [the apostles] consigned, by the will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry” (LG 20; cf. Acts 20:28; St. Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. 42, 44: PG 1, 291-300).
“Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops” (LG 20 par. 2). Hence the Church teaches that “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ” (LG 20 par. 2).
The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well. Since the Church is “sent out” into the whole world, all members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. Apostolate is “every activity of the Mystical Body” that aims “to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth” (AA 2).
“Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole apostolate”; thus the fruitfulness of apostolate for ordained ministers as well as for lay people clearly depends on their vital union with Christ” (AA 4; cf. Jn 15:5)… Charity drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always “as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate” (AA 3).
To sum up, “The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops” (CCC 869).
Challenge. As baptized Catholic Christians, we are also “apostles” (being sent). Like Sts. Peter and Paul in our unworthiness and sinfulness, we are witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself. We can bear much fruits in our apostolate only when we are faithful always to the teachings handed to us by the apostles and their successors and continued to be taught, sanctified and guided by the apostles until Christ’ returns, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church supreme pastor” (AG 5). Because “whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ” LG 20 par. 2).
Therefore, rejoice that the Lord has chosen you to be a member of his body, the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church of Christ. Love the Church (Eph 5:25). Freely and humbly submit to the authority of the Church (see Heb 13:17). Share the faith. For “Faith is “preserved” by being given” (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, n. 2). Commit wholeheartedly in the service of the faith, service of unity, service of the mission (cf. Encyclical Letter, Ut unum sint, n. 88). And following the examples of Jesus and his apostles Peter and Paul, may we lay down our life also for the Church (Eph. 5:25).