(Fr Augustine H.T. Tran attended seminary at the North American College in Rome, Italy and was ordained to the holy priesthood in 1998. He serves in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and is currently a teacher at Blessed Trinity High School. He may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com)
We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed).
Every Sunday and on every solemnity of the liturgical year, we Catholics profess our belief in these four defining characteristics, these four marks of the Church that Christ instituted. She is one; she is holy; she is catholic; and she is apostolic.
One of the senses in which we understand that the Church is apostolic is derived from the Greek word apóstolos. An apóstolos is a messenger or missionary. At its root, the word means “having been sent”. When one is a missionary, when one is on a mission, one has been sent to do a particular task.
At the end of Mass, we are all sent on a mission. It is unfortunate, but in the vernacular the only sense we have of being sent is in the word “go”: “Go in the peace of Christ”; or, “The Mass is ended, go in peace”; or, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” (Sacramentary). The sense of mission is not very strong in the English translation. However, in Latin, the Mass ends with “Ite, Missa est”. In fact, it is from that word Missa that we get the English word Mass. It is also from the word Missa that we get the word mission. Hence, the Mass always ends by sending us on a mission, from the Latin, or an apostolate, from the Greek.
Of course, that implies that we hang around long enough to receive that commission at the end of Mass. Judas also squandered his commission, and, as you many of you know, he was the first person to leave Mass early.
This sense in which the Church is apostolic is that all of her members have an apostolate. The Catechism puts it thus: “The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is 'sent out' into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. 'The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well.' Indeed, we call an apostolate 'every activity of the Mystical Body' that aims 'to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth'” (CCC 863).
Every member of the Mystical Body of Christ has an apostolate. Every member of the Church is called to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth. We do that by sharing our faith in the world. We priests and religious are not in the world, you are. We nourish you with the Word and the Eucharist. We pray and fast for you. That is our apostolate, or, more properly speaking, that is our ministry. But we are not in the world, hence, we cannot evangelize the world. That is your apostolate, to bring the Kingdom of Christ into the grocery stores, into the hospitals, onto Wall Street, into the courtrooms, into the universities, et cetera.
Of course, as the old monastic axiom goes, “No one can give what he does not have”. Hence, the apostolate has to begin at home, with the family. The apostolate begins by consecrating ourselves and our families to the Lord. That word “consecrate” means “to set apart for sacred use”; so, by consecrating ourselves, we are acknowledging the fact that our Baptism sets us apart. It makes us a member of the Mystical Body of Christ; and as members of that body, we have a duty, a responsibility “to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth”. Hence, the paradox of consecrating ourselves is to bring the whole world into the Mystical Body of Christ so that we are no longer set apart but united in “the one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph iv, 5).
In this sense of apostolic, you are the laborers in the harvest that exists outside those doors. But inside those doors, you are the harvest who need laborers. In other words, the apostolate also consists in praying for priestly and religious vocations, in fostering priestly and religious vocations in your homes. Once again, “no one can give what he does not have”. One is fed and nourished for the work out there with the Word and the Eucharist that is received in here.
When I train extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, I always begin by asking them to pray themselves out of a job. This is what I mean by that. One becomes an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist because one loves the Holy Eucharist, because one wants to bring Christ to others in the Eucharist. If one loves the Eucharist, then one must love the Holy Mass, because without the Mass, there is no Eucharist. If one loves the Mass, then one must love the priesthood, because without the priesthood, there is no Mass. That does not mean that one must love every single priest, God knows that we're not all that loveable, but one must have a love for the priesthood. Hence, I ask them — and I ask you — to pray for priestly vocations, to pray for holy priests, to pray for an abundance of holy priests, to pray that there be so many holy priests that every parish could have at least ten of them. Then we should have enough ordinary ministers of the Eucharist that we should no longer need to use extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.