Catholic, from the Greek phrase ‘kata holos‘, meaning “according to the whole”. The word in common English can mean either “all-embracing” or ‘universal’, and is sometimes used in a Church context as “relating to the historic doctrine and practice of the whole Church.”
It was first used to describe the Christian Church in the early 2nd century to emphasize its universal scope.
From an Anglican perspective catholic implies or means directly the church which,
- is Jesus centred on prayer and the sacramental life.
- has a focus in mission
- declares the ancient creeds,
- whose ordained ministry includes the Historic Episcopate (Bishops), Priests and Deacons;
- is faithful to the the Canon of Scripture,
- is determined to serve all people, especially the weak and the marginalised
- exercises a prophetic voice, with a call for social justice
Sometimes people mistake certain practices in the church as being catholic, such as burning incense, lighting candles, wearing vestments, and the like. Whilst these practices are within the catholic church, they by no means define it. Another confusion that people make is that of thinking it is simply defined by that part of the church that has it’s focus of authority centered in Rome. Quite clearly this misses the point on several scores, such as to exclude the Eastern Orthodox Churches governed by the five Oecumenical Patriarchs, and of course the Anglican Church, The Old Catholics, and numerous other Churches who clearly are Catholic with the proper understanding of the term..
All three creeds (Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian) make reference to a belief in the Catholic Church – and clearly that belief is not acknowledging that there is another congregation down the street. There have been several efforts to rephrase the creed and use another word, (such as universal) however this always seems to fall short of the force and strength of a word that we have used for most of the life of the Church. Far better we understand what it means.
A very important part of our understanding of Catholic is our historic connection to the Church, not simply in every place, but also in every time. It is this connection through time that is expressed in the notion of Apostolic Succession – a line of Bishops tracing back to the Apostles, and therefore to Jesus.
It is importantly a Church for all People, at All Times, and in All Places. To hold the catholic faith is to be inclusive.