Apostles are sent with a specific God-given assignment to lay a foundation for the expansion of the Church, and they are mature enough to equip others to do the same. The Greek word ‘apostolos’ from which we get our word apostle, means ‘a sent one’ so at its core the apostolic gift refers to one who is going someplace on a assigned mission. We get the term missionary from a Latin translation of the Greek ‘apostolos.’
The term apostle consistently appears first on any list of roles. (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 2:20, 4:11) This is because one must have a solid foundation before a building is erected. The apostolic gift is a foundation of the church. Jesus said to Peter that he was the foundation on which he would build His Church. (Mat 16:18) Paul says of himself that he lays the foundation (1 Cor 3:10) and he would not build on another’s foundation. (Rom 15:20) The apostle lays a foundation in a given region or people group. Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, and Peter to the Jews. (Gal 2:7-8; Eph 2:19-22) Apostles typically to do not want to build on another’s foundation. (Rom 15:20-21) They are wired to be drawn to places no one has gone before and motivated to start something that has never existed on that place.
Perhaps, truer than any other description, am apostle is an architect. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it.’ (1 Cor 3:10)…The apostle is a parent. Paul called himself a ‘father’ to the churches he started. (1 Cor 4:14-16) Parenting demonstrates the apostle’s responsibility to start and care for a family.
There are the 12 apostles that have all these traits. Someone can also have a charism of an apostle. Paul was not one of the 12 apostles, but he refers to himself as a apostle. Paul says, “For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.”
The catechism tells us, “The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:
She was an remains built on ‘the foundation of the apostles.’ and witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself.
With the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the ‘good deposit’ the salutary words she has heard from the apostles.
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 priest, in union withe successor of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor.”
The priest prays these words at mass when we remember one of the apostles, “You are the eternal Shepherd who never leaves his flock untended. Through the apostles you watch over us and protect is always. You made them shepherds of the flock to share in the work of your son.”
We read these words from the book of Revelation. “The holy city Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God, having the Glory of God…For the walls of the city had twelve foundation, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb.”