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Marks of the True Church

We know that Our Lord established a Church before He ascended into Heaven. He made St Peter the head of that Church. But does that Church still exist? There are so many Churches that call themselves Christian ... are they all the true Church? Is only one of them? Which one?

Most true Christians accept as the basis of their faith those truths set forth in the Nicene Creed. It is in that Creed that we learn the true marks (or indicia) of the True Church of Christ.


Only the Roman Catholic Church can validly claim all four marks. It is the Roman Catholic Church which has always been and continues to be that Church which Jesus Himself established almost 2000 years ago.

The Catholic Church is ONE

There is only one Christian Church, united in faith, in worship and in in succession from the Apostles themselves. For the Church is the Body of Christ Himself, and so is whole and one as Christ's Body is whole and one. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church promulgated by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, states that:

"The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it .... This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:

"The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by one Spirit, for the sake of one hope, at whose fulfilment all divisions will be overcome."

Of course, it is a sad fact that in the course of its history, rifts have arisen in the Church, sometimes leading whole groups of the faithful to separate from the Church. This is a scandal, unpleasing to God. Our Lord wishes that "all may be one" and it is the duty of all Christians to strive towards and pray earnestly for that day when all Christians will be united in the Lord.

This does not, however, mean that a proliferation of denominations means the Catholic Church is not one. In fact, all those separated from the Catholic Church remain part of her, in a mysterious way. All those who receive Christian baptism belong to the Catholic Church!

We all look forward with hope to the day when we will share a meal together at the one banquet table in the presence of Our Lord.

The Catholic Church is HOLY

Lumen Gentium states further that:

"The Church ... is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as "alone holy", loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God."

The Church, then, is perfect and holy, the spotless bride of Christ, the undefiled Body of Christ Himself, filled with the Holy Spirit.

The mysterious paradox is that the Church is holy and perfect, even though she is made of imperfect sinners!

The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is "the sinless one made up of sinners". Her holiness shines in the saints; in Mary she is already all-holy."
--Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is CATHOLIC

"Catholic" in this sense is the "small-c" "catholic", which means "universal". The Church can be found in St Peter's Basilica, in a suburban parish church, in a group of faithful in the Amazon Jungle. But being one in faith and communion with the Church in Rome makes this Church a universal collection of those "particular Churches". Particular Churches fall to the care of Bishops, the pastors of the faithful and successors of the Apostles. Their communion with each other and with the Bishop of Rome makes the Catholic Church truly universal.

Pope Paul VI in his encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi, states:

"Let us be very careful not to conceive of the universal Church as the simple sum, or ... the more or less anomolous federation of essentially different particular churches. In the mind of the Lord the Church is universal by vocation and mission, but when she puts down her roots in a variety of cultural, social, and human terrains, she takes on different external expressions and appearances in each part of the world."
"The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fulness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is "missionary by her very nature".
--Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is APOSTOLIC

The Catholic Church validly claims succession from the Apostles themselves. All bishops of the Catholic Church are ordained by bishops who themselves were ordained by bishops who themselves were ordained ... and so on ... who themselves were ordained by the Apostles. This passing on of the authority and mission of the Apostles throughout time is guided by the Holy Spirit who descended on the Apostles at Pentecost and remains with the Church guiding Her until the Lord comes again.

Other Churches, no longer in communion with the Church of Rome, have also maintained Apostolic Succession. The Orthodox Churches, certain of the bishops of the Anglican Communion and the bishops of the Society of St Pius X, although not in communion with Rome, have maintained this succession from the Apostles by ensuring that only bishops in the Apostolic Succession may ordain other bishops after the group has separated from Rome.

"The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: "the twelve apostles of the Lamb". She is indestructible. She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.
--Catechism of the Catholic Church

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