Many churches claiming to be Christian have broken away from the One True Church established by Christ. They were founded by men who had no authority from God to found a church.
We know that the Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Jesus, because it alone has the marks of the true Church. By the marks of the Church is meant certain clear signs by which all men can recognize it as the true Church founded by Jesus Christ.
It is important that we know which is the Church established by Christ, in order that we may obey it, as God commands. Then shall we also be certain what to believe and do in order to be saved. We must distinguish between the True Church from false churches, because today there are many imitations of the Church founded by Christ.
The chief marks of the Church are four. Today we concentrate on the first mark - ONE.
Christ intended His Church to be One; therefore the True Church must be One. Its members must united in doctrine, in worship, and in government.
Christ said: "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand" (Mark 3: 24).
He also proclaimed: "There shall be one fold and one shepherd" (John 10: 16).
Our Lord also confirmed the necessary oneness of His flock with these words in John 17: 11: "Holy Father, keep in Thy name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one even as We are One."
All other Christian churches lack essential unity: they are not one! They differ in doctrine, in worship, in government. There are hundreds of Christian denominations, each different from the rest. They cannot agree, and keep dividing and subdividing year by year. Their only similarity appears to be their opposition to the Catholic Church. Such churches are multiplying. The arise, but in a short time they pass away, to give place to other and more numerous denominations.
These churches, founded by human beings after Christ's Ascension, differ in even the essentials of faith. In trying to accommodate themselves to the changing conditions of the times, they have made changes in doctrine, with no authorization from the Founder of Christianity.
Outside the Catholic Church there is generally no recognition of authority in spiritual matters. No organization has been blessed with infallibility except the Catholic Church. In fact no other church even attempts to claim infallibility. In religion non-Catholic churches recognize no spiritual authority except their own judgment; and this, as we all know, can easily lead to error. Non-Catholic churches vary in practice as well as in doctrine. In worship they are guided more by sentiment and personal conviction than by truths given to the world by Jesus Christ, Son of God.
Realizing the great handicap of disunity, efforts have been made by various groups of churches to organize. General councils and conferences of different bodies such as the Lutheran Synod or Southern Baptist Convention have been held; but there is no vital result for unity. This is of course because, though agreement may be general concerning matters such as social work, beneficient societies, and the like, no agreement can be found in the essentials of faith and doctrine. This is the result of free interpretation of the Bible, and the repudiation of Peter's successor, the Vicar of Christ.
Neither do non-Catholic denominations have unity in organization or government. The recognize no superior authority vested in one who is vicar of Jesus Christ. They call themselves Christian, but reject the authority conferred by the Son of God on the Pope, the direct successor of St. Peter. Some recognize the temporal ruler as their spiritual head; others have ministers whom they call bishops, deacons, or elders. The majority reject such titles.
On the other hand the Catholic Church is one because all its members, according to the will of Christ, profess the same faith, have the same sacrifice and sacraments, and are united under one and the same visible head, the Sovereign Pontiff of Rome. They have unity in doctrine, worship, and government. They have "One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism." There has never been any other society, religion, or government whose members are so closely united. "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand" (Mark 3: 24).
There are nearly one billion Catholics united in doctrine. This unity is evident and admitted by all. All Catholics today hold the same faith that Catholics in the past held. The same Gospel of peace that Jesus preached in Judea, the same that St. Peter preached in Antioch and Rome, the same that St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and the Ephesians, the same that apostles of all nations have been preaching for nearly 2000 years is preached today and taught in the Catholic Church throughout the world, from January to December 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for as Paul says in Hebrews 13: 8, "Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today, and the same forever."
The Catholic Church is one in worship. All members make use of the same Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and receive the same sacraments. Although rites vary, the essentials of worship laid down by Christ form the foundation of all. Certain ceremonies have been appointed by the Church, to show more clearly in outward form the spiritual significance of whatever act is being done, and to increase the devotion of those who are present or take part in the religious acts. The ritual varies in various places, certain ancient rituals from the early days of the Church being preserved and, since Vatican II, the Mass said in the vernacular. But in general the Roman ritual, the one followed by the diocese of Rome, is the one followed. The change of ritual or language does not change the substance of the religious act, which is preserved in its entirety.
Finally, all Catholics are united in government. Everywhere the faithful obey their pastors, the pastors obey the bishops, and the bishops obey the Pope. The Catholic Church is truly "one fold and one Shepherd," its unity standing out unequalled in all history.
Tomorrow: The Marks of the True Church: HOLY