The Catholic Church was founded two thousand years ago by Jesus Christ our Lord, Who gave the apostles and their successors authority to teach, sanctify and govern His flock until His return at the end of time. St Paul calls the Church “the Mystical Body of Christ” because she is the extension of Him through time and because we are all as many members of one body, united with each other in Him.
The Catholic Church is the world’s oldest institution and its history is well documented. We know the names of all of the Bishops of Rome (the Popes) going back to St Peter himself. Studying in the early Church writers (the Fathers of the Church) how the Church was organized, what was believed and which sacraments were given, it is clear that the Church of the early centuries is the Catholic Church.
In fact, with the exception of some small and local sects, there was never any other Church apart from the Catholic Church until the great Eastern schism in 1054 when the orthodox churches left the unity of the Church. Protestantism came much later in 1517 and what are today called the “Christian churches” are splinters from splinters. A well known adage of converts is that “to know the history of the Church” is to be Catholic.
The first mission of the Church is the salvations of souls. This is brought about by:
- teaching the faithful the doctrines handed down from generation to generation stretching back to the apostles themselves. The Church cannot propose new teachings but only that which has been received.
- sanctifying the faithful through the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the administration of the sacraments.
- governing the faithful through pastoral care and spiritual direction according to the mind and spirit of the Church.
A secondary mission of the Church is to be an instrument of mercy to all in need. The Church is the largest charitable institution in the world and is unrivalled in the positive influence she has exerted through history. Moreover, the Church has always been a pioneer in education, health care and the wellbeing of the poor and working classes.
Down through the ages, the Church has had to struggle with enemies from without and enemies from within: persecutions from other religions, governments and regimes from without; corruption and heresy from within. While at times the Church seems to topple, she never fails, thanks to the continual presence of our Lord, Who said: “Behold, I am with even until the end of the word” (Mt 28).