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     The proper way to refer to the Roman Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of Rome is simply, the Latin Church. That is because there are millions of Catholics who are not part of the Roman Catholic Church. But they belong to THE Catholic Church and are subject to the Pope.  The Catholic Church is made up of 24 individual churches, all in union with Rome. Roman Catholic is the Latin Rite, and it stands alone among the 24. On November 21, 1964, Pope Paul VI,  validated the encyclical, Lumen Gentium, (Light of the Nations).  It described not only the Church’s mission in the world as it moved forward toward the 21st century, but most importantly, it declared that the “Church is the People of God.”  Lumen Gentium said that the Church is a body of churches that are all united with the Bishop of Rome. He is their guardian.

     Lumen Gentium also acknowledged that all the other Catholic Churches have their own hierarchical structure and their own liturgies. These Catholic Churches are not the estranged Eastern Orthodox churches but rather, these are the ones in union with Rome. They were founded by the apostles and are autonomous Churches entitled to their own rightful existence (sui juris). Any Catholic (including you and I)  may attend these churches freely and receive the sacraments in any of them. The bottom line to that is—Catholic is Catholic.

     So, who are these Catholic Churches that, besides the Latin Rite, number twenty-three? First, we must acknowledge that the Latin Rite makes up about 95% of the whole Catholic Church. And if we are, in fact, ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, and APOSTOLIC, how can there be 24 different churches? Well, when Jesus founded His church, He commissioned the apostles to go out and preach and baptize. We all know that St. Peter established the church in Rome and its primacy was affirmed by his blood. But Jesus commissioned ALL of His apostles to go forth and preach and baptize, not just Peter.

     Many of us do not realize that the other apostles also founded churches in other places and established bishops to rule over them. And in establishing different churches in different areas of the world, different customs and traditions were incorporated into the liturgies.

     So today, there are 24 Catholic Churches, and they are grouped into eight different rites. (A rite being defined as the liturgical, spiritual, theological, and disciplinary heritage of the people of that church). It follows that since languages and customs and history were different, customs from the areas manifested themselves.

     However, among the 24 Churches, Catholic dogma remained intact. Eastern Catholics (no matter what rite; Byzantine, Chaldean, Armenian, etc.),will not call themselves Roman Catholic. We know them as Ukrainian Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Greek-Catholic, etc. One thing is obvious and cannot be denied; The Catholic Church is truly a universal Church.

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