Church Militant Strong!

The Catholic Church, or Church Universal, is traditionally divided into:

  • the Church Militant (Ecclesia Militans), comprising Christians who are living,
  • the Church Triumphant (Ecclesia Triumphans), comprising those who are in Heaven, and
  • the Church Suffering, a.k.a Church Padecent or Church Penitent (Ecclesia Penitens) or Church Expectant (Ecclesia Expectans), comprising those Christians presently in Purgatory. This last term is used mainly in Roman Catholicism.

These terms are often used in the context of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints; although Christians may be physically separated from each other by the barrier of death, they nonetheless remain united to each other in one Church, and support each other in prayer.

The Latin word militans has a primary meaning of “serving as a soldier, military“, but it acquired a secondary meaning of “to struggle, to make an effort”, which is the intended sense here. Christians on earth (the Church Militant) are still struggling against sin in order that, when they die, they might go to heaven and be members of the Church Triumphant, those who have triumphed over sin. However, if this struggle is successful, but not completely so, then after death they temporarily become members of the Church Suffering before ultimately joining the Church Triumphant.

The Roman Catholic Church commemorates the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering on two consecutive days: All Saints Day on November 1 (the Church Triumphant), and All Souls Day on November 2 (the Church Suffering).

These terms are not used in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church, the authoritative collection of the teaching of Roman Catholicism, first published in 1994. Many contemporary Catholics might consider them belonging to another age. However, the teaching these terms represent is precisely restated in paragraph 954 of the Catechism, which quote Lumen Gentium, the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council:

The three states of the Church. “When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is”‘ (CCC 954)

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