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PRAY | Church militant, suffering and triumphant

States of the Church help us understand our relationship with God before and after death

"The Last Judgment" painting by Michelangelo Buonarroti from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Photo Credit: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service
Our bodies are mortal. But our souls are another story.

We can understand this better through the three states of the Church. Traditionally, these three states have been referred to as the Church Militant, Church Suffering (also known as Church Penitent or Church Expectant) and Church Triumphant.

Church militant: The Church as it exists on earth;

Church suffering: These are the souls in purgatory;

Church triumphant: The Church in heaven; these are saints known by the Church as well as those saints known only to God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Three states of the Church … 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).

Together, these three states make up the Communion of Saints that is mentioned in the Creed. The unity and cooperation of the members of the Church on earth, purgatory and in heaven is also called the Communion of Saints.

It’s important to note that while our souls are immortal, our bodies are not. After death, there are three options: a person may either go to purgatory for a time of purification in order to stand completely pure before God at the entrance to His heavenly kingdom; a person who is completely cleansed of sin will be united with God in heaven among the saints; and of course, the unfortunate reality is that the person who completely rejects God will find themselves in hell.

This is why it is so important that we pray for the souls in purgatory. The Church teaches that it is a spiritual work of mercy to pray for the souls of the faithful departed, especially as none of us knows a person’s final judgement by God at death. The 14th Century mystic St. Gertrude was given a prayer from Jesus for souls in purgatory, some believe that 1,000 souls are released from purgatory by praying it:

Eternal Father, I offer You the most Precious Blood of Your Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for all sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.

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