The Church is united and one, as we’ve discussed in a previous blog. This unity is not based on location, race, gender or any other identifying mark we use when referring to human ‘oneness’. The Church is one because She shares the same founder (Christ), the same faith (Christianity), the same sacraments (the Eucharist etc), the same earthly authority (the Pope), and the same mission (to proclaim the Gospel). If the ‘oneness’ of the Church was based on a human concept of ‘one’, then no Church could lay claims to it; all denominations are separated by language, geography, socio-economic situations and so on.
What this doesn’t mean is that the Church is united by a shared ‘space’, or ‘presentation’.
You see, we believe in three stages of the Church. These stages are:
Church Militant: You guys know I like my definitions, so let’s define what we mean by ‘militant’. We don’t mean militant in the aggressive sense; it doesn’t mean the Church should spread the Gospel by means of violence, proxy wars, or any of the like.
When She uses the term ‘militant’, this is in reference to the Latin ‘militans’, meaning ‘to perform a service, a solider.’ The Church is to proclaim the Good News (Mark 16:15) while ‘fighting’ against evil, struggling against immorality. This is how we understand that a Christian is ‘performing a service, being a solider.’ This can include standing up for family values, voicing concern over abortion, tackling racism etc. We are also militant on an individual level, because each Christian is in a personal battle against sin. We wage war against our natural and selfish desires, trying daily to ‘die to ourselves’ (1 Peter 2:24, 1 Cor 15:21).
‘Militant’ also refers to the Church’s’ constant struggle against evil forces that seek to hinder Her mission. We are struggling against forces that wish to topple the Church at any given moment, using whatever means they can to accomplish that goal. This doesn’t automatically equate to hostility; if a group request that a Catholic adoption agency should open its doors to gay couples, we are not to be hostile, rude, offensive or crude. We should simply speak the truth in love, explaining our stance. This is just an example of how the militancy of the Church should not have to include violence.
Church Suffering: Those in the state of Purgatory are referred to as the ‘Church Suffering.’ These people are ultimately saved, but undergo a process of purification. This process removes the stain of sin, making us perfected for the Beatific Vision (Matthew 12:32). The Church has never defined ‘how’ Purgatory works, only that it draws the truth from Biblical passages. The goal of Purgatory is not to cause suffering or distress, but to cleanse from the stain that is caused by sin. We are purified by Christ’s sacrifice, but can still become unclean by our sin after our initial redemption. This is why we may need further refining, to be purified perfectly into Christ’s image.
Purgatory is not an eternal state, but a temporal one, where the saved have a guaranteed promise of Heaven (Matthew 5:25-26). In this sense, Purgatory is distinct from Heaven and Hell; those in Heaven will never wish to leave, those in Hell never can. Purgatory will, at some point, cease to be required, because all of mankind will be in one of the other two destinations.
One of the objections to Purgatory is that the doctrine makes reference to ‘fire’, which is always associated with Hell and suffering. But when we openly read the Scriptures, ‘fire’ isn’t always a negative. For example, Jesus is said to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16), fire is the manifestation of God’s glory (2 Chron 7:21), and the Holy Spirit manifested as ‘tongues of fire’ at the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:3.) To simply conclude that ‘fire is bad’ is just un-Biblical.
Those in Purgatory are still united by Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, and so are part of the same mystical body. They have recieved the Baptism for the forgiveness of sin, and have taken to Lord to themselves in the Eucharist. Those in the state of purification still belong to the one Lord, as part of the one Church, having partaken in the one Baptism. Eventually all those in Purgatory will be united through Christ once all the ‘excess’ has been ‘burnt away’ (1 Cor 3:15).
Church Triumphant: The Church enjoying the perfect presence of God in Heaven are known as the ‘Church Triumphant.’ These Christians have reached the eternal place, and are in a state of perfect bliss. They know no pain, be it physical or emotional (Rev 21:1-27). These saved have been perfectly conformed to Christ’s righteousness (1 John 3:2), retaining their individuality but also basking in a perfected self. Those in Heaven lack nothing (Rev 21:23), and receive a feast to share with Jesus (Rev 19:7-9).
Firstly, Christ saves His Church, but also those of the Protestant denominations that are ignorant of what makes the Catholic Church the truth. I’ll explain: if a Protestant has investigated all the Catholic claims and recognizes this as the Church Jesus gave us, yet willfully remains seperate, then they cannot be saved. However if a Protestant holds to the Christian truth (the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus etc), but cannot comprehend how the Catholic Church could be the one that Jesus formed, then they are saved, but only in spite of Protestantism, not because of it.
Every Christian who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13), but please note that not all those who are saved will endure (1 Cor 9:27). This is the meaning of ‘triumphant’: these Christians who in the presence of Jesus have continually chosen Him over themselves, rejected the most alluring of sin, and conformed themselves to Jesus’ teachings.
One But Many?
We are truly one Church with one faith, but what some don’t know is that within the Church there are multiple ‘Rites’. Now, this isn’t to be confused with the Sacraments, which are sometimes referred to as ‘Rites’. These are ‘Liturgical Rites’, which means these distinctions enjoy a particular way to celebrate the Liturgy based on their own local culture and history. The Pope is Supreme Pontiff over all the Rites of the Church, East and West. All of these eastern ritual churches come under the jurisdiction of the Pope through the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, one of the offices of the Roman Curia. The rites are administered by either a Patriarch, a Major Archbishop, a Metropolitan, or have some other arrangement. Patriarchs are elected by a synod of bishops of their rite, and then request ecclesiastical communion from the Pope.
There is no separation in theology, doctrine or scriptural interpretation. These Rites all ‘eat of the one bread, drink from the one cup.’
The most recognized Rite is the Latin Rite; chances are that when you’re thinking of the Catholic Church, you’re picturing the Latin Rite.
There’s the Byzantine Rite, developed by St James but developed further by St Basil and St John Chrysotom. The services and practices are very similar to the Orthodox Church.
The Alexandrian Rite is usually referred to as ‘the Coptic Rite’, usually attributed to St Mark the Evangelist. Then we have the Syirac, Malankarese, Ge’ez, Armenian, Chaldean, and the Syro-Malabar rites.
All these Rites are part of the One Church without dissension. If a Catholic were to attend any of these Rites, they could take part in the Mass and would fulfill Sunday obligation.