The Church is the Body of Christ, a reality in which all baptized believers are united in Christ as the head. This image, present in the New Testament, emphasizes that the Church finds its life and purpose in Christ and cannot be separated from Him. Believers form a unity in which each member has distinct but necessary gifts and functions. The Church exists to continue the mission of Christ in the world, proclaiming the Gospel, celebrating the sacraments, and serving humanity.
Within Catholic theology, the distinction of three levels or states of the Church is used: the Pilgrim Church, the Church Suffering, and the Glorious Church. These levels describe different realities related to salvation and eternal life.
- Pilgrim Church: The Pilgrim Church refers to the community of believers who are alive on earth. We are called “pilgrims” because we are on a spiritual journey towards the fullness of eternal life in communion with God. The Pilgrim Church is where believers participate in the sacraments, live their faith, and strive to grow in holiness as they follow the path of Christ.
- Suffering Church: The Suffering Church refers to those believers who have died in God’s grace but still require purification before entering into full communion with God in heaven. According to Catholic teaching, some believers may have temporary imperfections or debts due to venial sins or the lack of complete atonement for their past sins. It is believed that these souls are in a state of purification in Purgatory, where they are cleansed and freed from their faults to be able to enter God’s presence in heaven. Believers in the Pilgrim Church can pray for the souls in the Suffering Church, offering their intercession and sacrifices to assist them in their process of purification.
- Glorious Church: The Glorious Church refers to all the saints who have attained full communion with God in heaven. These saints, known and unknown, are regarded as models of holiness and are venerated in the Church. It is believed that the saints enjoy the beatific vision of God, experiencing His love fully and living in perfect communion with Him. The Glorious Church includes both officially canonized saints and those who have attained holiness but have not been formally recognized.
It is important to highlight that these three levels of the Church are united in the communion of saints. The Pilgrim Church, the Suffering Church, and the Glorious Church form a single reality in Christ, where believers can seek the intercession of the saints and be in communion with them through prayer and participation in the sacraments.
In the case of saints in heaven, it is believed that they can intercede for us before God. In an upcoming installment, we will delve deeper into the Communion of Saints.