Ecclesiam Sanctam

"Sacrosancta Ecclesia": The Holy Church of Sinners

Roch Kereszty

“The Church . . . becomes holy through the holiness of her heavenly spouse.”

In the Catholic churches throughout the world, every Holy Saturday night the deacon intones the ancient hymn Exultet in which the most holy Church (sacrosancta Ecclesia) offers to the Father the praise of the Paschal candle. The Latin original “sacrosancta Ecclesia” expresses the holiness of the Church more emphatically than “sancta Ecclesia” would, yet, in spite of the former’s apparently unrealistic meaning, we often find it in the liturgy and ecclesial documents. In the past, pious Catholics also used to speak about “Holy Mother Church.” In recent years, however, many pious Catholics were deeply shaken in their inherited belief regarding the Church’s holiness. Although most of them remained loyal, they no longer refer to the Church as “holy mother.” The recurring stories on the sexual abuse scandal made their childhood catechism lesson on the holy Church less credible.

In this essay I plan to respond to this situation by reviewing the theme of holiness and sin in the Church as it appears in the Scriptures, tradition, and experience of the Church. The following issues will be treated:

  1. The experience of God’s holiness in the Old Testament
  2. Jesus Christ, the “Holy One of God”
  3. The holy Church of God
  4. Sin and holiness in the Church
  5. The holy Church and evangelization

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