Friends in high places: the Church on the communion of saints
By Catholic News Agency
In November, the Church observes the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, both of which honor the Church’s teaching on the communion of saints.
Photo by James Baca/DCR
As Catholics, we profess belief in the soul’s immortality each Sunday during the recitation of the Nicene Creed, as we “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Anticipating our own departure and this universal resurrection, we take solace in the hope that the faithful departed are with God. But are they out of our reach?
The belief in a communion of saints is one that many non-Catholic Christians unfortunately no longer embrace—although this was not always so. Preaching a Christmas sermon in 1531, Martin Luther himself extolled the virtue of the Blessed Virgin Mary when he said: “(She is the) highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. … She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough.” He said that “honor and praise must be given to her, in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.”
Catholics understand that Mary, Joseph, the Apostles, and other biblical figures are not the only “noble gems” in the history of Christianity. We regard all of our elder brothers and sisters in Christ with a type of veneration that does not detract from the worship due to God alone. In fact, the veneration of the saints honors God, by recalling what his grace accomplished in these men and women throughout history.
We also ask for the prayers of the saints, seeking their intercession with God. This is possible for one simple reason: because the Church’s unity is not broken by death. There is not one Church in heaven, and another on earth. Rather, there is one universal Church, whose members remain in a profound communion whether they are living on earth or in heaven with God.
Praying for one another’s needs is essential to this bond of communion—and so, we know that the saints in heaven pray for us, just as the members of the Church living on earth pray for each other.
In the book of Revelation, St. John speaks of the saints and their intercessory prayers. He writes: “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
Speaking on the feast of All Saints in November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI reminded the faithful that “we experience in advance the gift of the beauty of sanctity every time we take part in the eucharistic liturgy, in communion with the ‘immense multitude’ of the blessed, who in heaven eternally acclaim the salvation of God and of the Lamb.”
The pope cited his own encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” to explain that “the life of saints does not only comprise their earthly biography, but also their life and action in God after death. Evident in the saints is that, whoever goes to God, does not separate himself from men, but becomes really close to them.”
Because the saints have not left us by going to God, we ask their prayers for us, just as we ask for the prayers of faithful friends or family members. When we look to them for inspiration and intercession, we live out our faith in the communion of saints—a bond of love between earth and heaven.