Communion of Saints
For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office: so we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.(ROM. 12. 4, 5)
St. Paul frequently compares the various members of the Church to the different parts of the human body. Just as all the parts of the latter are more or less dependent one on another and lend mutual aid and assistance to one another, so all the members of the former are bound together in Christ, and should, by mutual charity and good offices, be of assistance one to another. The comparison of the Apostle beautifully illustrates the doctrine of the Communion of Saints which is expressed in the second part of the ninth Article of the Creed. This doctrine is consequent upon the first part of the same Article, which requires faith in the Holy Catholic Church; for the Communion of Saints results from the unity and holiness of the Church.
I. “Communion”: its first meaning. The Communion of Saints means in the first place fellowship in the external goods of the Church, that is, all have the same faith, the same Baptism, the same Eucharist, the same Sacrifice, and the same Sacraments, the same public prayers, religious functions, etc.
II. “Communion”: its second meaning. The Communion of Saints means in the second place that the members of the Church share in the internal goods of the Church, that is, they profit by the good done by the other members. I. The faithful assist each other with their prayers. Christ has taught us to pray for the general interest and salvation of all. 2. The faithful assist each other by their good works, such as the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the offering of satisfactions and the like.
III. Meaning of “Saints.” 1. Those who are called Saints in this Article of the Creed are all the faithful, because all have been sanctified by Baptism and are called to holiness; but the term applies in particular to those in the state of grace. 2. Those who are in mortal sin do not share in the internal goods of the Church, although they derive some advantage from them inasmuch as they retain the virtue of faith and their conversion is assisted by the prayers and good works of the faithful. 3. Those who are in mortal sin and who do not belong to the true Church (Jews, heretics, infidels, apostates, schismatics, and the excommunicated) share in neither the internal nor the external goods of the Church. 4. The Communion of Saints embraces not only the Church on earth, but also extends to heaven and purgatory, because charity unites the three Churches, triumphant, militant, and suffering. The Saints pray for us and for the souls in purgatory, while we honor the Saints and assist the souls in purgatory.
CONCLUSION. l. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints affords us hope and consolation. 2. It should be a stimulus to fervor and to the exercise of good works.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I
ARTICLE IX OF THE CREED: The Communion of Saints
The Evangelist St. John, writing to the faithful on the divine mysteries, tells them that he undertook to instruct them on the subject, “that you,” says he, “may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ.”(1) This “fellowship” consists in the Communion of Saints, the subject of the present Article. Would that in its exposition pastors imitated the zeal of St. Paul and of the other Apostles,(2) for not only does it serve as an interpretation of the preceding Article, and is a point of doctrine productive of abundant fruit, but it also teaches the use to be made of the mysteries contained in the Creed, because the great end to which all our researches and knowledge are to be directed is our admission into this most august and blessed society of the Saints, and our steady perseverance therein, “giving thanks [with joy] to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the Saints in light.”(3)
IN WHAT “THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS” CONSISTS
The faithful, therefore, in the first place, are to be informed that this Article is, as it were, a sort of explanation of the preceding one, which regards the unity, sanctity, and catholicity of the Church, for the unity of the Spirit, by which she is governed, establishes among all her members a community of spiritual blessings. The fruit of all the sacraments is common to all the faithful, and these sacraments, particularly Baptism, the door, as it were, by which we are admitted into the Church,(4) are so many connecting links which bind and unite them to Jesus Christ. That this Communion of Saints implies a communion of sacraments, the Fathers declare in these words of the Creed: “I confess one baptism.”(5) After Baptism, the Eucharist holds the first place in reference to this communion, and after the Eucharist, the other sacraments; for although common to all the sacraments, because all unite us to God, and render us partakers of Him whose grace they communicate to us, this communion belongs in a peculiar manner to the Eucharist, by which it is directly accomplished.(6)
But there is also another communion in the Church which demands attention: every pious and holy action done by one belongs to and becomes profitable to all, through charity, which “seeketh not her own.”(7) In this we are fortified by the concurrent testimony of St. Ambrose, who, explaining these words of the Psalmist, “I am a partaker with all them that fear thee,”(8) observes: “As we say that a member is partaker of the entire body, so are we partakers with all that fear God.” Therefore has Christ taught us to say, our, not my bread;(9) and the other petitions of that admirable prayer are equally general, not confined to ourselves alone, but directed also to the general interest and the salvation of all.
A SCRIPTURAL ILLUSTRATION OF THIS COMMUNION
This communication of goods is often very aptly illustrated in Scripture by a comparison borrowed from the members of the human body. In the human body there are many members, but though many, they yet constitute but one body, in which each performs its own, not all the same, functions. All do not enjoy equal dignity, or discharge functions alike useful or honorable; nor does one propose to itself its own exclusive advantage, but that of the entire body.(10) Besides, they are so well organized and knit together that if one suffers, the rest naturally sympathize with it; and if, on the contrary, one enjoys health, the feeling of pleasure is common to all. The same may be observed of the Church. She is composed of various members, of different nations–of Jews, Gentiles, freemen, and slaves, of rich and poor, yet all, initiated by faith, constitute one body with Christ, who is their head. To each member of the Church is also assigned his own peculiar office; as some are appointed apostles, some teachers, but all for the common good, so to some it belongs to govern and teach, to others to be subject and to obey.
THIS COMMUNION HOW FAR COMMON TO THE WICKED
But the advantages of so many and such exalted blessings bestowed by Almighty God are preeminently enjoyed by those who lead a Christian life in charity, and are just and beloved of God; while the dead members, that is, those who are bound in the thraldom of sin and estranged from the grace of God, although not deprived of these advantages so as to cease to be members of this body, are yet, as dead members, deprived of the vivifying principle which is communicated to the just and pious Christian. However, as they are in the Church they are assisted in recovering lost grace and life by those who are animated by the Spirit of God, and they also enjoy those fruits which are no doubt denied to those entirely cut off from the communion of the Church.(11)
“GRACES GRATUITOUSLY GRANTED”
COMMON TO THE WICKED WITH THE GOOD
But not only the gifts which justify and endear us to God are common. “Graces gratuitously granted,” such as knowledge, prophecy, the gifts of tongues and of miracles, and others of the same sort,(12) are common also, and are granted even to the wicked, not, however, for their own but for the general good, for the building up of the Church of God. Thus, the gift of healing is given not for the sake of him who heals, but for the sake of him who is healed. In fine, every true Christian possesses nothing which he should not consider common to all others with himself, and should therefore be prepared promptly to relieve an indigent fellow creature; for he that is blessed with worldly goods, and sees his brother in want, and will not assist him, is at once convicted of not having the love of God within him.(13) Those, therefore, who belong to this holy communion, it is manifest, enjoy a certain degree of happiness here below, and may truly say with the Psalmist: “How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. . . . Blessed are they who dwell in thy house, O Lord.”(14)
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
Sermon: “I believe in the Commumon of Saints.” By the Kev. Stephen Murphy, O.M.I.
This text, taken from the Apostles’ Creed, is an expression of the Catholic belief that the saints and friends of God have vital interests in common. It is of Divine faith that things affecting one soul in its relation to sanctity and happiness have an intimate bearing on all souls that belong to the Kingdom of Christ. We Christians glory in a brotherhood whose membership transcends the narrow limits of this world. We claim as our fellow citizens and our brethren countless human beings dwelling in heaven, on earth, in purgatory, who are united by a mutual sympathy and friendship among themselves and by the common reliance they place in the goodness and favor of the Almighty.
I. Now all are called saints on earth who are sons abiding in the household of God. To be such they must be free from grievous sin. But freedom from sin and admission to the companionship of the saints, we may well recall, in the case of most men implies repentance for past misconduct and a determination of future amendment; just as it required the sorrow and tears of the returning prodigal to open once more to him the home of his youth and innocence. Whether, then, it be Baptism or penance that has made them the friends of God, the saints on earth are the living members of the Church Militant, whose essential qualification is innocence and holiness, and whose cherished possession is a common heritage of merit and atonement bequeathed to them by Christ in the shedding of His Precious Blood. The saints here below have in common the same means of grace and edification, enabling them. to withstand with unfaltering countenance the dangerous allurements that threaten their peace of mind. They all partake of the Banquet of the Lord and are fed with the same Holy Bread of eternal life. Their common worship is the prayer and sacrifice of the universal Church offered up by the mediation of an Omnipotent Intercessor. It is the prayer of many hearts united with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Their voices ascend to heaven as one voice and cry, beseeching the Father of mercies, that the days of His children on earth may be disposed in peace and that all may be numbered in the flock of the elect.
II. The saints in purgatory are those who suffer after death, but who have received from God, in the particular judgment, the certain assurance that they are saved. Their earthly existence for them is a thing of the past; but the combats they sustained in the flesh and the temptations they encountered have left wounds and scars that were not entirely healed by the remedies applied of contrition and penance. Their condition, in dying, though not meriting’ everlasting punishment, nevertheless prevented their instant passage into paradise. And thus they are excluded for a time from heaven. They are the saints called the Church Suffering, because they remain in a place of purification until, by the grief and affliction they patiently endure, all wounds and traces of their earthly failings and imperfections are burnt and purged away. But the good and the generous, when subjected to suffering, are peculiarly sensitive to the affliction of others. Hence the saints in purgatory are united in sorrow; and as their common grief at being kept far from God is so much the more penetrating, so likewise the compassion they feel for one another’s distress is deeper and more overpowering than any we can experience in this world.
Nor does this mean that these afflicted souls are separated from the living. Rather, we must say, participation in the treasury of atonement, of which the living Church holds the keys, is more necessary for them; seeing that, in their prison and chains, they are powerless to help themselves. Though confined in purgatory, they retain a rightful share of the benefits dispensed in this world by the ministers of Christ. They are joined to their human brethren on earth by the recognition and expectancy of relief. We are able to lend them aid by offering to God, as atonement for their debt, our own prayers and other good works. What a consoling dogma of our religion that we can thus render assistance to deceased relatives and friends, our separation from whom by death we bitterly mourn! And we may be well assured of their gratitude and of their prayers in return if our charity, esteemed by God, hastens for them the glad hour of their deliverance from prison, when they shall be granted refreshment, light, and everlasting rest.
III. By far the most numerous branch of the Communion of Saints is formed of the blessed in heaven. From every tribe and tongue and people are they gathered before the face of God in the everlasting courts, where they participate in the all-absorbing vision of things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive. It is the Church Triumphant, the union in glory of souls washed in the Blood of the Lamb. It is the unspeakable happiness that the assembly of the elect enjoy when they possess God eternally as their reward exceedingly great.
Now, if there is an identity of interest among the faithful of this world, if likewise there is an intimate union and fellowship animating the suffering souls, then what shall we say of the union and fellowship that pervades and animates the inhabitants of the Holy City? Seeing that the heart of man was created for neither strife nor sorrow, but for happiness alone, and since rational beings instinctively seek companionship in enjoyment, thus in the abode of perfect rest, where no shadow of suffering threatens, each redeemed soul is united with his companions of glory, and the knowledge of his own individual blessedness is immeasurably increased by sharing in the blessedness of the unnumbered thousands that sing hymns of joy before the great white throne.
But even in their joy, supreme and everlasting as it is, the saints in paradise are not forgetful of their brethren in less happy spheres. How many among them retain a vivid memory of the chastening pains they lately endured, and which they know others still endure, as the nearer preparation for participation in the privileged Communion of the beatific vision! Further, in viewing the sacred wounds of the glorified humanity of Christ, are they not necessarily reminded of this world we dwell in? Are they not reminded that earth, and not heaven, was chosen by the Son of God for His mortal career in human flesh? And that, on this earth, He elected to suffer and to die to purchase for men so glorious a destiny? Is it possible for the elect to forget the abode where the foundations of their happiness were laid? Where God, for their benefit, manifested His bountiful providence by miracles and revelations, by lessons of warning and promises of reward, by institutions of holiness and mercy? Where they themselves, sustained by Divine grace, were able to rejoice in the midst of tribulations and sorrows that appeared too heavy, too unbearable to all except to those who loved God and trusted in the power of His love?
Nay, more, this present world in its actual condition is revealed to the eyes of the blessed. They take a never-failing interest in the lives of existing men, because however poorly circumstanced we may be, they behold the true nobility we possess as children of God redeemed equally as they by the Precious Blood of Jesus. In our souls they see imaged the adorable likeness of our Maker. In us they recognize members of that Church whose riches are their enjoyment. And if their joy will be filled with greater rejoicing in the triumph of our salvation, then truly may we say that the saints are with us not only in mind, their hearts likewise accompany us, so to speak, in the battle we wage against the powers of darkness.
Their intercession with God is unceasing in our behalf, that through His mercy and goodness we may be made to persevere till the hour of victory and reward.
Practices. Let us now make some useful applications of our belief in the Communion of Saints. If we belong to the company of the just, then we are constrained to practise holiness. We are bound faithfully to fulfil our duties towards God and man. Still we shall show little generosity in so worthy a cause if we limit our endeavors to strict duty. We must therefore multiply our deeds of virtue that our example may be a shining light for the footsteps of our fellow Christians whose welfare is so closely connected with our own. Again, no person animated with a spirit of charity and true piety will fail to engage in special good works for the benefit of the suffering souls. Finally, let us pay due honor to the saints in paradise who are our friends nearest to God. Let us beg them to obtain from the Almighty this favor: that our lives may resemble theirs in goodness and fidelity in the service of religion, and that in dying we may be speedily admitted into the full participation of the celestial privileges of the Communion of Saints.
1. John i. 3. 2. Aug. in Joan. Tract. 32. 3. Col. i. 12.
4. Aug. i. 19, contr. Faustum. c. n.
5. Damasc. lib. 4, de fide orthodox, cap. 12; i Cor. 13. 6. Cor. x. 16.
7. i Cor. xiii. 5 8. in Ps. cxviii. serm. 8, v. 63.
9. Matt. vi. n. 10. I Cor. xii. 14.
11. Aug. in Ps. 70, serm. (2) 12. 1 Cor. xiii. 2.
13. I John iii. 17 14. Ps. lxxxiii. 2, 3, 5.
Sermon of St. John Chrysostom
The Apostles, disciples of Christ, are held to be teachers of the faithful; the valiant Confessors give battle, the heroic martyrs triumph, and Christian hosts, armed by God, always prevail over the devil. All these have been men, alike in valor, unlike in their strife, glorious in their victory. Hence, O Christian, you are but a faint-hearted soldier if you think you can conquer without a battle, triumph without a struggle. Use your strength, fight manfully, wage a fierce battle. Remember your covenant, consider your situation, study your battlefield. You have pledged yourself to a contract, you have taken up a responsibility, you have enlisted in an army.