The Communion of Saints
Church Triumphant, Church Militant, Church Suffering
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. xii. 4, 5
Few other tenets of Catholic belief and practice have been combated by the religious revolutionists of the sixteenth century with such persistent violence as that Of “The Communion of the Saints “ yet few other tenets of Catholic belief and practice are so solidly grounded in Scripture and Tradition, or afford to the Christian soul so much sweetness of thought, so much hopefulness of life and action.
For ages the Apostles Creed reechoed through Christendom “ I believe in the “Communion of the Saints” and to this article of the Creed solemn significance was given in universal ritualistic observance. Suddenly all was changed. ”Justification by faith alone“; the vital, though most erroneous principle of the new religion, was the argument for the exclusion of all secondary or mediate intercession. The Saints, those on earth or those in Heaven, it was said, must be silenced. Intervention on their part is needless. It is injurious to the Saviour of Calvary. It indicates either in the Saviour insufficiency of power and merit, or in the believer insufficiency of personal appropriation of the fullness of salvation proffered by Him to mankind. Henceforward, the article in the Creed “I believe in the Communion of the Saints” “was to be a mere verbal expression, void of substantial meaning or living reality.
Much more that the Saints be once forever ejected from prerogatives and privileges heretofore accorded to them, war was waged against their names and memories, against things whatsoever that might recall them to the Christian mind, or suggest recognition of their deeds of holiness. The doctrine of “ The Communion of the Saints“ as interpreted and reduced to practice by the Catholic Church, before and after the so-called “Reformation” was distorted and calumniated to the end that seen only under a vile and blackened image, it be abominated the more cordially and buried the more deeply in abiding oblivion. The recognition of the Saints, as known in the Catholic Church, it was said, is rank superstition, degraded idolatry: to invoke their intercession, to venerate their virtues, to picture them in stone or on canvas, is the revival of olden paganism. Thus inaugurated, opposition to the Saints traveled down the centuries, though here and there somewhat shorn of its asperity as justice and common sense were allowed a hearing. The opposition lives to-day. Even to-day the Saints need to be defended. Misrepresentation must be denied, and truth set forth in its full armor of defense.
What is “The Communion of the Saints” It is the fellowship of mutual love and help among the sons of Christ, members of His mystic body, the Church, whether still battling for salvation on earth, or reigning in bliss in Heaven, or enduring for a time the cleansing fires of Purgatory. “There is no other name under Heaven given to man, whereby he must be saved “no other name than that of Jesus, Redeemer and Saviour. Jesus is sole Redeemer, sole Mediator, the sole One, capable of bringing God to man, and man to God this, certainly, the indubitable and uncontestable teaching of the Christian dispensation. None may doubt this teaching: none may set up, in doctrine or practice, aught to impair, in slightest iota, its over-mastering integrity. The supremacy of Jesus, as Redeemer and Saviour, was at all times the solemn asseveration of the Christian religion: it is to-day the solemn asseveration of the Catholic Church.
Whence, then, the intercessory function attributed to the Saints by the Catholic Church, clearly implied, the Church teaches, in the article of the Apostles Creed “I believe in the Communion of the Saints “? We answer: From the free-willed ordering of the Redeemer and Saviour Himself, due altogether to His love and merciful condescension.
In the Christian dispensation love is supreme. The whole dispensation had its birth in God s eternal love for mankind: its whole course through time was to be the outward effusion of this love. As one of the effects of this love, the Incarnate Word willed that men be united to Him in closest, most intimate bond, even to become, as it were, members of His own body : “Now” writes St. Paul, “you are the body of Christ, and members of member.” And, then, as the consequence of their union with Himself, He willed that they be united with one another, even to become members of one another: “So we being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of an Other” And, further, in result of their mutual love, He ordered that they help one another: “That there might be no schism in the body, but the members might be mutually careful one for another”. Thence the privilege of the members to intercede one for an other. As a token of His love for His members, as an encouragement to them to love one another, He, the Head, authorizes the members to take, through petition, one for another graces from the divine treasury, and in this manner, in a degree otherwise impossible, to be mutually “careful one for another” “The Communion of the Saints” in its intercessory function, is one of the many beauteous blossomings of that mysterious love for mankind which bade the eternal Word from Heaven to Bethlehem, from Bethlehem to Calvary.
In the prerogative of intercession given to the members of the body of Christ no shadow is there of infringement upon the mediatorship of the one Saviour: no shadow of substitution of human for divine merit. The Saints offer prayers that through His love and mercy the merits of the Saviour be applied to fellow members of the same mystic body. When we address the Saints, we ask for their intercession. We say to them: “Pray for us”. Never to the Saints do we say: Grant us grace, grant us salvation. To grant grace and salvation is the privilege solely of Him who merited grace, who alone is entitled to dispose of it. Before Him the Saints are as having nothing: outside of Him the Saints, however high in favor, are power less of will and void of hand to help us.
But why in any manner bring the Saints into action? Why not at once mount to the Source of grace, and there without aid from other creatures take immediate draught from its all-copious flow? No absolute need, indeed, is there of the company of the Saints, when we present ourselves before the Great Mediator: to Him the road is always open: alone we may travel it: alone we often do travel it. Yet, there is a signal advantage in approaching Him hand in hand with fellow members of His mystic body. The Great Mediator is pleased when His members put into practice His man date that they love one another, that they be mutually “careful one of the other” And, then, our prayers for love and mercy reach the Throne of Grace, worthier and more compelling when mingled with the prayers of others, nearer and dearer to Jesus. Slight our personal value: poor and weak our claims upon the divine treasury. The prayers of the Saints united with our prayers, the deeds of the Saints are made ours. Not we, unworthy ones, who then pray, but those more beloved of God, whose titles to a hearing He more readily acknowledges.