UNDERSTANDING YOUR FAITH
COMMUNION OF SAINTS
By Vic Scaravilli
The Church is the family of God. Jesus revealed that God is our Father and members of His church are His adopted sons and daughters. Regardless of time, all people who have done the will of the Father are related to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who are a part of the Body of Christ cannot be separated from His Body through death.
The concept of all members of the Church, whether living or dead, being part of God’s family is called the communion of saints. This term to describe all of the faithful in Christ has been used since the very early Church. The most common use is found in the Apostles Creed, dating back to the 3rd century where it states, “I believe in … the communion of saints.” Many of the Church Fathers also taught and wrote of this belief.
“Communion” literally means sharing. In this case, it is the living bond with our brothers and sisters in Christ as members of His body throughout time. All members of His Church are welded into a supernatural communion with Christ as their head.
This family is found in three different states. The Church militant describes the living members of God’s family here on earth that is striving to lead spiritual lives. The Church suffering are those in Purgatory who are being purified to be in the presence of God (Rev. 21:27) and the Church triumphant refers to those who are already united with God in heaven.
It is necessary to view the Church as a united family of believers, committed to loving and serving one another because of our brotherhood in Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As a result, all members have the obligation to help, serve, and pray for each other.
St. Paul writes of the importance of prayer and the necessity to pray for others. He emphasizes members of the Body of Christ can and must pray for others. We must remember, however, that, “There is only one mediator between God and man; the man Jesus Christ.” (1Tim. 2:5). All prayer, whether from us, other Christians, or the saints in heaven is directed to the Father through Christ.
There are several Scripture passages that make it clear that eternal life is a reality and the saints are even now standing before the throne of God and are concerned about life on earth and are able to make supplication on their behalf. Hebrews 12:1 describe, “a great cloud of witnesses surround us” as we run our race on earth. Other verses that tell us that saints in heaven are aware of what is happening on earth are Lk. 15:7-10 where there is much rejoicing in heaven of a sinner on earth; Lk. 16:25 when Abraham, who lived and died centuries before Lazarus, know of his life; Lk. 20:38 where God says He is the God of the LIVIVG and to Him all are alive in Christ. A great verse that sums it up is Rom. 8:38-39 where is says, “…neither death nor life, nor angels, nor many other things, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from being part of God’s Family, not even death!
Christians believed from the beginning of the Church it is possible for us here on earth to have fellowship or communion with the saints in heaven through our prayer. In the same way we ask fellow Christians to pray for us and for our needs, we can also ask saints in heaven, those who have undivided devotion to God, to pray and intercede for us before the throne of God.
Just as we can ask a saint in heaven to intercede for us, we, too, can also pray for those who have recently died. Christians have had a long tradition of praying for those who have passed away. We ask for God’s mercy praying that any purification necessary for them to enter the glory of God be soon completed.
Our Church venerates, or honors, saints in heaven. We have statues, pictures, and icons to remind us of our deceased brothers and sisters and honor them on special days during the liturgical year. However, venerating or honoring is different from worshipping. God alone is to be worshipped. Whenever we pray in front of a statue of a saint, we are never worshipping it, but rather are asking for intercession on our behalf through Christ.
The communion of saints is the Body of Christ throughout time. Since this is God’s family, all members have the responsibility to love and care for one another.