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THE CHURCH AS A COMMUNION OF SAINTS

Rev. Fr Gabriel Uche Emeasoba INTRODUCTION The first and second days of the month of November have over the years become one of the very important days in the cycle of the Churchs liturgical calendar. Within these two days, the Church devotes special attention to the celebration of the Church beyond space and time. On the 1st of November, the pilgrim Church celebrates the Church triumphant those holy men and women who have been glorified in/by Christ in heaven. And immediately after this tumultuous feast, she adverts with a solemn decor and attitude to pray for the souls of the faithful departed suffering in purgatory. These two liturgical events are placed subsequent to each other not just for the purpose of contrast; they are rather two celebrations that bring to the fore the Churchs belief in and identity as a Communion of Saints. THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS In both the Apostles creed and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed, after confessing belief in the Holy Catholic Church, the Church professes: I believe in the Communion of Saints. In the West, this article of faith (Communio Sanctorum) was not inserted into the Christian Creed until the end of the fifth century. What does the Church mean when she proclaims these articulate words? The belief in the communion of saints is the belief that all those who believe in Christ (alive or dead) are united in Him and therefore commune with each other. Hence, the Church widely seen as a communion of saints includes all those redeemed and sanctified by the grace of Christ, whether on earth, in purgatory or in heaven. Christ is the basis and the centre of this communion since He is the head of the mystical body, the Church. What this means is that in Christ, the faithful are yoked together just as the body is united to the head and therefore, they share the life of the head. Life in Christ itself is eternity. For those who believe in Christ therefore, there is no divide between life and death. Those who are alive commune with those who although dead remain in Christ. And together, they form one family of God, one ecclesia, one communion of saints, sharing in spiritual things. Technically speaking, the term communion of saints has two closely linked meanings: communion in holy things (sancta) and communion among holy persons (sancti). By communion in holy things (sancta), we mean that there exists a communion of spiritual goods among the members of the Church. Hence communion in holy things include: (a) communion in the faith (b) communion of the sacraments (especially the

ALL SAINTS AND ALL SOULS

Eucharist) (c) Communion of charisms and (d) communion in charity. Apart from communion in holy things, communion of saints also implies communion of holy persons (sancti). The Church teaches that she exists in three states: the pilgrim Church, the Church suffering and the Church triumphant. Christians who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified and the blessed in heaven all together form one Church with Christ as the Head. As such therefore, members of the Church in these three states commune with each other in Christ. This communion reaches its climax in the celebration of the Eucharist within which the whole of creation with one voice give solemn praise and thanksgiving to God. Suffice it to say that there are three different levels of communion within the communion of saints. The first level of communion is the communion of the faithful living on earth. The second level of communion is the communion between the faithful on earth and the saints in heaven while the third level of communion is the communion of the faithful on earth and the saints in heaven with the poor souls in purgatory. There is no communion between the pilgrim and triumphant Church with the damned souls in hell. Their fundamental rejection of Christ has removed them from the confines of Gods grace and cut them out from the glory of Gods people and kingdom. It will be of interest to understand how these levels of communion operate within the Church. The First Level of Communion In the first level of communion, communion among the faithful living on earth makes it possible for the faithful to procure gifts from God for one another by intercessory prayers. In his encyclical Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII, wrote: the salvation of the many souls depends upon the prayers and voluntary mortifications offered for that intention by the members of the mystical body of Christ. The belief in the power of intercessory prayers is of immense antiquity and has clear biblical foundations (Gen18:23, Ex 32 11, 1 Sam 7:5, Jer 18:20, Rom 1: 9, Rom 15: 30, 1 Tim 2: 1. James 5: 16.). We can also find backings for the efficacy of intercessory prayers in the writings of the ancient Fathers like St Clement of Rome, St Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian and St Polycarp of Smyrna. Apart from intercessory prayers, within this level of communion, it is also possible for Christians to merit for others, gifts of a spiritual nature which can effect the bestowal of outward and inward graces necessary for salvation, through works of piety performed in state of grace. They can as well through these good works render atonement for the sins of one another. The Second level of Communion and the Solemnity of All Saints The second level of communion within the communion of saints is the communion between the faithful on earth and the saints in heaven. The saints are those men and women who have responded to the dispensation of Gods grace and as a result enjoy the state of blessedness

in heaven. Among these saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary occupies a special role as the queen of all the saints. The teaching of the Church in this area concerns the teachings on the veneration and invocation of the saints, the veneration of the relics of the saints and the veneration of the images of saints. It is the teaching of the Church expressed in the Sacred Council of Trent that it is permissible and profitable to venerate the saints in heaven and to invoke their intercession. The saints are models of Christian virtue and perfection for all Christians. Hence, the Fathers teach that through images, we honour the saints which they represent and that it is good and profitable to appeal to them for help. In the Church the veneration of the Saints is called absolute Dulia. We do not worship them, rather, we honour them not in themselves but because of their connection with Christ, having themselves been glorified by God Himself. The Church also venerates the relics of the saints (objects which came into physical contact with the saints are also venerated as relics) and the honour shown to these relics is called relative Dulia. According to the Fathers of the Church in Trent, the reason for the veneration of the relics of the saints lies in the fact that the bodies of the saints were living members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit and that they will be awakened and glorified and that through them God bestows many gifts on mankind. Lastly, the Church teaches that it is permissible and profitable to venerate the images of saints (relative Dulia). The honour which is shown to the images refers to the prototypes which these images represent. This is different from adoration which is only due to God. So many people who reject the veneration of the saints through images often point to the Old Testament rejection of making and veneration of images but it is good to point out here that Exodus 20: 4 was meant to prevent Israelites from relapsing into idolatry of their pagan milieu (even the Old Testament knew exceptions from this prohibition of making images in Ex 25: 18 and Num 21:8). Little wonder Christian veneration of images developed only after the victory of the Church over paganism. It is good to note also that the Reformers rejected the Churchs stand on the veneration and invocation of saints as unbiblical and as incompatible with the one mediatorship of Christ. On this, let it be said that even though it is true that the Sacred Scripture does not explicitly refer to the veneration and invocation of saints, it itself asserts the principle out of which Church teaching and practice on the veneration of saints developed. Hence, our right to venerate the saints, writes Ludwig Ott, can be deduced from the veneration offered to the angels as one sees in the Bible (Jos 5:14, Dn 8:17, Tob 12: 16). The ground for the veneration of angels is their supernatural dignity, which is rooted in their immediate union with God (Mt 18:10). Since the saints also are immediately joined to God (1 Cor 13:12, 1 Jn 3:2), it follows that they too are worthy of veneration. Historically, the veneration of the saints appeared first in the

form of veneration of the martyrs. The solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1 is therefore one unique feast in which the Church celebrates in her liturgy what she teaches on our relationship with the Church triumphant. The exact origin of this feast of all the saints as it is today which has been accorded the rank of a solemnity over the years is not so clear but the first evidence of celebrating this feast on first November was noted in England during the papacy of Gregory III (731-734) who dedicated an oratory in St Peters Rome, to all the saints. The broadening of the feast to include all the saints and martyrs of the whole universal Church and its observance on 1 November is variably ascribed to Gregory IV (827-844) and Gregory VII (1020-1085). The feast is meant to remind us that the saints were human beings like us and that if we would remain faithful, we shall be glorified like them. The Third Level of Communion and the Commemoration of All Souls The third level of communion in the communion of saints is the communion of the faithful on earth and the saints in heaven with the poor souls in purgatory. There are different faces to this level of communion. In the first case, the Church teaches that the living faithful can come to the assistance of the souls in purgatory by their intercessions. It is also her teaching that the saints in heaven can come to the help of the souls in purgatory by their intercession. Lastly, the Church believes and teaches that the souls in purgatory can intercede for other pilgrim members of the mystical body. Both the 2nd general Council of Lyons and the Council of Florence agree in declaring that: for the alleviation of their punishments these are profitable to the poor souls, namely: the sacrifice of the mass, prayers and alms and other works of piety, which the faithful are accustomed to perform for one another according to the institutions of the Church. The Church at the Council of Trent, against the Reformers declared that there is a cleansing fire, and that the souls held fast in it receive help through the intercessory prayers of the Faithful, above all by the sacrifice of the altar. The Churchs doctrine on Purgatory was formulated in the Councils of Florence and Trent. It is the teaching of the Church that apart from heaven and hell that the souls of the friends of Christ who have not been perfectly purified undergo purification in purgatory and that through our intercessions and that of the saints they can be saved. The Church gives the name purgatory to the final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. Even though the term purgatory is not explicitly mentioned in the bible, there are indirect allusions to this teaching in the Sacred Scripture which was developed across the centuries by the teaching authority of the Church. The tradition of praying

for the dead which implicates this doctrine existed as far back as in later Judaism. Hence in 2 Macc 12: 42-46 Judas Maccabeus made atonement for the dead that they may be delivered from their sins. The Sacred Scripture speaks of a cleansing fire (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1: 7). St Paul desired Gods mercy on the Day of Judgment for his loyal helper Onesiphorus, who apparently was no longer among the living at the time of the composition of his 2nd Epistle to Timothy (2 Tim 1: 18). There is also evidence of this doctrine in the writings of the Fathers like Tertullian, St John Chrystostom and St Augustine. Regarding the teaching on praying for the dead, the Church teaches that the living can come to the help of the poor souls in purgatory by their intercessions (suffrages) and good works done in state of grace. These suffrages operate in such a manner that the satisfactory value of the prayers and good works is offered to God in substitution for the temporal punishments for sins, which the poor souls in purgatory still have to render. The possibility of offering a vicarious atonement for another persons punishment is founded on the unity of the mystical Body of Christ effected by grace and charity. It is based upon this teaching on praying for the dead, anchored on the Communion of saints, the mystery of the divine mercy and the hope of the resurrection that Catholic Christians gather at funerals when one of their own die to pray for them. This is also what the Church does in a special way every 2nd of November during the commemoration of All Souls. It is good to note that The Church gathered at prayer during Christian funerals or on All Souls day is not only a mourning Church; indeed that Church is a Church of hope. The hope of the Church is based on the fact that every Christian who has faith in Christ would never experience death. So the Churchs gathering is to testify to the life of faith of her members who are dead and to offer sacrifices for the dead as valid suffrage that can atone for the imperfections of the believers who are friends of Christ. Yes, the Church here can atone for those in purgatory because of our connection in Christ and when she does this, she does not bring about salvation in the grave for the already damned, she satisfies for the purification of the holy souls who are yet to behold Gods glory. The Church at the graveside is not only there for the care and cure of the living, her good actions and words of prayer can have efficacy even for the dead who though holy are yet to be perfectly purified. Our Church is not a short-sighted one, her arms can reach eternity just because there exists in it the presence of the Triune God in the mystery of the Son who is the Head of the Church. It is really interesting seeing how some other religions around us who do not hold exactly the same belief as we do also gather at the death of their loved ones to pray for the dead. So many of them say: may he/she rest in peace. Hence, without knowing it, they implicitly affirm our belief and practice. The only difference is that they have not yet made this explicit.

Finally, within this level of the communion of saints, the saints can also come to the help of the souls in purgatory by their intercessions. No wonder in the liturgy of the dead, the Church invokes the saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for the dead. However, the intercession of the saints has only an impetratory value, as the possibility of atonement and of merit is limited to the term of earthly life. Because they are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, likewise the souls of the souls in Purgatory can also intercede for the faithful on earth. CONCLUSION On the celebration of the solemnity of All Saints and the day of the commemoration of the souls in purgatory, the Church relives her true identity as a Communion of Saints. No true Catholic worthy of the name should miss the unique opportunity offered to us by these celebrations. If not for anything, these two celebrations are unique opportunities for Christians to pause and reflect on their lives and its value for the life after death. Pray for us Oh holy Saints! Many the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.