Article 81 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 946-959 The Saints
There are 24 different rites in the Catholic Church, one of which is the Latin Rite, or the rite of the “Western” Catholic Church (the one which most of us belong). The other 23 rites belong to the “Eastern” Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox Church).
In most of the Eastern Catholic rites, the familiar words “Sancta sanctis!”
(“God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people”) is proclaimed by the priestcelebrant “during the elevation of the holy Gifts before the distribution of communion” at Mass (ccc 948). What does this mean? In short, it means that “the faithful [sancti] are fed by Christ’s holy body and blood [sancta] to grow in the communion of the Holy Spirit [koinonia] and to communicate it to the world” (ccc 948).
The term “communion of saints,” therefore, has two closely linked meanings: “communion in holy things [sancta]” and “among holy persons [sancti]” (ccc 948).
When we speak of the saints, we ordinarily think of “holy Persons” who have lived faithful lives in this world and now are blissfully happy with God in heaven for all eternity. Then there are the souls in Purgatory. Their future is assured. They are much closer to the goal of heaven and more assured of it than we are. Finally, as St. Paul explained, there are those called “saints” like ourselves, who are trying to serve God and follow Christ here on earth. In fact, St. Paul teaches in Romans 12:4-13 and 1 Corinthians 12, that in Christ, all Christians living and deceased (in heaven and purgatory) form a single body or “communion of saints.”
Did you ever wonder whether the “blessed” saints in heaven can see what we are doing? Sacred Scripture not only teaches this truth but also seeks to impress upon us the factthat the saints are much interested in our lives(see Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10; Matthew 22:30; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 John 3:2). The author of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews uses the comparison of spectators gathered to
watch a race. Those in heaven who have gone before are a great “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us as we run with perseverance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). We should take to heart the thought that the saints or members of the Church in heaven are at this moment cheering us on, and even obtaining supernatural help for us from Christ our Lord and Prince of Peace. Think of the saints in heaven often. Take time each day to think of and talk to the saint after whom you are named.
One of the most obvious relationships we have with the saints in heaven is our dependency on them to “intercede for us.” The Catechism explains: “They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men” (ccc 956).
The Catechism goes on to explain what the “Communion of Saints” enjoy, including: 1. A Communion in the faith: “The faith of the faithful is the faith of the Church, received from the apostles. Faith is a treasure of life which is enriched by being shared” (ccc 949).
2. A Communion of the sacraments: “All the sacraments are sacred links uniting the faithful with one another and binding them to Jesus Christ, and above all Baptism, the gate by which we enter into the Church … it is primarily (however) the Eucharist that brings this communion about” (ccc 950).
3. A Communion of charisms: “… the Holy Spirit ‘distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank’ for the building up of the Church. Now, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (ccc 951). According to the Acts of the Apostles, “They had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). Therefore, “‘Everything the true Christian has is to be regarded as a good possessed in common with everyone else. All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy…and of their neighbors in want’” (ccc 952).
4. A Communion in charity: In the Sacred Communion of the Saints, “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” (
Rom 14:7). “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” ( 1 Cor 12:26-27).In this solidarity with all people, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all” (ccc 953).
The final paragraph in this segment of the Catechism on the Communion of Saints (ccc 962), using the words of Pope Paul VI, summarizes the Church’s teaching on the saints: “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (Paul VI, CPG § 30).
Notice that we are also one in mind and heart with the souls in purgatory or “the dead who are being purified.” You might say that our rich relatives are in heaven, and our poor ones are in purgatory! The souls in Purgatory are poor in the sense that they are suffering and can no longer do anything themselves to relieve their sufferings. They want heaven, and we can help them by our prayers and good works. They are much better off than we are. Sin is no longer possible for them, while sin is possible for us, as well as the possibility of an eternity in hell!
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Diocesan Office of the Pontifical Missions, the Office for Persons with Disabilities, and Censor Librorum.