by John Pacheco
When discussing beliefs about Mary, it is helpful to first discuss the Catholic view of the communion of saints. When Catholics speak of "saints", we are typically referring to canonized saints who the Church has infallibly recognized are in heaven. Yet the Church also recognizes that faithful believers on earth are also saints:
The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as 'alone holy,' loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God." The Church, then, is "the holy People of God," and her members are called "saints." (CCC, 823)
The Council of Trent, in its 25th Session, declared the following to be the dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church:
"...the saints, who reign together with Christ, offer up their own prayers for men . . . it is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid and help for obtaining benefits from God through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who is alone our Redeemer and Saviour."
The doctrine of the Communion of Saints is not as explicit as other Christian teachings, but this fact does not mean that the teaching is absent from the Word of God. In fact, there are many doctrines that Protestants accept which are not explicit or even apparent in the bible. These implicit teachings are built upon other, indirect explicit teachings of Scripture. Scriptural passages on the Trinity, the natures or wills of Christ, and original sin are not, arguably, explicit in the bible. These and other teachings rely on other explicit passages which, together, form the justification for the belief. In some cases, it is possible for the rejection of an implicit teaching to effectively deny one or more of the explicit teachings which point to it.
Many Protestants proudly claim they are not "going beyond" Scripture, and therefore do not fall into the "extra-biblical" trap which Catholics do. An overriding quality of sola scriptura is its reliance on the explicit nature of a doctrine. For Protestants, the more perspicuous or explicit a doctrine is, the more likely it is to be true. Conversely, the less explicit a doctrine is, the less likely it is to be true. This is a logical consequence of the heresy of sola scriptura. The degree of communion among its adherents is, at least in part, determined by holding to what is explicitly taught in Scripture and shying away from more implicit teachings where disagreement may arise.
Ironically, however, it is the Protestant who ends up denying an explicit teaching and therefore "detracting from Scripture". In denying the logical conclusion of a set of combined, explicit teachings, the Protestant must deny one of the explicit teachings which, together with the others, point to the conclusion. This is exactly what happens when the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of Saints is considered and rejected by Protestants.
In seeking to understand this Catholic belief, the non-Catholic inquirer will be able to better understand the Catholic communication which exists among the saints on earth, the saints in heaven, the Blessed Mother, and God. In seeking to provide the foundation for this belief, a number of Scriptural principles must first be presented and accepted.
The first pillar of this doctrine is founded on the honour and respect we owe to all people and, in particular, our brothers and sisters in the Faith.
Scripture is clear that we are to honour and respect everyone:
In fact, St. Paul says that Christians are to "outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10). In other words, it is unbiblical to assert that showing honour to a Christian somehow detracts from the praise and glory due to Christ. If we are all one body joined to the head (Cf. Ephesians 4:15-16), then the praise of one part of the body redounds to the whole body, especially the head. As St. Paul reveals to the Christians, "...if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26). It is not unlike a father taking pride and glory when one of his children is praised by someone outside of the immediate family. Since God's fatherhood is more perfect and more sublime than a mere human fatherhood, are we to believe that His disposition toward this filial honour should be any less? Of course not.
No where in the bible does it say that once someone dies, we are to stop honouring them.
The second pillar of this doctrine rests on the imitation of virtuous people.
Many Protestants, especially Fundamentalists, do not accept that we are to imitate anyone but Jesus. While their devotion to Our Lord is commendable, the restriction is misplaced. First of all, imitating virtuous Christians is indeed imitating Christ. It is imitating Christ in the time, the place, and the circumstances where Christ is not physically present. But these men and women throughout the ages represent "other Christs" who people of the time can emulate. Secondly, it is not a biblical teaching to refuse imitation of the saints. St. Paul contradicts this idea:
Do these passages point to the fact that we are to imitate Jesus only to the exclusion of holy men and women? Or, rather, are we to imitate St. Paul and all holy men and women because they imitate Jesus? In short, is it "either/or" or is it both? Secondly, if it is just a personal relationship between "me and Jesus", why would Paul bring honor and respect to himself by asking the early Christian to be imitators of himself? Does any of this really detract from the glory of God, or rather does it magnify it (Cf.Luke 1:46)?
No where in the bible does it say that once someone dies, we cannot continue to imitate them.
The third pillar of this doctrine holds that the saints in heaven are alive.
Many Protestants accuse Catholics of praying to "dead people". This comment is specious since the saints in heaven are certainly not "dead" in the colloquial meaning of the term. For a Christian, death is merely a separation of body and soul. An atheist does not define death in these terms. For an atheist, death is the annihilation of existence. For the Christian, however, the soul is eternal and so is the body which will be raised on the last day - either to eternal glory or to eternal damnation. Hence, the saints in heaven may have their souls separated from their bodies, but this is not an argument against communicating with them. It is difficult to understand the Protestant presumption that having a human body is required for communication. Where is this belief taught in Scripture? No where.
Jesus said: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt 22:32). The saints are alive in Christ Jesus because God is the God of the living and not the dead. Jesus' point in this passage is to reinforce the fact that the saints in heaven are TRULY living, and because they live, they can intercede with Christ just like any Christian on earth can intercede.
Even in the Old Testament, we learn that there are saints who are indeed alive. Take, for instance, this account from the first book of Samuel:
This passage is clearly teaching that Samuel, when he was in Sheol (the abode of the dead), was aware of earthly matters. Now a Protestant might object to such an example being used to support the Catholic view. Instead, he will claim that this is an example of a demonic act by the witch, and therefore actually serves as a proof text against the Catholic view. This interpretation would be a sloppy reading of the passage, however. First of all, witches or sorcerers have no power over the living God. Therefore, the witch did not have power over Samuel, a prophet of God, to call him up from Sheol. Secondly, notice the witch's surprise at Samuels appearance. This suggests that she did not even conjure him up, but rather he appeared before she even attempted to do so! Thirdly, Samuel speaks of a prophecy that comes true and therefore demonstrates that he is still speaking for God and honouring him (28:19).
Other evidence is found in Jeremiah:
"Then said the LORD unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth." (Jeremiah 15:1)
At the writing of Jeremiah, Moses and Samuel had been dead for centuries. So what are Moses and Samuel doing? They are pleading with God - by "standing before him" - obviously in intercession.
In the New Testament, there is the testimony of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Mount Tabor in Matthew 17:1-3:
"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli'jah, talking with him."
What does this show? It handily demonstrates that the Old Testament Prophets are communicating with God and are obviously aware of earthly affairs. As Moses and Elijah stand with Jesus and communicate with him, Jesus wants us to understand that there is no separation in the body. He makes the Old Testament prophets present to the three Apostles, and by extension, to the entire Church.
There is also the witness in Matthew's gospel about those who had fallen asleep before the time of Christ:
"And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit . . . the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many" (Matthew 27:50-53).
Again, this is a clear presentation of how the power of the Resurrection unites what death had divided. Death has no power over the communication of the saints on earth or in heaven.
Protestants also reject praying to the saints on the basis that they would not be capable of hearing all of the prayers directed at them simultaneously. Yet this is a very impoverished way of looking at how the saints exist in heaven. Clearly, the same limitations do not apply to human souls in heaven as they once did on earth! In heaven, the soul is more fully incorporated into the body of Christ and, through the ONE body, has infinite power to accomplish ANYTHING. As St. Paul reveals to the Corinthians:
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Cor. 13:12).
"The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions" (Luke 12:42-44).
In the Old Testament, King Solomon reserved a place for his mother, and provided a throne for her, who sat at his right hand (1 Kings 2:19). Sitting at someones right hand implied great power in Jewish tradition. When presented before the chief priest and the elders of the Sanhedrin, Jesus testified:
"Jesus answered, 'If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.' They all asked, 'Are you then the Son of God?' He replied, 'You are right in saying I am'" (Luke 22:68-70).
It is evident from Jesus' witness to the place of "the right hand of God" and the Sanhedrins immediate and unmistakable reaction to it, that belonging to this place is indeed seen to be equivalent or near-equivalent to divinity, and all that that entails.
Even the Apostles understood the power of this place in God's throne. Consider the incident with James and John, for instance:
"Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we want you to do for us whatever we ask.' 'What do you want me to do for you?' he asked. They replied, 'Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.' 'You don't know what you are asking,' Jesus said. 'Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?' 'We can,' they answered. Jesus said to them, 'You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared. When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.'" (Mark 10:35-41)
The Apostles, James and John, ask for their places in Jesus' kingdom. The other Apostles, knowing what has been asked by James and John, become "indignant" with them. Now, while it is true that Jesus admonishes them for their squabbling, He certainly does not dispute the hierarchical throne of heaven. In fact, He confirms it because He says, "but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared." The right hand of God is not inactive. The very notion of a "right hand" is that it is active, and if it is active, it is alive in Christ Jesus!
No where in the bible does it say that the saints in heaven are not alive in Christ Jesus and helping Him to accomplish His will.
The fourth pillar of this doctrine holds that the saints in heaven observe and pray for us.
The Old and New Testaments provide ample evidence that indeed the saints in heaven do observe and pray for us. The angels and saints can even know certain things in our hearts:
"...I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; and when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you . . . I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One." (Tobit 12:l2-15)
Here, the angel is acting as an intermediary between God and man. It is not just about praying to God - some kind of rank individualism. Prayer is a communal affair even when that prayer rises to God's presence, it is not alone. It is taken there by one of His angels.
"When he had armed each of them, not so much with the safety of shield and spear as with the encouragement of noble words, he cheered them all by relating a dream, a kind of vision, worthy of belief. What he saw was this: Onias, the former high priest, a good and virtuous man Then in the same way another man appeared, distinguished by his white hair and dignity, and with an air about him of extraordinary, majestic authority. Onias then said of him, "This is God's prophet Jeremiah, who loves his brethren and fervently prays for his people and their holy city." Stretching out his right hand, Jeremiah presented a gold sword to Judas. As he gave it to him he said, "Accept this holy sword as a gift from God; with it you shall crush your adversaries." (2 Maccabees 15:11-16)
In the account of Maccabees, we see a third party, this time an Old Testament "dead" prophet, acting on Gods behalf and talking to Judas Maccabees. Is that account all that different from Gabriels encounter with Mary? No, it is not.
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10, cf. Psalm 34:7, 91:11, Acts 12:15, Hebrews 1:14).
This passage is traditionally understood to be referring to the Catholic teaching regarding guardian angels. Jesus is indirectly alluding to heaven's provision for all men by assigning them an angel to lead them to salvation. This fact leads to many questions. For instance, what would be the point of having guardian angels if they did not know what was going on in their childs life? What would be the point of having a guardian angel if their prayers didnt mean anything to God? What would be the point if the angels could not hear a childs prayer and present it to God? What is the purpose of even having guardian angels if God does not need their prayers and only hears or wants to hear the childs prayer?
"Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions." (Matthew 24:44-47)
In this passage, Jesus is alluding to the work his faithful servants do in the next life. The passage is certainly referring to His expected return for the believer at death, and warning His disciples that they must spend their time faithfully and in the service to God. As a reward for this, Jesus says that the master will "set him over all of his possessions." In other words, God gives power and intercession over ALL of His creation to those faithful servants. Their intercession and ability to "answer prayers" is not derived from their own power but through and with God.
"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:7-10)
In this passage, Jesus makes it very clear that the angels rejoice over the repentance of one sinner. Are we to believe that the saints are excluded from this rejoicing? Or that they are not able to continue to petition God for the spiritual benefit of the sinner?
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' " (Luke 16:19-31)
The relevant point in Jesus' parable about Lazarus, Abraham, and the rich man rests with the tradition Jesus draws on. While the story may indeed be a parable, Jesus does not simply create a theological fiction - like reincarnation or another foreign doctrinal statement - which His audience would not understand or not be familiar with. On the contrary, Jesus knew that people would understand and accept the foundation of His story because it was part of their religious heritage. Furthermore, He would not use a heritage to communicate a true story that was, itself, false. Therefore, Jesus reaffirms the communication that exists between the spiritual planes.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
This passage is also clearly pointing to the involvement of the heavenly court.
"Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne." (Revelation 1:4)
Cardinal Newman said the following about this passage: "The sacred writer goes so far as to speak of grace and peace being sent to us, not only from the Almighty, but from the seven Spirits . . ., thus associating the Eternal with the ministers of His mercies; and this carries us on to the remarkable passage of St. Justin, one of the earliest Fathers, who, in his Apology (2.1), says, "To Him (God), and His Son who came from Him, . . . and the host of other good Angels who follow and resemble Him, and the Prophetic Spirit, we pay veneration and homage."
"...the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." (Revelation 5:8)
"And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God." (Revelation 8:3-4)
In both examples above, creatures - whether men or angels- are involved with our prayers as intercessory intermediaries. This further supports the Catholic claim that indeed the angels and saints do observe and pray for us.
No where in the bible does it say that the saints in heaven do not observe or do not pray for us.
The fifth pillar of this doctrine holds that the we should pray for one another.
Evangelical protestants insist that it is not necessary to "go through" anyone but Jesus. This is because He alone is Lord and God over all creation. Despite the seemingly noble sentiment, it really has no biblical basis. In fact, it is decidedly anti-biblical! The bible specifically encourages believers to pray for one another. If salvation were simply a matter of "me and Jesus", there would be no point to this clear biblical command.
The bible is therefore clear that we are to seek another believer's intercession for our spiritual benefit. It does not say that that petitioning is to stop once that believer has gone on to meet the Lord. In fact, because the believer is now beholding the face of God, his prayers are more effacious than they were on earth.
No where in the bible does it say that we are to stop asking the saints - whether in heaven or on earth - to pray for us.
The sixth pillar of this doctrine holds that God does not hear and act upon everyone's prayers.
Many Protestants fail to grasp that God really might not hear their prayers or act upon them - even if they should ask. Sometimes it takes persistence and a lot of it. Consider for instance, Our Lord's encounter with the Caanite woman:
"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour." (Matthew 15:22-28)
There is no guarantee of a prayer being answered (Cf. 1 Peter 3:12). In fact, St. James implies that there is a gradation of response from God: the more righteous you are, the more attentive God is. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). In the Old Testament, there are many examples about God hearing the prayers of some people on behalf of others. Moses is an obvious example of this (Cf. Exodus 17:8-13, 32:9-14). And so is Job:
"After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." (Job 42:7-8)
All of these passages are teaching that God does not necessarily hear all of our prayers, and He does not necessarily grant our requests. These passages are teaching us that people, like Moses and Job, are the "righteous men" of James 5. They are successful in their supplications while a less spiritual Christian might not be. If these Christians were righteous on earth, are they any less righteous in heaven? Are they further removed from God? Do they have more or less "pull" with God?
No where in the bible does it say that God answers every Christian's prayers indiscriminately.
The seventh pillar of this doctrine holds that all Christians together with Our Lord form the one mystical body of Christ.
Not apart from Christ, not beside or ahead of Christ, but because and through Christ, the saints who have gone before us are living members of Christ and the temple of the Holy Ghost (Cf. 1 Cor. 3:16, 1 Cor 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:16). The blessings of God is mostly conferred, not by God in isolation, but by and through his creation - by the angels, by the saints, by St. Pauls handkerchief (Cf. Acts 19:12) and by St. Peters shadow (Cf. Acts 5:15). God works through and with his body not outside or despite it. Why is it that God chooses to use the word "body" to symbolize the community of believers? Is it not because He wants to emphasize the eternal unity and communion of its members? Are the members who have now passed on from this earthly existence excluded or ripped out of the body of Christ? Or instead, are they more powerful with God than they ever were on earth when they intercede for us, beholding the Face of Almighty God?
No Christian would deny that the holy souls in heaven are part of the Body of Christ. Therefore, the inevitable question is raised to the Protestant who rejects the communion of saints: does death have power to sever the Body of Christ? The answer to that question is in the negative. Jesus CONQUERED death:
"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4)
"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55)
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil." (Hebrews 2:14)
Did not Jesus say, "what God has joined, let no man put asunder"? And does not the Body have a Head who is Christ Jesus? Or do you believe instead that the Head is now severed from the rest of the Body? That somehow, in this protestant deformation, the saints in heaven and on earth are united with Jesus but not united with one another? Or that, in this twisted protestant doctrinal calculus, the communication within the body is somehow impeded between the saints in heaven and the saints on earth? Where does the bible teach this impediment?
The brute fact is that the bible NO WHERE places an artificial obstruction between the saints in heaven and the saints on earth. Why? Because both groups are united in the body of Christ and therefore enjoy full communion and communication. Protestantism's denial of this truth puts a manufactured obstruction within the body of Christ:
The bible makes no qualitative distinction between the saints on earth and the saints in heaven. Jesus unites believers into HIS body. Every Christian is a member of the Body of Christ (Cf. Rom 12:4-5, Col 2:12; Rom 6:4, Gal 3:27). Because Jesus' body is divine, it cannot be separated by natural or spiritual means, including death:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-38)
Scripture speaks frequently about Jesus conquering death (Cf. Acts 2:24, Romans 6:9, 1 Cor. 15:26, 1 Cor. 15:54, Hebrews 2:14). In conquering death, Jesus united Himself to every believer (Cf. Romans 6:5, 1 Cor. 1:10, 2 Cor 2:5, and 2 Cor 1:5, Philippians 2:1) and every believer shares both in His glory (Cf. Romans 8:17, Gal. 4:30, Eph. 3:6, Philippians 1:7, Col. 1:12, 2 Thes. 2:14, Hebrews 6:4, 1 Peter 5:1) and in His Body (Cf. Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:24-27). Therefore, those who die in Christ Jesus are alive in Him and remain part of the ONE body of Jesus Christ, as St. Paul reminds the Ephesians: "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 3:6, Cf. Eph. 4:4-6, Eph. 4:25, Eph. 5:29-32, Col 2:18-19, Col. 3:15)
But not only does Scripture speak of the one body of Christ, the Church (Eph. 1:23, 5:23, Col 1:18, Col. 1:24), Scripture also is very clear that all of the saints belong to one another. And this "belonging" is to happen for all eternity because the body of Christ is for all eternity (Cf. Hebrews 13:8, 1 Tim. 3:15, Rev. 3:12):
Romans 7:4 - "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God."
Romans 12:4 - "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."
Just like Jesus Christ is the same "yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), this mutual belonging among the members of His body is as well. Because the saints in heaven and on earth are all part of the same body, the communication within this body also continues.
The most conclusive and unassailable evidence for the Catholic conception of the doctrine of the communion of saints can be found is St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians:
"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way." (1 Cor. 12:12-31)
St. Paul begins his discourse above by re-affirming the unity of the body. He says, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body..." He then goes on to insist that division in the body is foreign to mind of Christ: "...there should be no division in the body..." And finally he demonstrates the real interconnectedness and the common spiritual fabric within the Body of Christ. "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it..." The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes this reality, stating: "In the unity of this Body, there is a diversity of members and functions. All members are linked to one another, especially to those who are suffering, to the poor and persecuted." (CCC,806) Here it becomes obvious that the spiritual and mystical aspects of the body of Christ transcend the physical plain. In fact, if one part of the body suffers and rejoices, then it only stands to reason that this suffering and rejoicing represent only a fraction of the activity of the body. If one part of the body "rejoices", then this same part of the body - whether in heaven or on earth - can pray for and petition God on behalf of another member.
Protestants who object that the saints are obstacles to their communion with Jesus Christ do not properly appreciate St. Paul's theology of the mystical body of Christ. The passages cited above prove, quite decisively, that the saints in heaven can no more be an obstacle to the body of Christ than Jesus is. Why? Because, as St. Paul, reminds us, Jesus is the head of the body (Cf. Eph. 1:10, 5:23, Col 1:18). But the body includes more than just the head: "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts..." Hence, it is a distortion to say that the saints are obstacles to approaching Jesus. From a Catholic perspective, one may understand such intercession of the saints by referring to this idea of a "body". Just as the sensation of a needle's puncture travels from the nerve endings on the body's surface to the spinal cord and then to the brain, the same can be said of a saints intercession before the throne of God. The only difference is that all prayer initially goes through Christ: "For from him and through him and to him are all things." (Romans 11:36) The eye, after all, sees the needle coming before the flesh experiences the sensation.
Another Protestant objection to this co-mediation within the Body of Christ revolves around 1 Tim 2:5:
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus...
For a Catholic, this is passage poses no difficulty because St. Paul is speaking about the ultimate and final mediation in Christ Jesus. It does not represent an attack on Catholic teaching because all Christians are to be mediators with Christ. All Christians are in a profound and deep sense mediators with Christ. When we witness to someone, we are fulfilling our duty as an ambassador of Christ, and the job of an ambassador is to mediate:
"We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." (2 Cor. 5:20)
Two things to reflect carefully on:
1) St. Paul attributes Christs mediation THROUGH the body;
2) St. Pauls appeal is ON BEHALF of Christ. This makes St. Paul a type of mediator between the world and Christ.
The mediation of the members of the body is predicated and draws its power and authority from the supreme mediation of Christ who is the true and only mediator between God and men. To say that Jesus is the only mediator does not preclude his body from participating in that mediation. How could it? There is, after all, only ONE BODY OF CHRIST (Cf. Romans 7:4, Romans 12:5, 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 1 Cor. 12:12-27, Eph. 3:6, Eph. 4:4,12,16,25, Eph. 5:23, Col 1:18, Col 3:15)! What it does exclude, however, is another way to the Father through, for instance, another prophet or religion. In existing as the body of Christ, individual members of this body are not set against Christ in His mediation, but act as a sort of conduit through which He works in this world (Cf. Rom. 15:18). Hence, our mediation is a logical corollary to this great truth since the body cannot be separated from the Head (Cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). Or, as St. Paul asks the contentious Corinthians: Is Christ now divided? (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:13) Since Christ lives through his mystical body in this world, so too therefore does His mediation.
Moreover, the Protestant objection to a singular mediator is contradicted by Scripture. Our Sacred Written tradition frequently says that there is "one" source, but then goes on to talk about other sources which draw from this "one" source:
At the beginning of this paper, we discussed how a series of explicit teachings in the bible point to an implicit teaching. Here is a summary of these explicit teachings discussed above:
1. Saints are to be honoured.
2. Saints are to be imitated.
3. Saints in heaven are alive.
4. Saints in heaven observe and pray for us.
5. Saints should pray for one another.
6. God does not hear and act upon everyones prayers. He hears the prayers of the "righteous".
7. All saints, whether in heaven or on earth, are part of the Body of Christ, and death has no spiritual power over the Body of Christ.
All of these explicit teachings of Scripture point to the very logical and implicit teaching of seeking the intercession of the saints in heaven. Since the Saints in heaven are: i) part of the Body of Christ, ii) in communion with one another and with the saints on earth and iii) not subject to the power of death, then communication within the entire Body of Christ between all of its members is divine revelation which must be held by all Christians.
The Catholic Legate
November 1, 2003
All Saints Day