Homily no. 14 – ‘Communion of Saints’ (CCC 946–987)

Last year, in 2012, apart from all the other amazing things like the Golden Jubilee, and the Olympics, it was also a century since the sinking of the ocean liner, the Titanic.  The sinking of that ship on its maiden voyage — a ship that was supposedly unsinkable — reminds us of the power of nature.  The great threat of an iceberg, of course, is that 90% of its mass is underwater, invisible … above the sea level only protrudes that 10% (the “tip of the iceberg”).

The Ghent Altarpiece: Adoration of the Lamb ( )

The Ghent Altarpiece: Adoration of the Lamb ( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we think of the Church, we must also remember that the visible Church is only a small proportion of the whole Church.  We on earth are just that 10% of the whole Church, the ones living on earth today.  The family of the Church is much larger, and includes those being purified after death in purgatory, and those who already are experiencing the eternal rest of heaven in God’s presence.  Traditionally we use the terms, the Church militant, the Church suffering, and the Church triumphant.  That is: militant (the Church struggling on earth, in its earthly battles with the evil one); suffering (the members of the Church undergoing the purifying pains of purgatory, to be made ready for heaven); and triumphant (the Church in glory, in perfection with God in heaven, the saints).  Together we form the whole Church, the “communion of saints,” as the Creed says.  We share together in all that Christ has brought.  Our older brothers and sisters in faith, the ones who have gone before us: some are in heaven, where they pray for us; some are in purgatory, where we pray for them … And so, the whole communion is bonded together in love and charity and prayer.  Just as the Church from the very beginning was a communion, a sharing of all things: the apostles and other disciples lived a common life, sharing property and food, sharing their prayers, and the greatest act of communion was the Eucharist: Holy Communion.  So, the great gift of the Church is that together, the living and the dead, those on earth, those in heaven, those in purgatory, are constantly joined in love and concern one for another.  This communion is made possible by the unifying gift of the Spirit.

Our Catholic faith includes a strong element of devotion to the saints, doesn’t it?  It is important to understand this.  Saints are just ordinary people, so why do we pray to them?  Well, if you think about it, we often ask one another to pray for us, don’t we?  And we are more likely to ask someone to pray for us that we think is a holy and prayerful person, aren’t we? — someone close to God.  Well, our asking for the saints’ prayers is the logical extension of that: asking those who are closest to God, those in His very presence in heaven, to take up our needs in prayer to God.  Our Lady, naturally, takes first place in this, as the Mother of the Saviour, assumed body & soul in her perfection, into heaven; naturally she is the closest of all human beings to her Son, Our Lord Jesus.  The event that we heard of just 2 weeks ago in the Gospel (The Wedding Feast at Cana) shows her intercession with Jesus, bringing by her maternal hand the ordinary needs of humanity to His attention.  This is why we ask her prayers, and those of other saints.  Technically we are not praying “to” them — we are praying to ask their prayers.  So, as in the Hail Mary, the main request is, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us …”   To appeal to the saints, is to express our family bond, the larger dimension of the Church, bringing onside the 90% that is at present invisible to us.  We should not leave this memory just to the November celebrations of All Saints’ Day (commemorating all in heaven) and All Souls’ Day (commemorating the faithful departed, those in purgatory).  We should think of the invisible 90% of the Church as helping us with spiritual; courage and strength.  Rather like the iceberg, we only hold together as the visible Church because of the 90% which stand under us and hold us up!  Without them, we would not be here — if they had not kept the faith, there would be no Church.  Their communion with us is all-important, and just as we think so often of our natural family as being the very anchor of life, so by extension the family of the Church, the communion of saints, holds us together in a greater sense.  The saints in heaven remind us that the very purpose of the Church is that we are sinners trying to become saints.  Their example, their prayers, their lives, are an inspiration to achieve what they achieved, by faithfulness to God.  All Holy Men & Women, pray for us!

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About Fr Philip Miller

I'm the Catholic Parish Priest at St Augustine's, Hoddesdon, Herts, UK, in the diocese of Westminster. This cycle of homilies is one of my contributions to this parish's life in the 'Year of Faith' (Oct 2012 - Nov 2013) called for by Pope Benedict XVI to renew the Church's understanding of the faith.
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