Chapter 21 -- Communion of the Saints
The Catholic Church professes the members of the Body of Christ consist of the Church Triumphant (those already in Heaven), the Church Suffering (those in Purgatory) and the Church Militant (those on Earth). We, in the Church Militant, are only a (small) part of the entire group. As members of the Body, we collectively help and hurt each other in all we do. (Reference Chapter 7 - 'Love, Unity and the Body of Christ', and 1 Cor 12:12-27, Rom. 12:5, Col. 3:15, Eph. 4:4)
There are many non-Catholic challenges to our relationship with the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. Let's explore some of them.
Praying to the Saints
The argument goes like this: why pray to the saints when you can pray directly to Jesus? If the saints are third-class citizens of Heaven at best (behind Jesus and the angels), why not go directly to the top? Aren't we wasting time going to a lower life form?
The short answer is that we should pray directly to Jesus, and we do. But we can also pray to others without wasting our time. Consider the following:
The Word of God states Jesus receives the prayers of the saints. (See also Rev 8:3-4)
The Word of God tells us the prayer of a righteous person is powerful. I like to think I am righteous, but I know the saints are righteous, therefore I'm guessing the prayers of the saints are more powerful than my prayers. Going to the saints is, therefore, not a waste of time.
The argument continues. Since Jesus will never forsake you, it still seems better to pray directly to Him. If the saints are righteous, and their prayers are powerful, won't Jesus' prayers be even more powerful since He is perfectly righteous?
The answer again is yes, Jesus' prayers may be more powerful than those of the saints, but the Word of God tells us to pray for each other.
Paul asks us to pray for him and for others. He states he prays for others as well.
Even Jesus asked us to pray for others, as well as for ourselves, and if we ask it in His name, He will do it.
Can They See Us or Hear Our Prayers?
Another argument suggests there is nothing to suggest the saints in Heaven have any special abilities beyond our own. They are not equal to God. How can they hear us pray? How can they know what we are thinking?
The angels and saints know what is transpiring here on Earth. They know if a sinner repents, which is an act of the heart, not necessarily spoken. (See also 1 Cor 4:9, 12:26)
The saints witness everything we do, even when other people can not.
Praying to the Dead
The argument goes that the above verse forbids communicating with the dead. Is that what this verse really says? What about the transfiguration?
Moses and Elijah were among the dead, yet Jesus communicated with them.
This is different from the occult practice of "consulting ghosts and spirits" or "seeking oracles from the dead" as discussed in Deuteronomy above. Today, that is commonly referenced as conjuring up spirits, also called a séance. Deuteronomy addresses the abominations of the people the Israelites were to conquer, and cautioned not to imitate them. As Jesus shows, communicating with the saints is a good thing.
When we die, we are not separated from Christ, we are brought more closely to Christ.
Jesus says the saints are not dead, but living.
The Intercession of the Saints
Part of this verse is often quoted to prove Jesus is the one mediator between God and humans, thus no one else should be praying for us. I show some verses before and after the often quoted verse to show a clearer meaning intended.
In the first verse, Paul asks "that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone". Who is Paul asking? Is he addressing Jesus? No, Paul is asking Timothy to pass this on to his congregation. Paul is asking for humans to pray for other humans. Furthermore, Paul states, the Word of God states, that humans praying for other humans is "good and pleasing to God".
But, then Paul goes on to say Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. Is this a contradiction? Why is Paul telling Timothy to ask others to pray for someone? Why doesn't Paul just pray to Jesus for the same thing? Why include all these others?
It is true that there is one mediator between God and humans, and that one mediator is Jesus. It is also true that it is good and pleasing to God for many (all) of us to pray for the same thing. Asking someone else to pray for something is not violating Jesus' role as mediator. Regardless of who prays for it, it goes through Jesus to God.
Consider a popular human tradition of prayer chains. We experience a crisis of some sort, say someone is terribly ill, or near death, maybe from an accident. We call our Christian friends and ask them to pray for the person, and pass it on. They call others, who call others, and so on. Before long there are tens, maybe hundreds of people praying for this one person.
Or say you have a simple request of God, say to help you keep your faith in a time of trouble. A fellow Christian learns of your predicament and fellowships with you. You ask her to pray for you. Is this a violation of Jesus-is-the-one-mediator theology?
In each case, someone asked someone else to pray. They didn't go straight to Jesus, they asked someone else to join them so many could go straight to Jesus. This doesn't contradict Jesus' role as sole mediator, it emphasizes it.
Consider the alternative. Those who espouse the tradition that Jesus is the one mediator, therefore why involve anyone else, are in direct contradiction to Paul's instructions above.
We are all members of the Body of Christ. God wants us to fellowship with each other, help each other, rely on each other. That is what a body does.
If we revisit Rev 5:8, where the prayers of the saints are offered to Jesus in the form of incense, we see active intercession by the saints, even though Jesus is the sole mediator.
Peter tells us to come to Jesus and become a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices through Him. Jesus wants us to be priests, like He is, to offer spiritual sacrifices, like He does, along with Him.
The Catholic Church has never, does not now, nor will ever condone the worship of Mary, the saints, or anyone or anything other than God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. Confusion stems from a misunderstanding of the word "worship" and the word "pray".
Praying to someone does not mean you worship them. As an attorney, I pray the court for restitution for my client. That doesn't mean I worship the court; it only means I am asking for something from the court. In a spiritual sense, prayer could include anything from speaking in tongues to having a casual conversation with your best friend, Jesus. In a liturgical sense, it could include much of what we commonly consider statements of worship.
The Greeks had two words for worship, where modern-day English has only one. The two words were latria, which was the honor due God alone, and dulia, which was the honor afforded all others. Dulia was closely associated with the honor given the saints. (A third term, hyperdulia, was coined to describe the honor due Mary-that which is more than dulia, but less than latria.) The Catholic Church recognizes dulia where appropriate, which as aforementioned, is not the same as worship due God.
A close comparison would be the word adoration, which is reverence due to God, and veneration, which is respect given humans. Catholics revere God and venerate the saints.
Examples in the Bible where one person is said to worship another (not meaning worship in the sense of the Deity) include Gen 37:7-9, Gen 49:8, and Ex 18:7. In all these cases, the worship given by Joseph's brothers, Judah's brothers and Moses to other people was not that afforded to God.
Catholics neither worship nor honor statues. Catholics may kneel before a statue, thus honoring whomever the statue represents, or pray facing a statue, thus praying to whomever the statue represents, but the statue itself is not honored in any way.
If a grieving family member visits a grave site and talks to the headstone, it is not the headstone that is the focus of their conversation, but the person represented by the headstone. If a portrait of an important person is displayed as a centerpiece of a wall, it is not to suggest the portrait deserves any veneration, but the person it represents. So it is with (Catholic) statues.
The First Commandment forbids graven images, or carved idols to be worshipped as a god. A casual reading may leave the reader with the impression that all carved idols are forbidden, but a close inspection of the rest of Scripture suggests otherwise.
In Exodus 25:18-20, God explains how to carve the cherubim for the Ark of the Covenant. In Numbers 21:8-9, He told Moses to make a bronze serpent for the people to gaze upon whenever they are bitten by a snake, and thus live. (Incidentally, this is the image Jesus uses to describe how He must be lifted up for all to see so they may have eternal life. See John 3:14.) Many centuries later, when the people began to worship the bronze serpent, the good King Hezekiah had it destroyed, which the Bible states pleased the Lord. (See 2 Kings 18:4) These are scriptural examples of proper and improper carved images. Statues of saints are no different.
God forbade the worship of statues as idols; He commanded the construction of statues as religious artifacts.
Relics are some object, perhaps a bone or piece of clothing, remaining from a saint. The bones of the martyrs are good examples of relics. The Shroud of Turin and pieces of the cross of Christ are examples of relics. Relics are held in reverence by the Church and sometimes associated with miraculous healings and other acts of God.
Challenges from non-Catholics include the authenticity of the relics, the authenticity of the miracles associated with relics and the questionable practice of reverence of relics.
The Church accepts that relics may be genuine, and approves honoring those relics with a reasonable probability of authenticity, but the Church has never pronounced that any particular relic is authentic. Relics span the spectrum from very probable to improbable, but no one wants to toss out something that may be authentic, no matter how improbable.
Let's review where relics are mentioned in the Bible.
Jesus' crucified body itself was treated with the reverence of a relic. The Roman custom was to leave the dead bodies on their crosses for all to view for a time, then dispose of the body in an ignominius fashion (like throwing it to the dogs). Joseph of Arimathea pleaded with Pilate for Jesus' body, and placed it in his own tomb. Jesus' body was wrapped for burial and covered with spices. After the stone enclosed the tomb, the women went to visit the tomb daily. (Jesus' crucified body itself was treated with the reverence of a relic. The Roman custom was to leave the dead bodies on their crosses for all to view for a time, then dispose of the body in an ignominius fashion (like throwing it to the dogs). Joseph of Arimathea pleaded with Pilate for Jesus' body, and placed it in his own tomb. Jesus' body was wrapped for burial and covered with spices. After the stone enclosed the tomb, the women went to visit the tomb daily.)
Relics are shown to be the avenues of passing God's grace. Jesus' cloak was a relic used to perform a miracle.
Cloths that touched Paul's skin were applied to the sick, and they were cured.
Peter's shadow is a relic. Many signs and wonders were done at the hands of the apostles.
You may be tempted to state these "relics" are of living people (Jesus, Paul, Peter and the apostles, while they were alive). Consider:
Elisha's bones were relics of a saint that brought a dead man back to life. The ancient Israelites had a custom of revering relics, especially bones of the deceased.
The treasuring of relics is well established in Scripture. There is a perfect congruity between present-day Catholic practice and ancient practice.
We are all members of the Body of Christ--the saints here on Earth as well as the saints in Heaven and Purgatory. God is the God of the living. He wants us to pray to each other. Jesus wants us to pray to each other. Paul wants us to pray to one another. We are to honor and respect each other as we would honor and respect our friends here on Earth.
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