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Catholic Apologetics


Chapter 21 -- Communion of the Saints


 
CCC #960 - The Church is a "communion of saints": this expression refers first to the "holy things" (sancta), above all the Eucharist, by which "the unity of believers, who form one body in Christ, is both represented and brought about".

CCC #961 - The term "communion of saints" refers also to the communion of "holy persons" (sancti) in Christ who "died for all," so that what each one does or suffers in and for Christ bears fruit for all.

CCC #962 - "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"

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:

Rev 5:6-8 - Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb that seemed to have been slain [Jesus]. He had seven horns and seven eyes; these are the (seven) spirits of God sent out into the whole world. He came and received the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.

The Word of God states Jesus receives the prayers of the saints. (See also Rev 8:3-4)

James 5:16 - The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.

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.

1 Tim 2:1 - First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone.

Rom 15:30 - I urge you, (brothers,) by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf

Eph 6:18-19 - With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me

Col 4:2-3 - Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; at the same time, pray for us, too

1 Thess 5:25 - Brothers, pray for us (too).

2 Thess 1:11 - To this end, we always pray for you

Paul asks us to pray for him and for others. He states he prays for others as well.

Matt 5:44 - But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you

John 14:14 - If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.

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?

Luke 15:7, 10 - I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. … In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

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)

Heb 12:1 - Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.

The saints witness everything we do, even when other people can not.

Praying to the Dead

Deut 18:9-11 - When you come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abominations of the peoples there. Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates [sacrifices] his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner, or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from 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?

Mt 17:1-3 - After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

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.

Rom 8:38-39 - For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When we die, we are not separated from Christ, we are brought more closely to Christ.

Mt 22:31-32 - And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

Jesus says the saints are not dead, but living.

The Intercession of the Saints

1 Tim 2:1-7 - First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time. For this I was appointed preacher and apostle (I am speaking the truth, I am not lying), teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

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.

1 Pet 2:4-5, 9 - Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … you are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own".

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.

Saint Worship?

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.

Statue Worship?

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.

Ex 20:4-5 - You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.

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

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.)

Matt 9:20-22 - A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, "If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured." Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, "Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you." And from that hour the woman was cured

Relics are shown to be the avenues of passing God's grace. Jesus' cloak was a relic used to perform a miracle.

Acts 19:11-12 - So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

Cloths that touched Paul's skin were applied to the sick, and they were cured.

Acts 5:12-16 - Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. They were all together in Solomon's portico. None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them. Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them. Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all 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:

2 Kings 13:20-21 - Elisha died and was buried. At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year. Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band. So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off. But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet

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.

Ex 13:19 - Moses also took Joseph's bones along, for Joseph had made the Israelites swear solemnly that, when God should come to them, they would carry his bones away with them.
Josh 24:29-32 - After these events, Joshua, son of Nun, servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. He was buried within the limits of his heritage at Timnath-serah in the mountain region of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash. Israel served the LORD during the entire lifetime of Joshua and that of the elders who outlived Joshua and knew all that the LORD had done for Israel. The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried in Shechem in the plot of ground Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor, father of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of money. This was a heritage of the descendants of Joseph.

The treasuring of relics is well established in Scripture. There is a perfect congruity between present-day Catholic practice and ancient practice.

Parting Comment

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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