I Believe in the Communion of Saints.
This statement is from the ninth of twelve articles, or statements of faith, in the Apostles’ Creed.
It may not seem important compared to others, but the full ninth article is “I believe in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints” – identifying the Church and the communion of saints as the same thing, so it must be pretty important! The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this: the communion of saints is the Church (paragraph 946), which is constituted by the sacraments (holy things) given by Christ that make the Church one body of saints (holy people) (para. 947-8).
The Catechism emphasizes the primacy of the sacraments in the communion of the Church, because they are the instruments God has chosen to make his people holy. Sharing in the sacraments, sharing the gifts God has given to each individual, and sharing in God’s love by helping our brothers and sisters in need are all part of the communion of saints. This communion of saints includes all members of the Church – those journeying on earth, glorified in heaven, and who may need purification in between. We celebrate the Church’s members in heaven on the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1) and those on their way in the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (November 2), and the entire month of November is dedicated to offering prayers on behalf of the faithful departed.
This is the faith of the Church: Jesus Christ conquered death, and it cannot break the bond between him and his members. That is the key to understanding how we share spiritual goods among the living and no less between the living and the dead. That is why we pray to the Saints in heaven and we pray for the faithful departed.
We pray to the ‘capital s’ Saints – our brothers and sisters in the place we all hope to reach, the final victory and full vision of God’s glory in heaven. We cannot worship Saints, but we can pray to them, i.e., ask them for things. Who better to ask for help with spiritual goods than those who have reached the fulfillment of all spiritual goods in heaven?
We pray for the faithful departed – our brothers and sisters who have died in the hope of eternal glory and trusting in the mercy of God. Many may yet be experiencing purification from sin and the effects of sin in order to be made ready to see God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; cf. 1 John 3:2). Just as we pray for those suffering on earth, we can pray and make sacrifices on behalf of those departed who still need help, above all by remembering them at the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Jesus Christ established the communion of saints by giving us the Church, and his mercy is the reason for our hope for our loved ones among the faithful departed. In the Gospels, Jesus allowed people who were considered unclean, dishonorable, and notorious to approach him, and even pursued them, as in this Sunday’s Gospel about Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). He “did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). He doesn’t tolerate sinners; he loves us! God manifests his goodness, mercy, and power by enabling us to be reconciled to him, per Sunday’s first reading: “But you, Lord, have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent” (Wisdom 9:23). Venerable Bruno Lanteri, the founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, urged people to “begin each day leaving the past to the mercy of the Lord,” and “not to be troubled by anything, not even your own failings, taking care to overcome them immediately by an act of love of God.” This reckless abandon to God’s goodness is characteristic of the Saints, who have the freedom both to admit their imperfection and to trust wholly in God’s mercy.