The communion of saints (communio sanctorum), when referred to persons, is the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church, living and the dead, excluding therefore the damned.They are all part of a single "mystical body", with Christ as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.
The earliest known use of this term to refer to the belief in a mystical bond uniting both the living and the dead in a confirmed hope and love is by Saint Nicetas of Remesiana (c. 335–414); the term has since then played a central role in formulations of the Christian creed.Belief in the communion of saints is affirmed in the Apostles' Creed.
The word "sanctorum" in the phrase "communio sanctorum" can also be understood as referring not to holy persons, but to holy things, namely the blessings that the holy persons share with each other, including their faith, the sacraments and the other spiritual graces and gifts they have as Christians.
The concept of the communion of saints is linked with Paul's teaching, as in Romans 12:4-13 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, that in Christ Christians form a single body.
The New Testament word ἅγιος (hagios) translated into English as "saint" can refer to Christians, who, whatever their personal sanctity as individuals, are called holy because they are consecrated to God and Christ. This usage of the word "saints" is found some fifty times in the New Testament.
The Heidelberg Catechism, citing Romans 8:32, 1 Corinthians 6:17 and 1 John 1:3, claims that all members of Christ have communion with him, and are recipients of all his gifts.And the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "'Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others.... We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head.... Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments.' 'As this Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the goods she has received necessarily become a common fund.'"
The persons who are linked in this communion include those who have died and whom Hebrews 12:1 pictures as a cloud of witnesses encompassing Christians on earth. In the same chapter, Hebrews 12:22-23 says Christians on earth "have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect."
In Catholic terminology, the communion of saints exists in the three states of the Church, the Churches Militant, Penitent, and Triumphant. The Church Militant (Latin : Ecclesia militans) consisting of those alive on earth; the Church Penitent (Latin: Ecclesia poenitens) consisting of those undergoing purification in purgatory in preparation for heaven; and the Church Triumphant (Latin: Ecclesia triumphans) consisting of those already in heaven. The damned are not a part of the communion of saints.
Christians belonging to the Roman Catholic Church ask the intercession of saints in heaven, whose prayers are seen as helping their fellow Christians on earth (cf. Revelation 5:8).
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
946 What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints? The communion of saints is the Church. 957 Communion with the saints. "It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself"
Martin Luther defined the phrase thus:
"The communion of saints." This is of one piece with the preceding ["the holy catholic church"]. Formerly it was not in the creed. When you hear the word "church," understand that it means group [Haufe], as we say in German, the Wittenberg group or congregation [Gemeine], that is, an holy, Christian group, assembly, or, in German, the holy, common church, and it is a word that should not be called "communion" [Gemeinschaft], but rather "a congregation" eine Gemeine. Someone wanted to explain the first term, "catholic church" [and added the words] communio sanctorum, which in German means a congregation of saints, that is, a congregation made up only of saints. "Christian church" and "congregation of saints" are one and the same thing.
Lutheranism affirms that the Church Militant and Church Triumphant share a common goal and thus do pray for one another. The Book of Concord, the official compendium of Lutheran doctrine teaches:
"... we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit; but we disapprove of the application ex opere operato of the Lord's Supper on behalf of the dead."
The largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, "remembers the faithful departed in the Prayers of the People every Sunday, including those who have recently died and those commemorated on the church calendar of saints".In Funeral rites of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, "deceased are prayed for" using "commendations: 'keep our sister/brother ... in the company of all your saints. And at the last ... raise her/him up to share with all the faithful the endless joy and peace won through the glorious resurrection of Christ our Lord.'" The response for these prayers for the dead in this Lutheran liturgy is the prayer of Eternal Rest: "rest eternal grant him/her, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him/her".
In Methodist theology, the communion of saints refers to the Church Militant and Church Triumphant. The Rev. Katie Shockley explains the communion of saints in the context of the Methodist sacrament of the Eucharist:
When we gather in worship, we praise God with believers we cannot see. When we celebrate Holy Communion, we feast with past, present and future disciples of Christ. We experience the communion of saints, the community of believers –– living and dead. This faith community stretches beyond space and time. We commune with Christians around the world, believers who came before us, and believers who will come after us. We believe that the church is the communion of saints, and as a believer, you belong to the communion of saints.
The communion of saints is celebrated in Methodism during Allhallowtide, especially on All Saints' Day.
Methodist theology affirms the "duty to observe, to pray for the Faithful Departed".He "taught the propriety of Praying for the Dead, practised it himself, provided Forms that others might." It affirms that the 'saints in paradise' have full access to occurrences on earth.
The Anglican Communion holds that baptized Christians "are ‘knit together’ with them ‘in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [Christ]’."The Church of Ireland teaches that:
Christ’s church includes the blessed dead along with those still on earth. We worship God ‘with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven’ (Eucharistic Prayer, BCP 2004), with ‘The glorious company of apostles… the noble fellowship of prophets… the white–robed army of martyrs’ (Te Deum). In addition we observe saints’ days when we thank God for their holy lives and pray that we may follow their examples.
In Anglican liturgy, "worship is addressed to God alone" and the Anglican Communion "does not pray to the saints but with the saints".However, Anglicans pray for (the dead), because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God's presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is."
The Westminster Confession, which articulates the Reformed faith, teaches that the communion of saints includes those united to Christ--both the living and the dead.
In Greek Orthodoxy, "the Church is also a communion of saints, an assembly of angels and men, of the Heaven and of the earth ... divided into what is known as the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant".
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America teaches that "Through the work of the Holy Trinity all Christians could be called saints; especially in the early Church as long as they were baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, they received the Seal of the Spirit in chrismation and frequently participated in the Eucharist."
Theologians classify six categories of saints within Eastern Orthodoxy:
- The Apostles, who were the first ones to spread the message of the Incarnation of the Word of God and of salvation through Christ.
- The Prophets, because they predicted and prophesied the coming of the Messiah.
- The Martyrs, for sacrificing their lives and fearlessly confessing Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.
- The Fathers and Hierarchs of the Church, who excelled in explaining and in defending, by word and deed, the Christian faith.
- The Monastics, who lived in the desert and dedicated themselves to spiritual exercise (askesis), reaching, as far as possible, perfection in Christ.
- The Just, those who lived in the world, leading exemplary lives as clergy or laity with their families, becoming examples for imitation in society.
The Armenian Orthodox Church understands the communion of saints to have a twofold sense: "first, of the union of members of the Church with the Head Christ; and, secondly, of the mutual help and support of these same members in obtaining enjoying, and preserving the common good things or graces of the Church."
Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Orthodox churches practice praying for the dead (as they interpret 2 Timothy 1:16-18).Reformed Churches do not pray for the dead. The Anglican tradition has been ambivalent about prayers for the dead historically, sometimes embracing and other times rejecting the practice.
With regard to the various views held about the communion of saints, the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1908 wrote:
Sporadic errors against special points of the communion of saints are pointed out by the Synod of Gangra (Mansi, II, 1103), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (P.G., XXXIII, 1116), St. Epiphanius (ibid., XLII, 504), Asteritis Amasensis (ibid., XL, 332), and St. Jerome (P.L., XXIII, 362). From the forty-second proposition condemned, and the twenty-ninth question asked, by Martin V at Constance (Denzinger, nos. 518 and 573), we also know that Wyclif and Hus had gone far towards denying the dogma itself. But the communion of saints became a direct issue only at the time of the Reformation. The Lutheran churches, although commonly adopting the Apostles' Creed, still in their original confessions, either pass over in silence the communion of saints or explain it as the Church's "union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith" (Luther's Small Catechism), or as "the congregation of saints and true believers" (Augsburg Confession, ibid., III, 12), carefully excluding, if not the memory, at least the invocation of the saints, because Scripture "propoundeth unto us one Christ, the Mediator, Propitiatory, High-Priest, and Intercessor" (ibid., III, 26). The Reformed churches generally maintain the Lutheran identification of the communion of saints with the body of believers but do not limit its meaning to that body. Calvin (Inst. chret., IV, 1, 3) insists that the phrase of the Creed is more than a definition of the Church; it conveys the meaning of such a fellowship that whatever benefits God bestows upon the believers should mutually communicate to one another. That view is followed in the Heidelberg Catechism, emphasized in the Gallican Confession, wherein communion is made to mean the efforts of believers to mutually strengthen themselves in the fear of God. Both the Scotch and Second Helvetic Confessions bring together the Militant and the Triumphant Church, but whereas the former is silent on the signification of the fact, the latter says that they hold communion with each other: "nihilominus habent illae inter sese communionem, vel conjunctionem". The double and often conflicting influence of Luther and Calvin, with a lingering memory of Catholic orthodoxy, is felt in the Anglican Confessions. On this point the Thirty-nine Articles are decidedly Lutheran, rejecting as they do "the Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints", because they see in it "a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God". On the other hand, the Westminster Confession, while ignoring the Suffering and the Triumphant Church, goes beyond the Calvinistic view and falls little short of the Catholic doctrine with regard to the faithful on earth, who, it says, "being united to one another in love, have communion in each other's gifts and graces". In the United States, the Methodist Articles of Religion, 1784, as well as the Reformed Episcopal Articles of Religion, 1875, follow the teachings of the Thirty-nine Articles, whereas the teaching of the Westminster Confession is adopted in the Philadelphia Baptist Confession, 1688, and in the Confession of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1829. Protestant theologians, just as Protestant confessions, waver between the Lutheran and the Calvinistic view.
All Souls' Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and the Day of the Dead, is a day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have died, which is observed by some Christian denominations. All Souls' Day is often, although not exclusively, celebrated in Western Christianity; Saturday of Souls is a related tradition more frequently observed in Eastern Christianity. Practitioners of All Souls' Day traditions often remember deceased loved ones in various ways on the day. Beliefs and practices associated with All Souls' Day vary widely among Christian churches and denominations.
The Apostles' Creed, sometimes titled the Apostolic Creed or the Symbol of the Apostles, is an early statement of Christian belief—a creed or "symbol". It is widely used by a number of Christian denominations for both liturgical and catechetical purposes, most visibly by liturgical Churches of Western tradition, including the Catholic Church, Lutheranism and Anglicanism. It is also used by Presbyterians, Moravians, Methodists and Congregationalists.
The Eucharist is a Christian rite that is considered a sacrament in most churches, and as an ordinance in others. According to the New Testament, the rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper; giving his disciples bread and wine during a Passover meal, Jesus commanded his disciples to "do this in memory of me" while referring to the bread as "my body" and the cup of wine as "the new covenant in my blood". Through the eucharistic celebration Christians remember both Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross and his commission of the apostles at the Last Supper.
A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. However, the use of the term "saint" depends on the context and denomination. In Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox, and Lutheran doctrine, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation; official ecclesiastical recognition, and consequently veneration, is given to some saints through the process of canonization in the Catholic Church or glorification in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Mass is the main eucharistic liturgical service in many forms of Western Christianity. The term Mass is commonly used in the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church, as well as in Anglican, Methodist, Western Rite Orthodox, and Old Catholic churches.
Confession, in many religions, is the acknowledgment of one's sins (sinfulness) or wrongs.
Penance is repentance of sins as well as an alternate name for the Catholic, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. It also plays a part in confession among Anglicans and Methodists, in which it is a rite, as well as among other Protestants. The word penance derives from Old French and Latin paenitentia, both of which derive from the same root meaning repentance, the desire to be forgiven. Penance and repentance, similar in their derivation and original sense, have come to symbolize conflicting views of the essence of repentance, arising from the controversy as to the respective merits of "faith" and "good works". Word derivations occur in many languages.
Religions with the belief in a future judgment or a resurrection of the dead or of purgatory often offer prayers on behalf of the dead to God.
Intercession or intercessory prayer is the act of praying to a deity on behalf of others. In Western Christianity, intercession forms a distinct form of prayer, alongside Adoration, Confession and Thanksgiving.
Intercession of the saints is a doctrine held by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic Churches. The practice of praying through saints can be found in Christian writings from the 3rd century onward. The 4th-century Apostles' Creed states belief in the communion of saints, which certain Christian churches interpret as supporting the intercession of saints. As in Christianity, this practice is controversial in Judaism and Islam.
Absolution is a traditional theological term for the forgiveness experienced by Christians in the life of the Church. It is a universal feature of the historic churches of Christendom, although the theology and the practice of absolution vary between denominations.
Eucharistic discipline is the term applied to the regulations and practices associated with an individual preparing for the reception of the Eucharist. Different Christian traditions require varying degrees of preparation, which may include a period of fasting, prayer, repentance, and confession.
Eucharistic theology is a branch of Christian theology which treats doctrines concerning the Holy Eucharist, also commonly known as the Lord's Supper. It exists exclusively in Christianity and related religions, as others generally do not contain a Eucharistic ceremony.
Catholicity is a concept pertaining to beliefs and practices widely accepted across numerous Christian denominations, most notably those that describe themselves as Catholic in accordance with the Four Marks of the Church, as expressed in the Nicene Creed of the First Council of Constantinople in 381: "[I believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."
The Four Marks of the Church, also known as the Attributes of the Church, is a term describing four distinctive adjectives—"one, holy, catholic and apostolic"—of traditional Christian ecclesiology as expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed completed at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381: "[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." This ecumenical creed is today recited in the liturgies of the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Church of the East, the Moravian Church, the Lutheran Churches, the Methodist Churches, the Presbyterian Churches, the Anglican Communion and by members of many Reformed churches.
Confirmation in the Lutheran Church is a public profession of faith prepared for by long and careful instruction. In English, it is called "affirmation of baptism", and is a mature and public reaffirmation of the faith which "marks the completion of the congregation's program of confirmation ministry".
Christian prayer is an important activity in Christianity, and there are several different forms used for this practice.
Purgatory is, according to the belief of some Christians, an intermediate state after physical death for expiatory purification. There is disagreement among Christians whether such a state exists. Some forms of Western Christianity, particularly within Protestantism, deny its existence. Other strands of Western Christianity see purgatory as a place, perhaps filled with fire. Some concepts of Gehenna in Judaism are similar to that of purgatory. The word "purgatory" has come to refer also to a wide range of historical and modern conceptions of postmortem suffering short of everlasting damnation and is used, in a non-specific sense, to mean any place or condition of suffering or torment, especially one that is temporary.
A sacrament is a Christian rite recognized as of particular importance and significance. There are various views on the existence and meaning of such rites. Many Christians consider the sacraments to be a visible symbol of the reality of God, as well as a channel for God's grace. Many denominations, including the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed, hold to the definition of sacrament formulated by Augustine of Hippo: an outward sign of an inward grace, that has been instituted by Jesus Christ. Sacraments signify God's grace in a way that is outwardly observable to the participant.
Criticism of Protestantism covers critiques and questions raised about Protestantism, the Christian tradition which arose out of the Protestant Reformation. While critics praise Protestantism's Christ-centered and Bible-centered faith, Protestantism is faced with criticism mainly from the Catholic Church and some Orthodox Churches, although Protestant denominations have also engaged in self-critique and criticized one another.
The opinion of the Rev. John Wesley may be worth citing. "I believe it to be a duty to observe, to pray for the Faithful Departed."
Wesley taught the propriety of Praying for the Dead, practised it himself, provided Forms that others might. These forms, for daily use, he put fort, not tentatively or apologetically, but as considering such prayer a settled matter of Christian practice, with all who believe that the Faithful, living and dead, are one Body in Christ in equal need and like expectation of those blessings which they will together enjoy, when both see Him in His Kingdom. Two or three examples, out of many, may be given:--"O grant that we, with those who are already dead in Thy faith and fear, may together partake of a joyful resurrection."
In the other direction, he was willing to state unambiguously that the 'saints in paradise' had full access to happenings on earth.