Question: I find the notion of the Communion of Saints very comforting. It makes me realize that my simple life is part of something greater. Can you explain a little more about the Communion of Saints?
— M.G., Sheridan, Wyo.
Answer: The notion of the Communion of Saints is, indeed, comforting. It sets before us the sense of the solidarity that exists between all men and women of good will. We are all bound together in a great divine communion, and our individual lives are carried on within a web of relationships of goodness and grace. One might well say that the distinctly Catholic view of the human person is defined by the idea of the Communion of Saints. The opposite is radical individualism and personal isolation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a beautiful section on the Communion of Saints. Quoting extensively from Indulgentiarum Doctrina, Pope Paul VI’s 1967 apostolic constitution on indulgences, it states: “In the Communion of Saints, ‘a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.’ In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause. Thus recourse to the Communion of Saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin” (No. 1475).
The “spiritual goods” that exist and are exchanged are what is meant by the Church’s treasury. When we think of the treasury of the Church, we often think of the material aspects of the Church. The Church’s spiritual treasury includes so much more than that. We might say that the treasury of the Church is the whole body of spiritual life that belongs to the Christian people throughout the ages and that continues to be influential within the living Body of Christ.
The treasury of the Church “includes ‘as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body’” (No. 1477).
When we recite our individual prayers, it is appropriate that we think of them as part of a great communion. In the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, we are called to be mindful of the fact that our liturgy is intermingled with the liturgy of the angels and saints.
At the heart of the treasury is the great event of the death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus. Christ dies so that all might be saved and share in the glory of the Resurrection. The treasury of the Church is “‘the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy’” (No. 1476).
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.