Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What is the Communion of Saints?

The communion of the saints, as described by Ashley, is all those who are or have followed the way of life—both those who have died and those of us who are still on earth.[i] We can also see this communion as the Body of Christ, joined together in communion, particularly as expressed in the Eucharist.[ii] This communion obligates us to love, as Christ commanded. In 1 John, the author reminds us of this obligation: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7). Paul also exhorts us in 1 Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (13:1). Communion is contingent on this love and cannot exist long without it.

The communion of saints is, if nothing else, a communion of persons. In the forward of her translation of Pinckaers’ The Source of Chirstian Ethics, Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P., summarizes the author’s views of virtue-based morality, as opposed to casuistic legalism: “Father Pinckaers describes how the Christian develops connaturality with the true Good. This occurs only within a communion of persons where individuals are shaped by the truth of divine and evangelical law.”[iii] Virtue must be practiced in a community, and nowhere should it be more evident than in the communion of believers. We learn love by acting justly toward others. We learn hope by requesting intercession and praying for each other. We learn faith by learning through each others’ struggles.

The communion of saints is essentially a school for virtue. In those who have gone before us, we have models of faith and struggle, people who exemplify the virtues we seek to develop. In the Christian faithful on earth, we also have such models, but we also have the environment in which we need to develop the discipline and practice of virtue. Our life in the communion of saints, our living with each other allows us to live for each other and serve each other, “so that what each one does or suffers in and for Christ bears fruit for all” (CCC 961).

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 8b—Lesson Sixteen,” International Catholic University, 17 April 2010, .
ii. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vatican, 1997), 871.
iii. Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995), xiii.
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