November 27, 2014

A Brief Allegory Of The Communion Of Saints

slide-5-communion-of-saintsFrom time to time on Internet Monk a commenter will express discomfort with the Orthodox and Catholic tradition of acknowledging the communion of saints.  Someone will object to “praying to Mary” or “worshipping saints.”  Let me offer a parable in response.

Imagine a young woman who meets and falls in love with a man – Let’s call him Josh.  They meet away from each other’s homes, perhaps at work or at college.  When they get engaged, Josh invites her home to get to know his family.

She’s nervous, of course.  Josh is a wonderful guy – far better than she deserves, she thinks.  She’s amazed that he picked her out of all the girls in the world.  Her chief concern everywhere they go is to show Josh how much she loves him and is faithful to him alone.

They pull up to his family’s house.  A surprising number of people are silhouetted against the windows, and the front and back yards are full of clusters of conversationalists.  As they get out of the car, she can hear people young and old talking about other times, other places; about science, and philosophy, and humor.  She feels slightly intimidated and grabs hold of Josh’s hand.  He smiles at her and brings her in to meet his mother and siblings.

The story is pretty familiar and predictable up to this point.  Many of us have been through something like this.  But here is where she has a choice – option A and option B.

Option A goes like this:  She gets swept into a noisy crowd of people who all want to meet her; Josh is left behind.  They hug her, ask her questions, laugh, get her a drink – they make her feel at home.  She soon knows that not only has she found a husband, she’s been adopted into a clan.  Some of them, to be honest, seem a bit strange, but she reminds herself that she must seem strange to them.  After an hour or so, she catches Josh’s eye across the room and gives him a wave and a thumbs-up.  He’s delighted.  Eventually he will drive her home, and they can be alone to talk, but right now the music’s starting up and she’s being pulled into a dance.

Option B, on the other hand, looks this way:  Josh brings his fiancée up to his mother, who is sitting on the sofa surrounded by smiling relatives.  But instead of responding to his mother’s greeting, the girl turns back to Josh and holds his hand more tightly.  She does the same thing as aunts and uncles and cousins come to welcome her; she won’t meet their eyes or talk to them.  Though she doesn’t go so far as to stick her fingers in her ears and chant, her posture suggests that she would if she could.  Soon she pulls Josh away to an isolated corner, leaving bewildered and slightly offended people behind her.

“What’s the matter with you?”  Josh asks.  “Why won’t you talk to my family?  They’re important to me, and they were excited about welcoming you.”

“No way!”  she declares.  “I love you and only you.  I’m not going to dilute our relationship or get distracted from you by spending any time with those other people.  If our friends saw me talking to your cousins, they might think I was being unfaithful.”

The allegory is obvious.  The young woman is any Christian, Josh is Jesus, his mother is Mary, and his family represents the communion of saints, alive and dead.  I’ve told the story this way to show how ungracious, at the very least, it is to Jesus and his family to ignore everyone but him.  The girl is not going to marry everyone else in the clan, of course, but she will be a part of them forever.  I’m sympathetic to the girl’s impulse to be exclusively committed to her fiancé, but she needs to ask herself, how does it glorify him to be scornful of everyone else who loves him?

Many people who are uncomfortable with acknowledging the saints raise the point that saints are dead.  It’s one thing, they say, to visit, pray with, eat with or complain to living people – they are happy to do all those things with their fellow (living) Christians.  But conversation with dead people leaves them feeling squeamish.  What are the mechanics of talking to dead people, anyway?  Are we praying to them as if they were gods?  Are we invoking their ectoplasm through a séance?  Or are we just talking to the ceiling like forgetful old people in nursing homes murmuring to lost loved ones?  As a result of this confusion, many people react to the communion of saints like the young woman in the example above and determinedly ignore them.

I have no clue what the mechanics of “talking to the dead” are.  In fact, I don’t think you can talk to the dead.  You can talk to the resurrected, though – the Gospels prove that.  Samuel Wesley, a Protestant of the 19th century, wrote in “The Church’s One Foundation” of the “mystic sweet communion” we have “with those whose rest is won.”  It’s not a new idea that those who loved and served the Body of Christ while they were here on earth still do so now (whatever “now” means once one has left the temporal world behind).  The saints in glory are my in-laws, my new family, as are the Christians who are still in this world.  I won’t worship them, and I will only “pray” to them in the seventeenth-century usage of the word meaning to request attention of them.

I should acknowledge that there is one more option that our imaginary young woman has.  She could make such close friends of Josh’s mother or other relatives that she does end up neglecting him.  That would result in a dysfunctional relationship, which is an ugly thing, literally or allegorically.  There are wives who have done so with their husbands and Christians who have done so with their Savior.

But let’s not overcompensate and snub Jesus’ family out of fear of idolatry.  God sets the lonely in families, and our family of “happy ones and holy” is greater than we can imagine.  So let’s take our fingers out of our ears and make eye contact; let’s plunge into the party.  Rejoice, kick your shoes off, and join in the dance.

 

Comments

  1. Again, the fault in your analogy is that the Saints are dead. It’s like if Josh took this young women to a cemetery and asked this young lady to speak with Josh’s great-grandma, who died 50 years ago. It’s kind of strange. I understand that grandma may be with Jesus, but she is not here. I speak with people who are here. I prefer the Anglican/Lutheran approach. We honor those who come before us, remember their lives and wisdom, honoring their faith and hard work. But we do not communicate with them. Only when we too our with the Lord (through death or resurrection) will we once again speak with them.

    • The only type of communication with the Saints I can almost understand is the Litany of the Saints, where the Church Militant asks the Church Triumphant to pray for her. This song by Matt Maher is something I can kind of understand… I know we don’t usually like links in the comments but if Jeff or Mike can allow this one, I think its appropriate.
      http://youtu.be/ZWt5y301BSY

      • The only type of communication with the Saints I can almost understand is the Litany of the Saints, where the Church Militant asks the Church Triumphant to pray for her.

        Well then, you almost understand the idea of the intercession of the saints. That’s exactly what’s happening everytime someone says a Hail Mary. Asking an individual member of the Church Triumphant (and a rather important one at that) for her prayers.

        • While in theory that sounds good, in practice it’s a bit different. I recall Martha’s explanation of this where she admitted to asking a Saint to help find her keys. And while that may be a minor example, there are real examples of well meaning RC’s asking things of the Saints for which only belong to God. This is a bridge I cannot cross.

        • Lanier Ellis says:

          As an evangelical protestant I believe the Scriptures are God’s word and my ultimate authority. Will someone reading this give me Scriptures or a Scripture supporting communication with someone, with the exception of Jesus the God man, who has died? The rationale I’m reading in these conversations is some subjective feeling or human reasoning about talking to Mary or other humans who have died. I believe Satan can and does mimic mystical experiences not backed by Scriptural authority. Sometimes I have asked the Lord to speak to some of my friends who have gone before to tell them we miss them.

    • From my side, the remark that “But the saints are dead!” has me going “Yes, and?”

      It’s as if, when I asked you about your father, you said “Oh, he’s dead”. “I’m sorry to hear that. What was he like?” “Oh, I’ve forgotten all about him. What counts is the living, you know. I can tell you all about my cousin Sally, if you prefer. But I don’t have a father anymore.”

      Surely being with God is more than just being an ex-parrot? Who is more alive than the ones in the presence of very Life? And we all look for the resurrection of the dead, when body and soul will be reunited. Part of the difference between the Christian afterlife and the ideas of the dead in the Classical world was that the dead weren’t thin shadows of what they once were, or shadowy ghosts that had to be propitiated else they would do harm to the living.

      • But I don’t claim to have forgotten what my father or grandmother was like. This was my point in talking about the Anglican/Lutheran perspective. Anglicans (of which I am more familiar with) have no qualms about honoring and remembering the Saints, but they don’t cross the line to asks the Saints to do anything for them, like heal them.

        • But just as in the same way, when a member of our family dies, we don’t go “They’re dead now so that’s it – a sharp line of division. No talking about them as if they were anything more than a fact that happened and is now done with”.

          I admit, I can’t take seriously the comparisons with necromancy because that is such a different thing – see the Witch of Endor evoking the spirit of Samuel to coerce a prophecy from him for Saul, and how that blew up in Saul’s face, with the doctrine of the Communion of Saints.

          • Again, I wouldn’t advocate forgetting those who came before us. I see no problem with naming churches after the Saints. I see no problem with quoting the Saints. I see no problem with being inspired by the Saints. But to make requests of them seems strange. I don’t make requests to my grandmother, even though I remember her well. We have a few people from our church that we miss dearly, we talk about often, and we try to live up to their example. But we don’t make requests of them.

            Perhaps the trouble is I don’t see a difference to the common practices that fall under the title communion of the saints from necromancy. Could you do a better job at explaining the difference?

          • But some of those dead relatives you just made up.

        • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

          First an explanation…..I saw the other day there was a response from another ‘Daisy” which even though our names are spelled differently I wanted to somehow show who I was since been around for while. Not at all trying to do more than that…

          Brendan,

          Saints don’t do the healing God does. We invoke them to intercede for us before the throne of God, to pray with us and for us. Asking saints themselves to heal us is not accurate though I’m sure there are those who understand it this way.

          I wonder how those who struggle with this concept and practice would feel were they to go to some of the Churches in Europe which have walls lined with crutches, pictures, and stories of those who were healed from the intercession of a saint or Jesus’s mother – so many cases there was no medical reason to explain their being healed.

          God is God, He is the Supreme One. This we all agree on. Why then, do human beings want to determine what He can and cannot do and how He should choose to do things.

          • As a card-carying Episcopal priest, I’ll say, “Some of my friends believe in invoking the saints, and some don’t believe in invoking the saints; and I agree with my friends.”

            On the one hand, I’m not at all convinced that they hear us. Also, why bother with subordinates; go straight to the top, since the Father loves you more than all the saints do, put together.

            On the other hand, as my liturgics professor says, “We ask our friends on earth to pray for us. why not ask our friends in Heaven to pray for us?” Makes sense to me.

            If all we are doing is asking for the prayers of the saints, I see no harm in it. Worst case is that they might not be able to hear us. But we must be careful not to think the saints have any magical powers of their own; we merely ask them to intercede for us.

          • This is the problem I have with the RC church beliefs. I thought that Jesus was the intermediary between God and man, but the RC’s say that first you should try going through Mary or one of the saints because,,,well,,,because Jesus won’t listen to us if we don’t? Isn’t He the one who can be “touched by our infirmities” and who was tested in all the ways a human can be tested in order that He could be the perfect intermediary?

            The scripture encourages us to come BOLDLY to the throne of grace, but it seems to me that the RC church is just putting more layers between us and the Father. Christ died to remove that barrier and then we go and add more to it! Something is NOT right here…

          • I agree mostly with Oscar. So if I pray to our Father and ask him to heal me, he’ll say no. But if Mary wanders over and asks him, he’ll say yes? Even if that were the case, why then doesn’t Christ and the Apostles promote this? Why isn’t this even anywhere hinted in the New Testament (or the Old for that matter)? If God heals me, why then leave my crutches before a statue (which, I’m sorry but reminds me of an idol) of Mary?

          • Brendan,
            When I read your comments, I have to ask: Do you ever ask anyone living to pray for you? Why bother? Why would the prayers of a holy person or righteous person make a difference to God? Especially if you used the correct formula “in Jesus name”?
            Why would there be so many exhortations to pray for one another when, according to your understanding, it shouldn’t add anything to your prayers to God?

            I thought Jesus changed things, with death and the afterlife. We are and remain alive in Christ. New Life.
            25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,26and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Surely being with God is more than just being an ex-parrot?

        Depends on whether they’re a Rare Norwegian Blue or not…

    • Nothing fell away from me more quickly when I converted from the Reformed tradition to Orthodoxy than my reluctance to address the Saints.

      “Again, the fault in your analogy is that the Saints are dead. It’s like if Josh took this young women to a cemetery and asked this young lady to speak with Josh’s great-grandma, who died 50 years ago. It’s kind of strange. I understand that grandma may be with Jesus, but she is not here.”

      That’s exactly what we do in the Orthodox Church. We put Great-Grandma’s [figuratively] bones in the altar so she is always with us. Then we kiss them and venerate them. After all, if their bodies were the temple of the Holy Ghost while they were alive, what changed now that they are asleep?

      If they are Not Here, well, they are Not Here in the same way that Jesus is Not Here. Are you sure you want to go there? If they are dead, them I’m off to Buddhism.

      Saint David of Wales performed a remarkable miracle on his festal day in 2008. Read about it here:

      http://asinusspinasmasticans.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/st-davids-day/

      • Mule Chewing Briars.I like the…subtitle?…at your blog: “Donkeys See The Angels Before The Prophets Do.” Very good!

      • I couldn’t disagree with you more Mule. I see no reason to believe that the saints are among us in the same manner that Christ is. Christ promised in Matthew 28 to always be with us even to the very end of the age. I also know the Holy Spirit dwells within us. But i don’t know why any Christian would think the same is true for Peter, Paul, Luke, Mary, Francis, et. al.

        • Daisey former Missionary and Carmelite says:

          Brendan,

          I invite you to meditate on John 17: 20-24. Jesus is talking about Spirit being One with created flesh??? No, He’s talking about Spirit / God: Father, Jesus, becoming one with our created spirit which inhabits our fleshly bodies. Our Bodies die but our spirit/soul is eternal. It is this very Union that is fostered by Grace. It is within this level – spirit – that we become one. The body of Christ on earth doesn’t have a physical union…it’s a spiritual union. The body dies but spirit lives on. Thus the Communion of Saints incorporates the entire “body of Christ” of which Jesus is the Head.

          • But you’re stretching it farther then what the text (meaning, what Jesus actually was talking about) says. Yes I agree we have “a mystic sweet communion”, but this in no way leads me to believe that if my prayers are unanswered by my Father it’s because I failed to ask St. Brendan (my namesake).

          • Daisey stated that our spirits/souls are immortal. Not sure that I’d agree with that if the inference is that our non-material aspect is eternal independent of Christ. I’m reminded of what Paul wrote in I Tim. 6:16;

            He (Christ) alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power! Amen.

            Immortality is ours because we are “in Christ”. That being the case, those who are absent from us in the earthly tent are none the less present “in Christ”. We are in Christ; they are in Christ. The only distinction I see in asking the dead in Christ to pray on my behalf or with me is that I cannot see or hear them as I can those who are present in the body.

            Tom

        • Scripture says:

          remain…

          “if you remain in me and i remain in you…”

          do you lack vine-sap?

          • Simply because we are in Christ, does not mean the Saints are our intercessors. If it were sold, He would have told us so. The Scriptures (ie the words of Christ and the Apostles) do not say the Saints in heaven are our intercessors. The Scriptures (St. John in particular) says that Christ is our intercessor.

      • But some of those dead relatives you just made up.

        • According to family tradition, my great-great grandfather spent 18 months in Andersonville prison during the Civil War. There is no record of him at the prison. There is no record of his regiment in the Iowa archives, although my grandmother told me that he fought at Shiloh and Chickamauga. Indeed, there is no documentary evidence of his life apart from his marriage certificate and a misspelled Census form. But the family stories about him are innumerable. His blood pounds in my veins, and that’s more important to me than some fussy schoolmaster following me around demanding “proof, proof, proof!”

          We don’t really expect anybody outside the family to believe in him.

        • Also, since we believe it is God that connects us all and allows us to communicate, if we have the wrong name for someone or the person we think we are talking to is a pastiche a few people, we trust him to route appropriately. For every saint that is a a little historically sketchy, surely there is some member of the family that is like that, and God knows who it is even when we don’t.

    • “the fault in your analogy is that the Saints are dead”

      I believe the Saints are alive! at least that is my hope.

      • Alive and yet not here, if you’d like me to be more specific.

      • “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” – Luke20:38 (ESV).

        • Then why did Paul struggle between life and death. If his intercession would be just as effective in Heaven as it was on earth, then “far better to be with the Lord”! But Paul knew he needed to stay with the Church on earth for the cause of the Gospel.

    • Brendan, I think Damaris covered that when she said that the saints are not dead but alive through the resurrection:

      “I have no clue what the mechanics of “talking to the dead” are. In fact, I don’t think you can talk to the dead. You can talk to the resurrected, though – the Gospels prove that.”

      This is all new to this Protestant, however. I always thought that “the communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed meant the believers around us.

      Damaris? What about?

      • I think it does mean the believers around us, Ted. Some of those have passed through death and some haven’t, but it is only the peculiarity of my limited perspective that makes those near me in the flesh seem more real than those who have entered eternity.

        • But it is precisely that God’s Kingdom has not yet fully come which makes me say they are not around us. They are without their bodies in the realm of the heavens, far from this earth. We are separated from the perfect kingdom of God by being in this sinful world. Yes, I know that the Kingdom is among us but it is also not yet among us. Why else would we pray “Thy Kingdom come…”?

          • Brendan, how would you interpret this passage in Hebrews, then?

            These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
            Hebrews 11:39- 12:1

            I take great comfort in the knowledge that my brothers and sisters in Christ, the vast majority of whom went before me, surround me and pray for me. They are my extended family and they are cheering me on as a fellow member of the ever-living Body of Christ (is any part of the Body of Christ “dead”?). Those in heaven are more fully alive than we are here, and can present our petitions to God (a la Revelation 5:8).

            Jesus asked us to pray for one another – why should that be limited to Christians who happen to be living on earth at this moment?

          • PL, Nothing in that passages suggests that the Saints are our intercessors. Nothing in that passage suggests that if I pray to Mary, then the Father is more likely to heal me than if I just relied on Jesus. The scripture commands us to pray for one another, but the scriptures simply never ask us to look to the Saints in heaven for their prayers.

        • I’m beginning to think you Catholics are more mystical than us regular people.

  2. Steve Newell says:

    For many “evangelical” Christians and their churches, they are ahistoric in that they have little knowledge or desire to know the rich history of the Christian Church, the many great men and women who have given their lives for the Church and great contributions they have made in our theology.

    There is much we can learn from those who have preceded us. I am amazed about how much the Lutheran Confessions still apply to us today in that many of the same issues still exist today that they had to deal with during the Reformation. Likewise, I find the early Church Fathers great to read for the wisdom that they impart.

    We can honor the many great Saints that have come before us without losing sight that they are just like us, both Saint and Sinner at the same time.

    For many, they know know more about American history and very little of Church history.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For many “evangelical” Christians and their churches, they are ahistoric in that they have little knowledge or desire to know the rich history of the Christian Church, the many great men and women who have given their lives for the Church and great contributions they have made in our theology.

      With a huge unbridgeable gap (usually interpreted as a Great Apostasy of Romish Popery) between the actual Bible times (i.e. Early Roman Empire) and the founding of their particular church. This has an important side effect:

      It turns the Bible into just another book of mythology disconnected from reality. No solid historic trace, just way back when, Once Upon a Time. At that point, how does it differ from any other mythology? (Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Asian, D&D Deities & Demigods, etc…)

  3. br. thomas says:

    I value “this family” and am very close friends with many members of it. But, I wish “this family” was as welcoming as you describe, especially in allowing those of us who love and follow Jesus and strive to live our lives with Him and for Him, that we might be able to join “this family” at the table for the most important meal there is for us. Alas, “this family” will not permit it unless I walk away from my own and change my name to become part of theirs. So, I get to sit and watch from a distance, or go up to the table and get to hear a kind word, but do not get to eat.

    • You have to admit there is something to making a commitment and entering into covenant that does happens within a family that doesn’t with, say, your neighbor or coworker …

      • br. thomas says:

        Is this what Jesus taught and modeled? Did He require the poor, the homeless, the prostitutes and others on the margins to first enter into a covenant to share a meal with Him? I know the Pharisees and the teachers of the law had that expectation. And must I become a Roman Catholic in order to join my brothers and sisters around the Eucharist during mass? I think that when certain practices become institutionalized (in any religious tradition) the form wins out over the original intent. The stance of any denomination that places it’s own criteria for inclusion above that of Jesus and the early church is problematic for me. I suppose if one believes that the RC denomination represents the one, true universal church, then I can see your point (I do not believe this to be the case).

        My point is that the description in the initial post of a happy family welcoming a new family member is not as simple or as wonderful as described. I admit, the allegory above is focused on making a different point, but the tone (of the happy family being snubbed by a new member) reminds me of what I feel every time I attend mass with my catholic brothers and sisters (some of whom are embarrassed and have apologized to me for my exclusion from the table). Although I could choose to participate (again, some of my catholic brothers and sisters have encouraged this!), I cannot out of a clear conscience and respect for the tradition of the RC church.

        • br. thomas, the restriction against other Christians coming to our table is also done partially out of love for you. Do you recall St. Paul’s warnings to the Corinthians about receiving Communion in an unworthy manner? Specifically about failing to discern the body and blood of our Lord? It’s bad news. Our closing the table to you is not a denial of your Christian faith, or your love for Jesus Christ: we’d be worried about most Protestants receiving Communion, but not discerning the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, present in the Eucharist.

          • petrushka1611 says:

            Paul commanded believers to examine themselves, i.e., individually. He never commanded us to keep other believers away from the table. It’s the Lord’s Supper, not ours, and it means what HE wants it to mean.

          • Ryan, I really have to disagree with you. The way the Roman Catholic church practices communion has nothing to do with love. All too often its to exclude those on the outside of the Catholic faith who are in the Christian faith. And its to exclude those Catholics who have made mistakes such as divorce and remarry, etc….. I grew up seeing my cousin deal with this issue and watching how my family and others in the Catholic church still dangle the Eucharist in front of her only to taunt her for her divorce. Its similar to the way the fundagelicals hold an out of wedlock pregnancy against a single female years after it happened and shame her. This issue is one of the things that pisses me off the most about the Roman Catholic church. Why do certain tribes have to be so exclusionary? The root issue is pride. And any organization that holds up something so central to the faith and then deny it to many others is quite arrogant.

            The way the Catholic church turns away Catholics who have sinned in some way or another from the Eucharist reminds me of the same exclusionary practice that the Mormons have with Temple Weddings where only those who have Temple Recommends and have the church’s blessing are good enough to enter. I love you brother but I have to strongly disagree with you. Now don’t get me wrong….the Roman Catholic church has a number of things going for it; but closed communion is not one of them.

          • br. thomas says:

            Ryan M.:
            Both Eagle and petrushka1611 make points that i agree with. To add a comment to your quote of Paul’s words in Corinthians, Paul’s instructions were not motivated by concern over believers failing to recognize the doctrine of transubstantiation when participating in the Eucharist, rather it was the division caused within the body (the local expression of the church, i.e. God’s people) by those who failed to wait on others and treated the Eucharist as a feast rather than a meal that embodied the unity of the believers:

            “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not.”

            One could argue, that excluding brothers and sister of Christ from the Eucharist, whatever the reason, is offensive to God and for the unity He desires from His children.

          • One could argue that, br. thomas, but one who argues that position has an enormous hurdle to overcome: no one in the first 1500 years of Christianity understood that to be the correct reading of that passage of Scripture. In fact, early church practice was to actually ask all non-believers and believers who hadn’t yet been fully initiated to actually leave the service when it was time for Communion (cf: the line in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom “let all catechumanates depart!”).

          • Ryan, the problem with the “unworthy manner” clause is that none of us is ever worthy. And anyway, who decides worthiness? Best to leave the table open and let the individual have it out with God.

            The RC church, and others, like the Lutheran Missouri Synod, practice closed communion based on membership, and this has nothing to do with “worthy manner”. It seems extra-biblical and exclusionary.

            I don’t have any real problem with the RC interpretation of communion (transubstantiation) but closed communion is a big hurdle.

          • “closed communion is a big hurdle.”

            I agree, Ted. I can understand somewhat the Catholic position of wanting people to know what they are doing when they receive communion, but truly…I say let anyone who wants to receive communion do so, telling them first that when they come to receive communion, they are truly receiving the body and blood of Jesus.

            Non-Catholics have received communion in Catholic churches and they did not drop dead! In fact, numbers of them became Catholic. We have the story of Sara Miles who was not even a Christian, was not baptized, didn’t even know what communion was, but she walked into an Episcopal church one day and received communion and her life was changed forever. She is now a baptized Christian who helps to feed the hungry of the San Francisco area, the last I knew.

            And I know that some will say that receiving communion is like being part of the family, but I say that we should welcome strangers to communion. If we believe that the water and wine truly become the body and blood of Jesus, then these strangers truly need this “heavenly medicine.” Even if they don’t fully understand, (and how many Catholics fully understand the Eucharist?) since the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Jesus, then we should want ALL to receive. (I don’t expect my thoughts on this to become Catholic practice in my lifetime though.)

            I know Michael Spencer had a hard time with the whole closed communion thing, too, no matter what our wonderful Church Fathers said and did. I would not want to be a priest, giving the bread and wine to folks in line and wondering, “Is this person Catholic? Does this person believe in the real presence of Jesus? Is this person in a bad state of sin?”‘ I say, present the body and blood of Jesus and let God do the rest of the work.

          • I’m with you, Joanie. Thanks.

          • The Roman Catholic church does consider itself able to distinguish between a worthy an unworthy reception of the Eucharist. If one is not in a state of grace, that is, if one has committed mortal sin (which is closely defined by RC moral theology) and has not repented, confessed and received absolution and performed any assigned penance for that mortal sin through the rite of penance as offered only in the Roman Catholic church, then one is in an unworthy state to receive the Eucharist. In fact, to knowingly receive the Eucharist in such a state of sin is to incur further mortal sin according to RC moral theology. I grew up Catholic and went through all the CCD education; this stuff is indelibly written in my soul. It was all very traumatizing.

    • Ol' Episcopal priest says:

      All who have been baptized are welcome at the altar at Episcopal/Anglican churches. I do not ask to see anyone’s baptismal certificate! I believe about the same is true at Methodist churches (i was raised a Methodist).

      Many Episcopal/Anglican churches nowadays are saying “All who seek Christ….” or ‘All who are Christians…..” are welcome.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        To be fair, that wasn’t always the custom. In the classical BCPs (e.g. CoE 1662, PECUSA 1928), there was always a rubric that said something to the effect of “And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed” (1662 Order of Confirmation rubric).

        That said, even in highly traditionalist Anglican/Episcopal churches that use the older liturgies, I rarely see this enforced nowadays. More typical is the “all who have been baptized” bit, with the honor system as to whether or not a communicant has actually been baptized (i.e. we trust folks’s word on the matter unless there is reason to suspect otherwise).

  4. The analogy that praying for intercession of the saints is just like being friendly with your spouse’s family depends on showing that seeking intercession is comparable to friendliness.

    But it simply is not. The actual text of common prayers of intercession assume the saint or angel has some authority or closer connection to God, so that he is more likely to grant prayers from them. To stick with the analogy, it would be like the wife asking Josh’s cousin or uncle to appeal to Josh to grant the wife’s request, in hopes that their different relationship would increase the likelihood Josh would grant the request. That’s obviously problematic. In fact, Christ rebuked Mary when she thought she could influence him based on her relationship with him.

    Christ is not part of the church, so the analogy also breaks apart to the extent it suggests kindness to Christ includes treating his church equally in how we direct our prayers. Christ is the head, the vine, the shepherd. His spouse is the church. Christ and the Church are separate and distinct, and the church is to recognize only Christ’s authority. Wives do not seek intercessors to appeal to their husbands, and neither does the church with Christ. Christ has been given all authority on earth and in heaven, and obtained forgiveness for the whole world when the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It makes little sense to go to one with no authority rather than the one with all authority, when the one with authority has commanded us to pray to God in his name and to hear our prayers.

    The communion of saints also stand on an equal basis with each other in their relationship with Christ. Members of the church do not pray to other parts of the church. We should ask the church to pray for us, but we have no command to seek intercession of dead individuals, or promise or suggestion that they can even hear us.

    What we should do with the saints is to honor them, to look to them as examples of God’s grace to fallen sinners, and of imperfect models to imitate in their faithfulness and good works.

    • Boaz,
      You say, “It makes little sense to go to one with no authority rather than the one with all authority, when the one with authority has commanded us to pray to God in his name and to hear our prayers.” There are a couple of cultural assumptions implied in that statement, ones that a modern American would take for granted but that would have seemed very odd to most people at most times (including Jews of 200 years ago). First is the either/or thinking that presumes that Jesus has authority and all people have none — until very recently any human being would have had a more hierarchical view of creation and accepted a third category of some people who had more authority or a closer relationship with authority than other people did. For Christians the authority did not rest on birth but on spiritual maturity and closeness with God. Second is that it makes little sense to approach an authority indirectly — again, in most cultures past and present, people ask someone else to intercede for them as an act of humility, not as a mark of disrespect for the authority. And humility makes a lot of sense.

      Of course Jesus and the writers of the New Testament tell us again and again to approach boldly to the throne, to pray directly to God as our Father. That we can now do this, that the temple veil has been ripped, is an awesome and wonderful thing. Nowhere, however, do I see that I *cannot* involve others in my relationship with God. The final lengthy hymn of Lewis’ “Perelandra” is a beautiful expression of the mutuality of love among the individual members of the Body and the Godhead.

      Let’s remember that our God is Trinity existing in an eternal exchange of love and relationship. God is not a hard singleness nor an exclusive duality. Once we are drawn into the Body of Christ and are being remade into his image, we too must participate in and recreate the many paths of love that flow between and among us.

      • Should be of 2000 years ago.

      • The importance of hierarchy within the communion of saints, and the desirability to approach authority indirectly are human additions to what Christ taught. We can observe the historical development of these ideas in Christianity, coming out of the very beautiful teaching that the angels along with the church in all times prays to Christ. While we can recognize that in our prayers, it’s very different to start directly appealing to particular angels and dead individuals within the church for their own special recognition. There is no basis in Scripture to suggest a favored hierarchy among the saints; that was the teaching of the pharisees, and was repeatedly rejected by Christ. Last shall be first, etc.

        What it comes down to is justification, as always. Since all people are in need of grace, and salvation is purely a gift, there is no distinction or boasting of works. The good works of the saints are not their works, but that of the Holy Spirit working in his people. Since it’s the Holy Spirit that uses individual to do great things, and not the person’s efforts themselves, the idea that we should seek out that particular individual or identify that person as having more merit because of those works, is simply wrong.

        But the core issue of justification sets us down another, different discussion.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I think part of the problem is that there is semantic confusion: when we talk of “saints” do we mean the community of believers, past and present (and, for that matter, future); or do we mean someone (possibly of dubious historicity) who has gotten the stamp of approval of a church bureaucracy and now has a statue off to the side of some church? (Sort of like getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame, complete with bronze plaque. The Hall of Fame has some historicity problems of its own, come to think of it.) Lutheran have no problem with the former sense: ” even as [the Holy Ghost] calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith”. But I think a lot of people who have a problem with the “communion of saints” are thinking of the latter sense.

  5. Beautifully written, Damaris.

  6. “how ungracious it is to ignore everyone but him”

    But this is Jesus! Wonderful beautfiul Jesus! Not someone who is pretty good and has a nice family, but the first born of all creation, he whom the sum fullness of God dwells in HIm. Through whose death we were reconciled to God!

    To suggest that anyone else is worthy of time spent away from Jesus is ludicrous. To think that I should talk to Mary when Jesus is over in the corner is sad. Jesus is everything, and he is who I want to spend all my time with.

    • Matt Purdum says:

      +1

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Just Jesus and the Bible and Me and nobody else, huh?

      That’s what you get when you have a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

    • And what will you have to tell him when he asks you what you’ve done for the “least of these?” I’m sure you wouldn’t say that you were too busy praising him to care for the widow and orphan.

      Jesus loves many people, not just me. If I am going to grow more like him, then I too have to love lots of people, both hear and in heaven.

      • Here, not hear. Arrgh.

      • The strongest thing going for the Roman Catholic church is the work the do for the poor. Hands down, no one else comes close. The Roman Catholics have been spanking the Protestants for centuries in this area. When it comes to loving the poor and the marginalized the Protestants have an epic fail.

      • And what does caring for the least of the bretheren have to do with praying to saints? Or even the lesser assertion that we are not praying to them but asking for their help or prayers.

        Everything I have seen in defense of this seems to be digging the hole deeper and deeper. Looks like a case of tradition overriding scripture.

  7. I know there are folks who have lost loved ones to death who are certain that they are continuing to have a relationship in spite of that death. There is a woman who was very close to a Catholic monk who has written about that. I can’t remember her name now…

    • I found the name I was looking for. Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest and professor of theology She met Catholic monk/hermit Brother Raphael Robin in 1990 while attending a Colorado training workshop in centering prayer. They had a platonic love relationship for three years and when he died, she discovered that they had a continuing relationship. She wrote the book Love is Stronger than Death about it. I have not read the book.

  8. I’ll be following this discussion – it’s near to my heart lately, as for some reason I can’t quite point to. I was raised Methodist but went to Catholic high school, where I generally shunned most of the “craziness” I felt was inherent in Catholicism. Now, though, at 31, I’ve started to tentatively wonder if there might actually be something to this. I have nothing more solid than that, to be honest, but I wanted to chime in instead of lurk, for once.

    • Jessica,

      Let me tell my story about the first time that I became aware of the communion of the saints. I was, at that time still a strong Southern Baptist. I was driving to class after work, and was frustrated about something in my life. I remember praying, “Bunny (nickname for my deceased stepgrandmother), you are up there, closer to Jesus. Can you get an answer for me? When will God bring a man to be my beloved husband into my life?” It seemed perfectly natural and comfortable.

      Now many years later, and having reconciled myself to the Catholic Church, I love the idea of the communion of saints. I love having brothers that I have never met. (and sisters too.)

      • Anna…that is PRECISELY what the communion of saints is all about!!

        From reading many of these comments, it sounds like some of our I-Monks do not believe in life that continues after the body’s death…how is that compatable with being a Christian??? Our personhood continues to exist….

  9. The analogy only works if intercession is the same as being friendly. But it’s not. Would the wife ask Josh’s uncles or cousins to appeal to Josh when she wanted something from Josh, instead of going directly to Josh? Of course not. That’s a sign of a bad marriage.

    The analogy also breaks down by comparing Christ’s bride to a single person, instead of the entire church, and making Jesus just another part of the family. Jesus is separate and distinct from the church. He is the head, the vine, the shepherd. He is the husband to the whole church. He has all authority over heaven and earth and had his sacrifice accepted by the Father for the sins of the world. He said to pray to the Father in his name. For the church to pray to other parts of the church to intercede, instead of trusting Christ alone, who does have authority, is wrong. The whole church should be able to pray every good prayer as one body to God, in the name of Christ its head. There is a problem with the prayer if the whole church in all time couldn’t pray it together.

    Intercessory prayers to saints are not like requests for other Christians to pray for me. When I submit a prayer request, I do not say, “Oh pastor, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires,…” There’s too many problems with that to address. That’s just goofy.

    We honor the saints by seeing them as examples of God’s grace to sinners and the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of Christians, and that’s enough.

    • Oh shoot, my previous comment didn’t show up so I made a second attempt, now there are two. My bad.

    • Perhaps it’d be helpful to think of it this way — as it was explained to me by an Orthodox couple: do you ask friends to pray for you? or family members? yes, of course! so it is with “praying” to the saints; you are asking for their prayers on your behalf.

  10. So…If we’re a part of a “communion of saints”, or say, “a great cloud of witnesses”, that includes all those who have passed from this world into eternal life in Christ, and therefore, aren’t dead, but alive, then why is it any different to petition their prayers than it would be to ask Deacon Joe at church to pray for us? I mean, aren’t those who have gone on before just as alive?

    While I don’t condone saint worship, I don’t have a problem with veneration. Frankly, we live in a world that could stand to hold a few more things as sacred. The idea of a “communion of saints” isn’t ancestor worship or saint worship…It’s an idea born of the thought that we have eternal life in Christ.

    • HA! Lee, i didn’t make it to your comment. You beat me to it!

    • Simple, we’re encouraged (commanded even) to go to each other. We are nowhere encouraged to go to those who have passed.

      • And by “nowhere,” I assume you mean “nowhere in the Scriptures”–the canon of which was determined largely in the 4th century, by Church leaders who already had a highly-developed theology of the communion of the saints, and a long-standing practice of asking for their intercession, and who evidently saw nothing in the Scriptures to contradict their understanding since they kept right on doing it?

        • The Roman Catholic Church never saw anything it did as contradicting the scriptures, hence the reformation. While Tradition is useful and good, it is not infallible. The words of Christ and His apostles are the words of the NT. And nowhere in their words are we even hinted at going in prayer to those who have passed.

          As an Anglican (of the evangelical variety) I believe in the big wheel trike of authority. Scripture out front, Tradition and reason balancing out the back. I believe it’s something along the line of John Wesley’s Prima Scriptura

  11. Love communing with the Saints! All the way from the first century thru the patristics to present day. Great post Bro!
    I read the Bible and from the Saints daily!

    Trent

  12. Aidan Clevinger says:

    With all due respect, I don’t remember ever asking a family member to bestow upon me grace, favor, or charity, or asking them to let me share in their merits…

    • We should start teaching our family members to do so. I expect to be addressed as follows when people ask me to pray for them:

      Oh Boaz, whose merits are so insignificant and deficient, whose arrogance is mighty and unfounded, since Christ promised to hear the prayers of sinners made in his name, I ask you, a poor miserable sinner, with your shrill voice, through your meager efforts and lazy attitude, to pray for me in Christ’s name.

  13. Pardon me if someone already made this point: why is it ok to ask a saint on earth to pray for us but not one in heaven? Charles Wesley wrote a great hymn, where he describes the separation between heaven and earth a thin veil. Perhaps the Protestant view leans too close to manecheanism, where not only earth is evil but heaven is infinitely separate.

  14. flatrocker says:

    Damaris,
    It’s interesting that none of us bible thumpers have thumped any of these during this dialog.

    Rev 5:8 – The four living creatures and the 24 elders are presenting prayers of the people to the lamb in heaven.
    Rev 6:10 – The martyrs in heaven seem to have some knowledge of earthly affairs.
    Rm 8:38-39 – Nothing seperates us, not even death.
    Rev 5: 13 – Are we praying in Communion with the Saints in heaven? (and with all of creation too? – yikes!).

    Maybe there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

  15. “You can talk to the resurrected, though – the Gospels prove that.”

    Well, no, not literally.

    When Jesus was transfigured, and Moses and Elijah appeared, Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus. They did not speak to Peter, James, and John. Peter did not speak to Moses and Elijah. The only other times Jesus spoke to “the dead” (who were not dead, Jesus said, but sleeping), He commanded them to live again: the dead girl and Lazarus. So, yes, I could speak with dead saints if they rose up, physically, from the grave or from their deathbeds after they had expired. Could I speak to the resurrected in Christ? Yes, I could, but they would pay no more attention to me than Moses and Elijah would have if I had been on the Mount of Transfiguration that day. Honestly, if you stood in the presence of the glorified Christ, would you want to talk to me? Are you kidding? Even I would not want to talk to me in that instance!

    • Scripture says:

      well… consider the potter’s house.

      and, i was thinking about buying some green house plants
      my grandma had the most healthy plants.
      she lived a long life and her plants always so growing and green.

      i thought to myself that these plants helped her live so long.
      and she helped the plants too — with every exhale.

  16. Truth be told the entire veneration thing really confused me when I was a Catholic. This post is bringing back not so fond memories of working through this issue. When I was growing up Catholic and watched my family, and others practice this I was confused. At the time it felt a little polytheistic in nature. You had a different Saint for a differing need. For example…when it came to school I’d ask Thomas Aquinas to intervene. When I lost something I prayed to St. Anthony. When I had an upcoming test I prayed to St. Joseph Cupertino to help me. I thought Vatican II downplayed the veneration thing.

    • Well, Eagle, I feel like different saints have experience/empathy in different areas of my life. For instance, I am the only female in a previously all-male organization, and at times the testosterone gets to me. I have asked the intercession of St. Joan of Arc, because she definitely knows what it’s like to be female in the midst of an army of manly men! She has definitely had my back.

      If I were an addict and needed prayer and counseling, I would approach an addict who was in recovery to pray for me. That person would instantly know what I was going through and would have special compassion for my situation. That’s all we’re doing when we ask a certain saint to pray for us.

      By the way, Eagle, I love reading your posts – it is so good to have you here.

  17. While I have often wished to talk to my grandfathers who died years ago, and am often tempted to, the Word of God nowhere guarantees that : 1) they are able to hear me, and 2) they are in a position to do anything about it if they can. Nothing in Scripture urges us to do this or guarantees that it works, or says it would be OK even if it did work. It is an argument from Scriptural silence based what some earlier Christians did.

    And even more to the point, as has been said elsewhere, 1 Timothy 2:5 says ” For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” Why does the RC Church teach that there are a whole raft of mediators between God and man? (Mary and all the saints.)

    Lastly, to pray to,praise and give thanks, seems to fall squarely under the definition of worship I know there is supposed to be a difference between ‘veneration’ and worship, but I have never heard a convincing argument for it especially when it entails prayers and entreaties to the dead to grant answers to those prayers.

  18. “Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead? Since Willie’s death, I catch myself every day involuntarily talking with him as if he were with me.” – Abraham Lincoln (Margarita Spalding Gerry, editor, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, pp. 69-70).

  19. Communion of the saints, at even the most fundamental level, is a lost concept. Not that long ago, the Missouri Lutheran church advertised itself as “Not your grandfather’s church”. The bond with previous generations is further lost with the abandonment of the creeds, which generations of Christians proclaimed with one voice over the centuries. Being trendy and hip has taken the place of being one, holy and catholic (all believers of all nations and all generations). It is now the communion of the latest bandwagon.

    • Brilliant observation, dumb ox!

      We are so arrogant thinking that “our” contemporary brand of Christianity alone is valid, when centuries of faithful believers have gone before and paved the way for us.

    • One, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The last one was a critical omission on my part.

    • What is more telling regarding our application of the communion of the saints is how
      the church treats the elderly, showing them the door if they object to the worship rock show and leave them to suffer alone as shut-ins. We shoot our wounded, eat/exploit our young, stracize the elderly and abandon the handicapped, weak, poor, and unattractive. But hey, we are the representative of the “culture of life”, right? It seems how we treat the dead reveals truly how we treat the living. It reminds me of that Rez Band tune, “I Beat the Dead”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It is now the communion of the latest bandwagon.

      Which will be dropped as Old-Fashioned(TM) when the NEXT latest bandwagon comes along.

      (Seen any reruns of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In lately? Groovy, Man!)

  20. I notice a couple of themes emerging from the comments. First, some people are assuming that intercession puts a barrier between us and God, with perhaps the underlying assumption that the only truly close relationship is one-on-one. But parents have all had to learn otherwise. If our child carries a present from me to my husband, for example, does that make my husband mad because I’ve put a barrier between us? No, it makes us both happy to have another loved one to share with. In the same way I think it pleases God when we come to him together or through one another, when two or three are gathered in his name, whatever our current corporeal form.

    Second, many of the comments focus on getting something out of God or our forebears in the faith. While interecessory prayer is part of the communion of the saints, surely that’s not our only focus. In the story I told, I deliberately focused on enjoyment, sharing, and celebration, not calculations about how to bring about a result I want. If a believer’s whole desire in acknowledging the Church Universal is to make God give us stuff, then that’s just a more mystical version of the prosperity gospel. Can’t we also just delight in each other?

    • Demaris,

      I think you nailed it in an earlier comment;

      Let’s remember that our God is Trinity existing in an eternal exchange of love and relationship. God is not a hard singleness nor an exclusive duality. Once we are drawn into the Body of Christ and are being remade into his image, we too must participate in and recreate the many paths of love that flow between and among us.

      Perhaps that’s just too mystical for may Evangelicals, but it seems to me to shine the light directly upon the raison d’être of the eternal Communion of the Saints.

      T

  21. While I reject the certainty and abuse of the what my tradition calls ‘The Romish Doctrine’ regarding the Invocation of the Saints, I’ve come to believe that the ancient practice both honors God and is good for me. The practice affirms that which the world around me denies.

    Whether the angels can hear us or not, the Psalmist honored God when he addressed them. Ps103:20 Whether the practice accomplishes anything in the Undiscovered Country is more than we know (though I have my suspicions in the affirmative), but there is no doubt that it shapes those of us who are still on this side.

    In my experience those without such a devotional practice treat and envision our departed loved ones as simply dead- non-existent. That’s not in keeping with the faith we confess.