They don’t get “sainthood”

I was a bit surprised that there were four letters in The Age this morning regarding the canonisation of Blessed Mary of the Cross (aka Mary MacKillop) and each one of them negative.

David Seal, of Balwyn North, in “CONSERVATISM OF CHURCH ON SHOW”, complains that Mary’s case “brings into sharper relief the fast-tracking of John Paul II’s imminent beatification only a few years after his death”, and plays him off against Blessed John XXIII, of whom “there seems to be no such haste to precipitate his sainthood”.

Reverend Graham Nicholson, of Hawthorn, in “QUESTION OF DEFINITION” challenges the Catholic use of the term “saint” over “the simple New Testament reckoning” that accounts all men, women and children who seek to love, trust and obey Jesus Christ as their saviour” as “saints”.

Russell Miles, of Box Hill North, in “INSULT TO HER MEMORY”, says that Mary should be proclaimed a saint “for her wonderful work and personal sacrifices”, not for “a miracle”. “Does anyone imagine,” he asks, “that the spirit of MaryMacKillop is deciding which prayers are meritorious enough for divine intervention?” He says that this “is an insult to her memory”.

And finally, Nathan Stewart, of Endeavour Hills, wades in with “REAL SAINTS ARE ELSEWHERE”, saying that he is “ashamed that the recent reporting of the progress towards John Paul II’s beatification and Mary MacKillop’s sainthood has been expounded without comments by sceptics or scientists”, going on to state that no miracle has ever been scientifically proven.

Well, in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, Dick Gross (described on the SMH website as having “written and broadcast about living and dying without a god for over a decade”) has obviously heard Mr Stewart’s intercession and responded with this article: “The patron saint of quack cancer cures”.

Gross’s main argument, made toward the end of the piece, is simply this: “It is unbelievable that a relatively recent person’s cancer was cured merely because a long dead nun was associated by means of prayer.”

Well, unbelievable for an atheist, any way. There are many people who DO believe it – most of them Catholics. Which is surely the point here, isn’t it?

Okay, the press has gone a bit overboard with the “Australia’s First Saint” line. That angle has tended to imply that no other deceased Australian has attained the Beatific Vision (which is truly “unbelievable” and, on balance, probably untrue), and that Mary of the Cross is now a commodity “owned” by all ALL Australians individually and as a whole (whether they are Catholic Christians or not).

I think that is where all this negative reaction is coming from. Non-Catholic Christians, like the Reverend Mr Nicholson, reject the Catholic practice of canonisation because they reject the doctrine of the intercession of Saints which stands behind it. Incidentally, the Scriptures only use “saints” in the plural to describe either all members of the Church universal or all members of a local Church – eg. Corinth – collectively, they never refer to human being as a “saint” in the singular. The Catholic Church acknowledges that the whole Church is made up of both saints and sinners, but reserves (in accordance with a tradition immensely ancient and venerable) the specific title “Saint” to deceased believers whom it believes with certainty are in heaven and whom it recommends to the people of God as intercessors. We are probably not going to agree on this matter here and now, but remember that this canonisation thing is something Catholics do because of something Catholics believe – we are not proposing Mary MacKillop as “a saint” to our Protestant brethren and sistern, but to Catholics.

Atheists (such as Gross and Stewart) will, of course, have no truck with any of this. And they scoff that we could believe in anything as silly as miracles, let alone prayer (either to a deity or to a “long dead nun”). Their problem with miracles as answers to prayer has nothing to do with Blessed Mary’s upcoming canonisation, and everything to do with their rejection of religion full stop. But again, the Church is not proposing that atheists now call upon the intercession of Blessed Mary – well at least no more than we would generally propose that they change their hearts, repent and believe and turn to prayer.

And then you have those poorly infomed (like Russell Miles) who think that the Church canonises saints on the basis of the miracles that the Church requires as confirmation of the Saint’s presence in the heavenly courts. The Church canonises those who have lived lives of heroic virtue, not those who were famous or popular or known as miracle workers. The miracles are not the basis of their canonisation but are believed to be divine confirmation of the Church’s judgement that the heroically virtuous are indeed in heaven in the presence of God (and therefore able to hear prayers and to intercede “before the throne of God”). While the cause of saints in so far as reaching a judgement on the “heroic virtues” of a candidate can proceed faster or slower depending on the enthusiasm of the people behind the cause, in the final analysis (contra David Seal above) the timing of beatification and canonisation – that is, the end of the “waiting period” – is fully dependant upon the identification of confirming miracles. So, you can “fast track” someone to the point of being “Venerable” – as John Paul II now is – but from there on it is in the hands of God.

But of course all this will only make sense if you believe in God. If you think that the Church makes “saints”, rather than God, you will never understand this. It’s a Catholic thing, okay?

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32 Comments

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32 responses to “They don’t get “sainthood”

  1. Shouldn’t jump in here, as I still haven’t replied to your comments on my blogsite, David, but… I have no particular difficulty with the thought that Mary MacKillop is in Heaven, but , of course, I do have difficulties with what the canonisation process implies (not to mention all the details of it, e.g. miracles being ascribed to the intercession of the ‘saint’, etc), namely that some individuals by their heroic virtue – albeit in co-operation with the grace of God – have merited Heaven.
    Have I got that right?
    Doesn’t this border on semi-Pelagianism? (Or does it actually step over the line?)
    As the old Lutheran joke goes, ‘A human being justified by faith and works? Now _that’s_ a legal fiction!”

    • Well, Mark, I could suggest that you update your Pauline studies, perhaps starting with N.T. Wright – he is safe, being a good Protestant! Read him – and perhaps lot more of St Paul – and then come back to me on this “faith and works” business. Wright argues that justification in Paul is indeed a “law court” imagery, but reads the way in which justification takes place a “little” differently from classic Lutheranism – but then he is a Calvinist, so what can you expect? 🙂 Let’s just say, “yes, it is legal, but not a fiction!” The other thing I would say is to get around to reading that Burgwald thesis I sent you.

      As to sainthood, no, it isn’t really about “meriting” heaven – although again, I must say that Lutherans have (deliberately?) taken such a view of the language of merit that it necessarily excludes the all important issue of grace. That is something that a Catholic could never do. We know 1) that God is just and would be unjust if he did not reward merit (in fact, we are on firm scriptural ground on that matter), and 2) that all human merit is always and totally the merit of Christ himself, since it is his grace that enable any the very works which God in his justice rewards. This is not just a matter of cooperation. It is a matter of the all-pervading grace of God such that any “cooperation” is not 50% mine and 50% God’s doing, nor even 1% mine and 99% God’s doing, but all God’s – and yet, paradoxically (a thing that a Lutheran should be able to grasp since paradox is at the centre of authentic Lutheran spirituality) still really and truly a human action. That is what I meant about the liturgy on one of the comments I left on your blog. Lutherans wish so to distinguish the action of God from human action, that they fail to see that all action of God in his people is also always fully human action.

      But all that another time – back to canonisation. No, the canonisation process does not imply that by their heroic virtue the saint has “merited Heaven”. On the contrary, it is a recognition of the all-pervading grace of God in the real (not “legal fiction”) transformation of the human being. Unless we believe that such transformation, such sanctification, is possible, we do indeed demerit justification to the level of a legal fiction. Lutherans are great on justification, not so hot on sanctification (I do not ascribe this error to Luther himself, but rather to classical Lutheran orthodoxy). The teaching of simul justus et peccator is all very well – and can be accepted if we can give a certain meaning of the word “sin” to concupiscence (again, see Burgwald’s thesis) – but it cannot be used as an excuse to deny God’s very real call to all of us that we should be “holy as he is holy”. Given the infinite source of sanctification in Christ, and the great power of Christ in the lives of his people, how could this not be so?

      Indeed it is the lives of the saints which are today one of the most conclusive proofs for the existence of God. It could be countered “What about the manifest sins committed by Christians”, but sin is common lot of human beings – true sanctity, true heroic virtue, is the stuff of God’s grace active in Christ through faith.

      The fact that some have attained sanctity in this life is not Semi-Pelagianism. It is the promise of the real possibility that by God’s grace we can all be saints in the same sense that Mary MacKillop and Mother Teresa and John XXIII are saints: that Christ offers to us the way to enter into the presence and communion of God himself. The miracles that are ascribed to the intercession of the saints are themselves proof of God’s desire to work his grace in the world through his saints – not only while we are alive, but indeed even after our death. Since you conceed that the saints are in heaven, how can you not concede that they intercede for us? And if they intecede for us, will God not (according to his will) hear the prayers of his perfected saints at least as much (the Church says “more” because their prayer is pure in a way that ours is not) as those of the saints living on this earth?

      • Ahem…David, I have read Wright, I just don’t agree with his thesis, and as you must know, his thesis is extremely controversial among Pauline scholars and far from being widely accepted; why, I believe there may even be some Catholic scholars who question it.

        I’ll have to be brief as you know what this week is like for pastors!

        The argument is not really about God’s action on human beings. Lutherans have no difficulty recognising that God’s action always has a real impact on the human subject. If you had read classical Lutheran theology instead of the modernist stuff you evidently did read so much of ;0), you would know the distinction between transitive and intransitive action that orthodox Lutheran dogmtics recognises in this area.

        No, the problem centres around the concept of merit and the related question of virtue, heroic or otherwise. That is where the shades of semi-Pelagianism come in.

        On your last point, again you seem to misunderstand or be misinformed on the Lutheran position. We have no difficulty with the notion that the saints in heaven intercede for the church on earth, the problem is the Catholic ‘leap’ from that belief to the cult of the saints and praying to individuals thought to be in heaven – no scriptural warrant, old chap.

        • On your last point, again you seem to misunderstand or be misinformed on the Lutheran position. We have no difficulty with the notion that the saints in heaven intercede for the church on earth, the problem is the Catholic ‘leap’ from that belief to the cult of the saints and praying to individuals thought to be in heaven – no scriptural warrant, old chap.

          There is as much “scriptural warrant” for our practice as there is for (eg.) infant baptism and male only ordination. It is not contrary to scripture (on the contrary) and is in the oldest traditions. It is not a “Catholic invention”.

          I am fully aware of the Lutheran teaching on this matter – it seems to me that the only problem Lutherans have is with specifically invoking the intercession of the Saints.

          I am not, however, aware of the the distinction between “transitive and intransitive”. Perhaps you will enlighten us “modernists”! 🙂

          Actually, the New Perspective has received much greater acceptance among Pauline scholars than you would seem to know. And even where it is not, in all its forms, accepted, it has changed the way in which the discussion takes place.

          And again, I think Lutheran theology does not sufficiently acknowledge the very clear “merit” and “reward” theology that the Scriptures themselves contain.

  2. David Kennedy

    David, are you reall surprised that the Fairfax press ran with four negative letters and a negative article? Really? I’m not.

  3. Kyle

    ‘Doesn’t this border on semi-Pelagianism? (Or does it actually step over the line?)’

    I think the way some Catholics have explained it, yes, it does come across as semi-Palagian. I balked at the comment of one spokesman who said to the media ‘We are very glad of what Mary has accomplished’. This really is the wrong attitude. By sainthood, we do not mean that the saints were merely strong-willed and by their own self-determination were able to storm their way into heaven. What we believe is that God’s grace has been manifested in this person; their virtuous actions can only be attributed to the activity of grace in their lives. A better thing to have said is ‘We are very glad of what Mary has accomplished through Mary.’

    • Kyle

      I meant to say ‘‘We are very glad of what God has accomplished through Mary.’

    • Quite right, Kyle (I was going to correct you on that last point – we must both be writing simultaneously!). I too am a little uncomfortable with phrases such as “St X answered my prayers”. That isn’t the way it works. God is always the one who answers prayer; the saints are intercessors, that is all (and yet that is so very much!). Nor do we mean that the saints are mediators between God and man: intercessor does not = mediator. It is true that we call the Blessed Virgin “mediatrix” of all graces, but that isn’t meant in the sense that she replaces Christ as the “one mediator”. Her Son is her mediator also! She is “mediatrix” in the sense that it is through her that God’s grace came into the world – the very event we are celebrating in these days.

    • Picric

      I think it is more semi-Augustinian don’t you? For goodness sake, Pelagius wasn’t totally wrong but he was largely wrong. So how much with Pelagius do you go before reaching the magic “semi” line in the sand. Forget all that. What matters is the truth of the matter rather than how to apportion labels of a very inexact kind.

    • Thanks for that Kyle.
      That is almost exactly what we say at a Lutheran funeral service for an ‘ordinary saint’ after the obitury is read – “We give thanks to God for what he has done through _____.”

      • But where is your “scriptural warrant” for referring to individual members of the Church as “saints”, Mark? There isn’t any. It is your tradition.

  4. Christine

    When St. Paul addressed the saints in the various local churches he visited he was addressing living human beings. The primary meaning of the word “saint” in the Biblical sense is of one “set apart” for the Lord. That is also the primary meaning of “holy” — set apart, other, etc.

    When you can give me a sensible assurance that the saints are omniscient, which they would have to be, even in their glorified state, to hear the simultaneous prayers of millions of Christians then I may give canonization a serious thought.

    God alone is omnipotent and omniscient and even in heaven the saints are still created beings who do not share those attributes.

    I saw plenty enough of people running after miracles and apparitions while I was Catholic to have developed a very bad allergy to that kind of thing.

    We don’t need to ask our brothers and sisters in heaven to pray for us, they already do. With the church militant they turn their adoring gaze toward the triumphant Lamb who has redeemed us all.

    As for sanctification, come visit my Lutheran parish some Sunday and you’ll see plenty of people exhibiting the holiness that Luther said results from faith being an “active, lively and busy thing” that reaches out with the love of Christ.

    Christine

    • Christine,
      Is this not where there are paralells between the Roman doctrine and the Apotheosis rite of the ancient world? The RC saint, once canonised, seems to acquire at least some of the attributes of God…

      • You could say that, Mark, but you would be wrong.

        • LOL. Since it’s your blog, David, I’ll let you get away with that. But seriously, I found your response to Christine’s question highly speculative – Bonhoeffer reference notwithstanding – and therefore unsatisfactory.
          Btw, I’ve posted my take on the canonisation over at my old manse.

          • “Speculative, and therefore unsatisfactory”?

            I see it like this:

            1) The practice of invoking the saints t intercede for us is firmly found in the Tradition – going right back to the earliest years of the Church – and has continued wherever the Catholic faith is to be found. It is not contrary to the Scriptures. Therefore it is the certain teaching of the Church.

            2) Our challenge, where the speculation comes in, is to find a way of thinking of this theologically. My theological take could be wrong, but the practice is not based on the theology, but on the Tradition.

            This then is like many other ancient traditions of the Church that do not have a clear foundation in Scripture but are not contrary to Scripture (in fact, appear to be in line with Scripture), such as infant Baptism and ordination of males only. Both are held because they are in the Tradition. The theology required to explicate the Tradition – yes, that is speculative. But it is not the basis of the doctrine, only a way of understanding it.

    • Dear Christine,

      When St. Paul addressed the saints in the various local churches he visited he was addressing living human beings. The primary meaning of the word “saint” in the Biblical sense is of one “set apart” for the Lord. That is also the primary meaning of “holy” — set apart, other, etc.

      My point was that Paul always uses the term “agios” for humans in the plural and a collective sense (except for Phil 4:21 – and even there the word “panta” indicates a whole group). It is basically parallel to his use of the word “ekklesia”. The “saints” are all the members of the Church (whether in the local or universal sense). So, to correct what you have written, I would agree only in Paul “the primary meaning of the word “saints”…is of those “set apart” for the Lord.” When we apply the word in the singular to a particular person, we mean it as a title, not as a description for what we all are collectively as members of the Ecclesia.

      When you can give me a sensible assurance that the saints are omniscient, which they would have to be, even in their glorified state, to hear the simultaneous prayers of millions of Christians then I may give canonization a serious thought. God alone is omnipotent and omniscient and even in heaven the saints are still created beings who do not share those attributes.

      Okay, this is a big issue, but I will try to deal with it briefly and in the way in which I personally have found to think about this. Early in my time as a Catholic I was rather taken aback by the suggestion of one priest that “Mary is present with us here”. I could have gone along with that if it were a Mass – in which, through the liturgy, we are present to all God’s people of every time and place, but not in the sense that she had God’s attribute of omnipresence. As for omniscience, I don’t think we have to go so far as to say that the Saints have this attribute either, nor that it is necessary for them to have this attribute in order for them to act as our intercessors (something which you yourself grant they do), or, in fact, to receive our invocations or requests for intercession.

      It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who gave me the way of understanding this in his little book “Life Together”. In that book, he clearly delineates between relationships based upon the “anima/psyche” and relationships based upon the “pneuma/spiritus”. Our relationship with one another is always “in Christ”, and therefore a spiritual relationship.

      Two things arise from this:

      1) that we are limited in this life – both in our relationship with each other and with God – by our existence as anima and soma (soul and body). The saints in heaven do not have this limitation. They are in God’s immediate presence and are in immediate communion with him. Theirs is a purely spiritual (pneumatic) relationship with God.
      2) Yet even the relationship of the Saints in glory, though immediate, is not “un-mediated”. Christ continues to be their mediator as he is ours. It is because they are fully “in Christ” without any limitation or barrier that they receive communication regarding our intercessory needs from him and through the Spirit in the presence of the Father’s throne. So they “hear” our prayers through the mediation of Christ, not through gaining divine attributes. Why is this necessary? It isn’t really, but it is a sign of God’s great condescension to us that he involves all his people in his work, including the departed saints. I am put in mind of Paul’s comment in Romans 8 that nothing, neither death nor life etc., can separate us “from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” That relationship of being “in Christ Jesus” must certainly be expressed in prayer.

      We don’t need to ask our brothers and sisters in heaven to pray for us, they already do. With the church militant they turn their adoring gaze toward the triumphant Lamb who has redeemed us all.

      Well, you see, it isn’t so much of a “need to” thing as a “can” thing. It is not that God could not do things quite differently. It is not strictly necessary for us to ask our living brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us either, but we can, and we know that this is pleasing to God. Why should death (apart from the question I have dealt with above – ie. the question of whether the Saints can “hear” our prayers) put an end to this relationship of prayer? Paul’s comment in Romans 8 (not to mention Revelation 6:9) would seem to indicate that it does not.

      As for sanctification, come visit my Lutheran parish some Sunday and you’ll see plenty of people exhibiting the holiness that Luther said results from faith being an “active, lively and busy thing” that reaches out with the love of Christ.

      Of course. I wasn’t suggesting that Lutherans are any less “holy” in their living than Catholics. Obviously they are not. In fact, in general, they are probably more so. I was just saying that the Lutheran theology of sanctification needs a bit of work.

  5. Those in heaven, beholding God face to face, and being now outside of time, know in God what it pleases Him they should know – such as what He would like them to pray for, given the pleas of His people – and in God they offer up such pleasing prayers.

    • Exactly, Joshua. If the catholic doctrine went no further than that, I think we could all live with it. The doctrine needs to be reformed.
      And thanks for the quotes following.

      • The doctrine does not need to be reformed. That IS the doctrine.

        • Where, David, may I find the doctrine thus soberly defined? And if it is the doctrine, surely praying to a saint, instead of praying to God, would be superfluous? After all, if the saint receives his devotees’ prayers only by virtue of being “in Christ”, why not just pray to Christ? (I’m surpised at your take on this, aren’t you familiar with the copious Roman writings published with imprimaturs that contradict your view, speaking for e.g., of the saints taking our prayers to God, rather than th other way around!)

          • Of course the saints “take our prayers to God” – I am simply saying that the way in which they are aware of our prayers is itself an act of God.

            As for praying to the saints being “superfluous”, they are no more so than asking our living brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us. Why does God need this? He doesn’t. But it is a great sign of the way in which he wishes to incorporate his people in his work in the world.

            And here are a stack of references to intercession from the Catechism which bear out, I think, what we have been saying.

            336 From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession202 [cf. Mt 18:10; Lk 16:22; Pss 34:7; 91:10-13; Job 33:23-24; Zech 1:12; Tob 12:12]. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life”203 [St. Basil, Adv. Eunomium III, I: PG 29, 656B]. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

            519 All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property”187 [John Paul II, RH II]. Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to his death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”188 [1 Cor 15:3; Rom 4:25]. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us189 [1 Jn 2:1 Heb 7:25]. He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us”190 [Heb 9:24].

            521 Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us. “By his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man”193 [GS 22# 2]. We are called only to become one with him, for he enables us as the members of his Body to share in what he lived for us in his flesh as our model:

            739 Because the Holy Spirit is the anointing of Christ, it is Christ who, as the head of the Body, pours out the Spirit among his members to nourish, heal, and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness, and associate them to his self-offering to the Father and to his intercession for the whole world. Through the Church’s sacraments, Christ communicates his Holy and sanctifying Spirit to the members of his Body. (This will be the topic of Part Two of the Catechism.)

            828 By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly pro claiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors303 [cf. LG 40; 48-51]. “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history”304 [John Paul II, CL 16, 3]. Indeed, “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal”305 [CL 17, 3].

            956 The intercession of the saints. “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped”493 [LG 49; cf. I Tim 2:5].
            Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life494 [St. Dominic, dying, to his brothers].
            I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth495 [St. Therese of Lisieux, The Final Conversations, tr. John Clarke(Washington: ICS, 1977), 102].

            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”496 [LG 50; cf. Eph 4:1-6]:

            969 “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation …. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix”510 [LG 62].

            1053 “We believe that the multitude of those gathered around Jesus and Mary in Paradise forms the Church of heaven, where in eternal blessedness they see God as he is and where they are also, to various degrees, associated with the holy angels in the divine governance exercised by Christ in glory, by interceding for us and helping our weakness by their fraternal concern” (Paul VI, CPG#29).

            1369 The whole Church is united with the offering and intercession of Christ.

            2618 The Gospel reveals to us how Mary prays and intercedes in faith. At Cana89 [cf. Jn 2:1-12], the mother of Jesus asks her son for the needs of a wedding feast; this is the sign of another feast – that of the wedding of the Lamb where he gives his body and blood at the request of the Church, his Bride. It is at the hour of the New Covenant, at the foot of the cross90 [cf. Jn 19:25-27], that Mary is heard as the Woman, the new Eve, the true “Mother of all the living.”

            2642 The Revelation of “what must soon take place,” the Apocalypse, is borne along by the songs of the heavenly liturgy127 [cf. Rev 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-12] but also by the intercession of the “witnesses” (martyrs)128 [Rev 6:10]. The prophets and the saints, all those who were slain on earth for their witness to Jesus, the vast throng of those who, having come through the great tribulation, have gone before us into the Kingdom, all sing the praise and glory of him who sits on the throne, and of the Lamb129 [cf. Rev 18:24; 19:1-8]. In communion with them, the Church on earth also sings these songs with faith in the midst of trial. By means of petition and intercession, faith hopes against all hope and gives thanks to the “Father of lights,” from whom “every perfect gift” comes down130 [Jas 1:17]. Thus faith is pure praise.

            2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom41 [cf. Heb 12:1], especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things”42 [cf. Mt 25:21]. Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.

            2692 In prayer, the pilgrim Church is associated with that of the saints, whose intercession she asks.

            2741 Jesus also prays for us – in our place and on our behalf. All our petitions were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross and, in his Resurrection, heard by the Father. This is why he never ceases to intercede for us with the Father32 [cf. Heb 5:7; 7:25; 9:24]. If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who contains all gifts.

            2827 “If any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him”110 [Jn 9:31; cf. 1 Jn 5:14]. Such is the power of the Church’s prayer in the name of her Lord, above all in the Eucharist. Her prayer is also a communion of intercession with the all-holy Mother of God111 [cf. Lk 1:38, 49] and all the saints who have been pleasing to the Lord because they willed his will alone.

  6. At the risk of going on and on, I will cut-and-paste a copy here of a comment I left on The Anglo-Catholic blog, an excellent forum I commend to all readers, where Anglican incomers discuss the ongoing business of Anglicanorum cœtibus – hence my quoting several Anglican prayers below…

    (This began as a comment over on The Anglo-Catholic, and grew like Topsy…)

    “The Communion of Saints” – a most consoling article of the Apostles’ Creed…

    Not for nothing is one of the Four Marks of the Church holiness! The spiritual fecundity of Holy Church is a great proof of her verity, fidelity and vitality.

    As the late John Paul II put it, the witness of the saints – that a truly holy Christian life is possible and attractive and wonderful – is almost the greatest testimony to the Gospel for our world: even the most fallen find the beauty of holiness so attractive, giving hope to those who feel they cannot find their way. In these men and women Christ’s call to live “in Him” is splendidly shown forth as fruitful for themselves and His whole Church.

    This is why the Catholic Church has not hesitated to continue to promote the causes of saints, and to beatify and canonize those proven by rigorous examination to have lived as becomes saints and to have their sanctity signalled by signs from heaven, signals that God wishes them to be recognized as saints for the benefit of His people still on earth, raising them to the honours of the altar as great examples for the People of God still on their way in this world toward heaven.

    The saints are saints “for us” – whether or not they are acclaimed on earth is obviously of secondary interest to them, who love and worship God face to face; but as they love all members of the Church as their brothers and coheirs in Christ, they are glad to be examples, yes, and intercessors, for us still wavering between hope and fear as we work out our salvation, just as we and our fellow Christians here and now are or ought be mutual examples and interceders for each other. No one is a Christian for himself alone.

    I would forcefully argue that the most important if not sufficiently emphasised pronouncement of Vatican II was about “the universal call to holiness” – and this is exemplified in the saints, who were men and women compassed by infirmity, but raised up by grace, the weak who were chosen and became strong in Christ our Lord.

    Unfortunately, our modern age downplays the need, as the Anglican formularies put it, quoting Scripture, “That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous and sober life” (BCP, Mattins & Evensong, General Confession), “that the rest of our life may be pure, and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy” (ditto, Absolution).

    Too often well-meaning folk, shying away from what seems overly challenging (i.e. the Gospel), substitute vague nonsense about “spirituality” for the upward call in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    I note that the traditional Anglican liturgy powerfully reminds its participants of the “serious call to a devout and holy life”, called to live as saints in the Communion of Saints – most of these quotations following can also be found in the B.D.W., demonstrating how Catholic they are:

    O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    (BCP, All Saints’ Day Collect)

    …to all thy people give thy heavenly grace, and specially to this congregation here present, that, with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear and receive thy holy Word; truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life.

    (BCP, Prayer for the Church)

    And we yield unto thee most high praise and hearty thanks, for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all thy Saints, who have been the choice vessels of thy grace, and the lights of the world in their several generations: (and chiefly in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and in the Holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs,) beseeching thee to give us grace to follow the example of their stedfastness in thy faith, and obedience to thy holy commandments, that at the day of the general resurrection, we, and all they who are of the mystical body of thy Son, may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
 Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate.

    (Scottish BCP, Prayer for the Church, based on the original 1549 formula)

    Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways…

    (BCP, Invitation)

    …grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    (BCP, General Confession)

    …let us beg of him grace to perform our vows, and to persevere in our good resolutions; and that being made holy, we may obtain everlasting life…

    (Scottish BCP, Exhortation after Communion)

    …thy favour and goodness towards us;… that we are very members incorporate in the mystical Body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom…

    And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

    (BCP, Prayer of Thanksgiving)

    O God the King of Saints, we praise and magnify thy holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, and for all other thy righteous servants; and we beseech thee that, encouraged by their example, strengthened by their fellowship, and aided by their prayers, we may attain unto everlasting life; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    (Scottish BCP, a Collect which may be said after that of the Day or before the Blessing)

  7. Australia is largely a nation of heathens and apostates. Explains everything.

  8. matthias

    And you are right Louise-a nation of heathen ,pagans and apostates -and someof them are “members”of churches.
    Fr Bob MacGuire put it succinctly the other night on the 7pmproject.
    when the pilgrim fathers reached America they had thanksgiving. When we were settled at the end of the first day there was an orgy. Fairly Gross i’d say

  9. The vast majority of Christians now and down all the past ages from the days of the martyrs invoke the saints, which by the Vincentian Canon certainly abundantly proves its entire truth. Only johnny-come-lately minority. offsplits claim otherwise. The “Great Church” of East and West is vindicated here as elsewhere.

    And, if I can pray for you, and you for me, and if after I die I am not annihilated or asleep (soul-sleep is a wicked heresy) but more alive than ever, being in David’s happy phrase (the blog owner’s, not the kingly pslamist and prophet’s) totally “in Christ” and therefore kept informed by him…

    And the orations of the Roman liturgy, pure loci of doctrine, teach this, by asking God on divers occasions to grant such and such “at the intercession of St X” – but always “through Christ our Lord”, our only Mediator and Redeemer.

    We can only ask anything of each other as Christians “in Christ” – if I can intercede for you, and you for me, why should death impede this happy arrangement?

    The saints intercede for us, and we CAN ask them by name to pray for us – as the Creed of Pius IV, summarizing Trent, defines.

    I have never understood the strange Protestant inability to distinguish “I pray to and venerate the Blessed Virgin/ St X” from “I worship and put the trust of my salvation in the Lord” – the two are on completely different levels. And it is silly and quite offensive to say “Dumb ordinary Catholics confuse the two and commit idolatry daily” – everyone knows who is God and who is not, what a saint can offer (example and support and prayers) and what God can (mercy and grace and everlasting life).

    A like argument applies to icons…

    • Joshua,
      Your arguments from history are not decisive for me, I’m a simple Lutheran who needs a scriptural foundation. Can you supply it?
      If not, I’ll continue to suspect that no matter how impressive to human eyes the veneer of piety that attaches to this practice is, it is worship in vain (John 4:22). The Father seeks worshippers who worship him in spirit _and_ truth. Without a sure Word of God for the practice of invoking the saints, how do I know it is truthful worship? What the majority of Christians are claimed to believe is not decisive, the majority of Christians were once Arians.

      • Sorry, I don’t believe in Sola Scripture.

        • Me neither. It is an unhelpful restriction on the Word of God, and one that is not true to the Catholic tradition. At the same time, Lutherans must learn to admit that they receive a great deal more from Tradition than they have been want to recognise. For instance, infant baptism and the celebration of Christmas are not in Scipture, yet Lutherans do not forbid it for this reason. The ordination of men only, which Australian Lutherans hold, is a Tradition. It is supported by, but not “found” in, Scripture.

  10. Christine

    We have no difficulty with the notion that the saints in heaven intercede for the church on earth, the problem is the Catholic ‘leap’ from that belief to the cult of the saints and praying to individuals thought to be in heaven – no scriptural warrant, old chap.

    That is the Lutheran position.

    I am certainly aware of the distinction between veneration and adoration . The problem is that the cult of the saints has taken on a life of its own, as has the multiplicity of apparitions. When Mary is said to appear here and there requesting a church to be built in her honor my mind flies immediately to ancient Rome and Greece, Athena and Hera, and I find it demeaning to her dignity
    as Mother of God. I am also reminded of the Lord’s praise of her because she heard the Word of God and kept it, not because of her physical maternity.

    For Jesus to have lived, bled and died and ascended after telling his followers that all power in heaven and earth has been given to him and then send his mother to do what the Holy Spirit has already done is superfluous to say the least.

    Nevertheless, having grown up with Catholics and travelled with the Church of Rome myself I understand the powerful hold that the cult of saints has on the imagination of many Catholics. It is not surprising that it grew up during the centuries when most Christians couldn’t read and knew little Scripture. Antiquity in and of itself is not a guarantee of authenticity. I’ll never forget my RCIA sponsor, Sister Maureen OSU telling me that many of the church’s customs were the result of questions posed by the laity and how the church attempted to respond to them (Sister, unfortuantely, is a firm proponent of womens’ ordination and a true fan of Cardinal Suenens et al. Enough said).

    As you note, David, strictly speaking no Catholic is required to ask the intercession of Mary or the saints and some have told me that the Nicene Creed is quite sufficient in defining their faith for them. The Communion of Saints certainly does include all the baptized, those still living in time and those now living in eternity. God alone is the judge of the faithfulness of the lives they have lived and that will not be manifest until that last day. In the meantime, I will rely on the one mediator, my great High Priest who alone knows all things, including my own heart (yes, yes, I know the difference between mediator and intercessor 🙂

    Since it is midweek here in the good old USA I would like to extend my deepest and heartfelt wishes for a most Blessed Feast of the Nativity to our bloghost and all who post here. We do have some lively discussions on this blog but they, too are a real blessing when so many in the West have discarded their Christian roots.

    Love in Christ,

    Christine

    • Christine,
      It may be true that no Catholic is required to pray to Mary or the Saints, but surely a Catholic in good standing is required to accept that they are to be prayed to…it would presumably be impious, if one were a Catholic, to deny this.
      Perhaps David can illuminate us on this point?
      In any case, I believe that a Catholic is required to accept the Pope’s decisions on canonisation; is that not so, David?

      • You are both right, Mark and Christine. I accept Christ as my one mediator, but not as my one Intercessor – or perhaps it would be better to say that Christ is THE Intercessor, and that all members of his body join with him in this intercession.

        The pope’s declaration of canonisation is to be seen as certain affirmation that a particular member of the body of Christ is in heaven, and thus may be universally invoked as an intercessor – always, and never apart from, Christ himself.