Pope Francis explained the Communion of Saints in his catechesis. Do you know how to define this concept? He shared how he used to explain it as a boy!
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Pope Francis broadened his teaching series on St. Joseph to reflect this February 2 on the Communion of Saints. He laughed about how the concept can be difficult to understand. Though we profess we believe in this Communion each Sunday in the Creed, if we’re asked what it is, we might not know. “I remember as a child I used to answer immediately, ‘Ah, the saints receive Communion.’ It’s something that… we don’t understand what we are saying. What is the communion of saints? It’s not the saints receiving Communion, it’s not that. It’s something else,” the Pope said.
Don’t be pagan
Pope Francis warned that sometimes even Christians can fall into forms of devotion to saints that reflect a more pagan than Christian mentality.
But there’s a fundamental difference, he said: devotion to the saints is not based on “trust in a human being or an image or object.”
Even when we rely fully on the intercession of a saint, or even more so that of the Virgin Mary, our trust only has value in relation to Christ. As if the path toward this saint or toward Our Lady does not end there, no. Not there, but in relationship with Christ. He is the bond, Christ is the bond that unites us to him and to each other, and which has a specific name: this bond that unites us all, between ourselves and us with Christ, it is the “communion of saints.”
They aren’t miracle workers
While the Church recognizes miracles in the process of canonizing a saint, Catholics don’t believe that it’s saints who work miracles. Instead it is God who works the miracle, with the saint’s intercession. The Pope explained this:
It is not the saints who work miracles, no! “This saint is so miraculous…” No, stop there. The saints don’t work miracles, but only the grace of God that acts through them. Miracles are done by God, by the grace of God acting through a holy person, a righteous person. This must be made clear. There are people who say, “I don’t believe in God, I don’t know, but I believe in this saint.” No, this is wrong. The saint is an intercessor, one who prays for us and we pray to him, and he prays for us and the Lord gives us grace: The Lord, through the saint.
This Communion is the Church
The Pope quoted the definition of the Communion of Saints given by the Catechism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “The communion of saints is the Church” (no. 946). See what a beautiful definition this is! “The communion of saints is the Church.” What does this mean? That the Church is reserved for the perfect? No. It means that it is the community of saved sinners [It: peccatori salvati]. The Church is the community of saved sinners. It’s beautiful, this definition. No one can exclude themselves from the Church, we are all saved sinners. Our holiness is the fruit of God’s love manifested in Christ, who sanctifies us by loving us in our misery and saving us from it.
Pope Francis used St. Paul’s definition, that form “one single body in which Jesus is the head and we are the members (cf. 1 Cor 12:120),” saying that this image “immediately makes us understand what it means to be bound to one another in communion.
Dear brothers and dear sisters, the joy and sorrow that touch my life affect everyone, just as the joy and sorrow that touch the life of the brother and sister next to us also affect me. I cannot be indifferent to others, because we are all in one body, in communion. In this sense, even the sin of an individual person always affects everyone, and the love of each individual person affects everyone. In virtue of the communion of saints, this union, every member of the Church is bound to me in a profound way. But I don’t say “to me” because I am the Pope; [I say] to each one of us he is bound, we have been bound, and bound in a profound way.
Death can’t separate us
Pope Francis explained the strength of this union in the Communion of Saints.
This bond is so strong that it cannot be broken even by death. Even by death. In fact, the Communion of Saints does not concern only those brothers and sisters who are beside me at this historic moment, or who live in this historic moment, but also those who have concluded their journey, the earthly pilgrimage and crossed the threshold of death. They too are in communion with us.
Let us consider, dear brothers and sisters, that in Christ no one can ever truly separate us from those we love because the bond is an existential bond, a strong bond that is in our very nature; only the manner of being together with one another them changes, but nothing and no one can break this bond.
My friends in Heaven
Pope Francis said that our relationship with the saints is basically a friendship.
The relationship of friendship that I can build with a brother or sister beside me, I can also establish with a brother or sister in heaven. The saints are friends with whom we very often establish friendly relations. What we call devotion to a saint — “I am very devoted to this or that saint” — what we call devotion is actually a way of expressing love from this very bond that unites us. Also, in everyday life one can say, “But this person has such devotion for his elderly parents”: no, it is a manner of love, an expression of love.
And we all know that we can always turn to a friend, especially when we are in difficulty and need help. And we have friends in heaven. We all need friends; we all need meaningful relationships to help us get through life.
Jesus, too, had his friends, and he turned to them at the most decisive moments of his human experience.
Special love for Mary and Joseph
The Holy Father noted that in the whole history of the Church, there has been a special affection for and bond with Mary, the “Mother of God and our Mother.” But there has also been “special honor and affection” for St Joseph. “After all, God entrusts to him the most precious things he has: his Son Jesus and the Virgin Mary.”
Love for our patron saints
The Pope also had a word for our patron saints.
It is always thanks to the communion of saints that we feel that the men and women saints who are our patrons — because of the name we bear, for example, because of the Church to which we belong, because of the place where we live, and so on, as well as through personal devotion — are close to us. And this is the trust that must always animate us in turning to them at decisive moments in our lives.
This isn’t magic or superstition
It’s not some kind of magic, it’s not superstition, it’s devotion to the saints. It’s simply talking to a brother, a sister, who is in the presence of God, who has led a righteous life, a model life, and is now in the presence of God. And I talk to this brother, this sister, and ask for their intercession for the needs that I have.