Importance of the communion of saints Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Nov. 05, 2009 -- 1:00 AM

What a great feast day we celebrated on Sunday, a feast that calls us to focus on one of the phrases in the Creed over which we might grow accustomed to pass too quickly.  We say at the end of the creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints…”

This “communion of saints” is a very important mystery of our faith.  And yet our faith in that mystery can pass “just like that.”  We say, “. . . the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins . . . ” Do we allow those phrases in the Creed to just slip by because we get used to them?

Lifted up to heaven during Mass

We should be mindful of the mystery of the communion of saints and remember that we live out that communion most especially at the Mass.  When we get to the moment of the great Eucharistic Prayer and we are invited to “lift up our hearts,” that means we are going mystically to heaven.  Through the liturgy of the Church, the Holy Spirit reminds us of all the truth about Jesus.  And at the Mass we are lifted mystically up to heaven and there we are with the Lord, with Mary, the Queen of all Saints, with Joseph, with all of the Apostles, and the martyrs, and the angels — including our diocesan patron, St. Raphael.  We are lifted up to be with all the saints.

What reverence should overtake us during the Eucharistic prayer!  We should be overcome with reverence because, in a mystical way, we get to be right there with the saints in heaven and, very importantly too, we get to be with all the souls in purgatory.

Remember those who have died

November is the month of the holy souls and we should remember that the closest we can come to our loved ones who have died, the closest that I can come to my mother and father, to my grandparents, to all my family members and good friends who have died, the closest that I can get to them, to be one with them in prayer is at Mass!  Our faith in this mystery is indicated in those few words, “I believe in the communion of saints.” Mass is a Holy place to be and I’m very grateful to Dr. Pat Gorman, our diocesan director of liturgy, who helps us to realize, in so many of the Masses I celebrate, that we are with the saints.

At the Mass we sing the songs that the angels and saints want to sing with us. We don’t just sing any old song. That is what “Sacred Music” is  —  music that reminds us that the Mass is not just for us. Sacred Music is not just what we like, but it is music that befits the great dignity of the angels and the saints. And so, we can’t, for example, sing songs like, “All are Welcome,” because the saints can’t sing that with us.  The saints know, tragically, that those in Hell are not “welcome.” To be correct, the song should say, “All are welcome who use their free will to want to be welcomed!”  But our faith is not so simple as “all are welcome.” And this is just one example of how our music directors and choirs have to be careful, to help us sing music not unfit for angels and saints to sing.  If, “we believe in the communion of saints,” we always honor their dignity and majesty.

Song of the elders sung by priests

I’d also like to remind you of the beautiful phrase in the first reading of this past Sunday.  In the first reading we heard,

“All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: ‘Amen.  Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.’”

And what words from the Eucharistic Prayer does this song of the elders and the four living creatures remind us of?  “Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Sprit (and that means in the communion of the saints, in the unity of the Church) all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.”

This prayer at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer is basically the same hymn that the elders and the four living creatures sing.  And that is why only the priests get to sing or recite that particular hymn, because the priests are the elders of the Church on earth, the Church Militant, as we are joined at Mass with the Church Suffering in purgatory, and with the Glorious Church of the angels and saints in heaven.

That is why that hymn of glory and praise to the Lord is sung by the priests as we offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice to the Lord.  Because the priests are in the person of Christ, unworthy though we are, we get to join with the Gospel writers (the four living creatures) and with the elders in singing that beautiful hymn to the Lord.  We are truly, mystically in heaven during the Eucharistic prayer and so, what reverence should overtake us because of that!

Called to be saints ourselves

My third point is this, if, “we believe in the communion of saints,” we believe in our call to be saints ourselves. The word “saints” means “holy ones.”  And we hear in the first reading that there are countless saints, “people of every nation, race, people, and tongue.”

Holiness is for everybody!  Holiness IS for those who find it hard to pray —  for they are called to give their time, which is their life to the Lord.  Holiness is for those, for you and me sometimes, who find it hard to pray, who encounter prayer which seems dry and distracted.

Holiness IS for people who have terrible temptations. It is not simply for people who have no temptations. Some of the greatest saints had the strongest temptations. Temptations are an occasion to practice choosing good over evil. Temptations are occasions to practice virtue and holiness.

I encourage you who are tempted, keep up the fight!  Jesus himself allowed himself to be tempted by the devil.  So we can’t say “holiness is beyond me, for I have a hard time praying,” or “holiness is beyond me, for I have too many temptations.” Holiness is FOR you when you have too many temptations and when you find it hard to pray. Difficulty in prayer and temptations reminds you that those difficulties are never the end of the story, just as the death and suffering of Jesus were not the end of the story.  The Resurrection is the end of the story, holiness is the end of the story.

We are not alone

Finally, I want to say how impressed I am and how inspired I am at seeing so many of you and especially so many of our young people really chasing after holiness these days.  Our seminarians really chase after holiness. And so many of you, with the blessing and complexity of a large family and difficult situations, really chase after holiness. That does a lot of good to me, because I’m reminded, as I face my own struggles — I am not alone.  And it can be the same for all of you, as you find yourself in good Christian community — you ARE reminded, as you struggle, that you are not alone!

And one of the great things about heaven, as our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI said on Sunday, one of the greatest things about being a saint, is that there is never, ever, even the slightest, shortest moment of aloneness. Never. What a wonderful experience beyond words that must be.

So please, in the race towards holiness, never get tired out.  Never get discouraged. Then you will be able to encourage one another, and then you will be able to encourage me and all my brother priests. And that’s how we go forward as the Church Militant, the Church in this world. We go forward with profound hope always. And we go forward with profound joy always.  Thank you for reading this and God bless you.

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace! Amen.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!