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The Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The ninth article of the Creed proposes our faith in the second great work of the Holy Spirit after the Incarnation. It is by His power that the Church came into being on Calvary. It is by His power that the Church continues to sanctify a sinful human race. And it is by His power that we hope to enter the Church Triumphant in heaven after having struggled successfully in the Church Militant on earth.

There are two mysteries of faith we here declare to believe, the Holy Catholic Church, and the Communion of Saints.


Our main concern here is to see the Church as a divine institution with 2000 years of unequaled human history.

This focus should always be in the catechist’s mind. In the practical order, clearness and accuracy in explaining the mystery of the church is basic to everything else in Catholic Christianity. To understand the Church is to understand everything else that we accept on God’s revealed word.


Christian Church
Code of Canon Law
Doctor of the Church
Ecclesiastical Law
Episcopal Conference
Fathers of the Church
Lay Apostolate
Magisterium, Extraordinary
Marks of the Church
Mother of the Church
Mystical Body
Roman Catholicism
Roman Primacy
Roman See
University of the Faithful


At the outset, it should be said that there is no substitute for the catechist’s knowing the Second Vatican Council’s two documents on the Church, their Latin titles are Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the Church, and Gaudium Et Spes, the pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

It is highly recommended that teachers of religion make either summary digests of these two historic documents, or simplified versions for the use of their students.

Why is this important? Because there has been real doctrinal growth or development on the Church’s understanding of who she is, and what are Christ’s expectations of His followers into the twenty-first century. The bedrock foundations of the faith have not changed. But, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our grasp of the Church’s meaning and of her role as Mother and Teacher of the human race, has been deepened and become more clear. The catechists should pass these insights on to those who are being catechized.

The Church Is Our Mother

Not too many years ago motherhood---pp148-149 JAH, our dependence on the Church as our Mother.

The Church is Our Teacher

The Church as our teacher follows logically from the fact that she is our Mother. How so?

To answer this question, we must pause for a moment to ask ourselves: “How mainly---pp.150-151---is the visible head on earth.

The Communion of Saints

In teaching about the Church, catechists should be clear in explaining that Christ came into the world to save us not only as individuals but as social beings.

The Church, therefore, corresponds to our supernatural existence as social beings. Immediately we see that this includes the Church on all three levels of her existence, on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven.

What unites the members of the Church still struggling on earth, being purified after death, and possessing the beatific vision of God? It is the Holy Spirit who is the one soul of the whole Mystical Body of Christ, militant, suffering, and glorified. The Holy Spirit is the Church’s Soul, even as the human beings who belong to the Church can be called her body.

When, then, we speak of the Communion of Saints, we mean the community of human beings who are united by one Holy Spirit. He is holy because He is God. He makes them holy, and therefore “saints” in the measure of their cooperating (or having cooperated) with His grace. But through Him they are also cooperating with one another. Consequently, we may say the Communion of Saints is the Cooperation of the Saints in sharing with one another the supernatural blessings they receive from the Holy Spirit.


In spelling out the practical implications of the ninth article of the Creed, it will be useful for the catechist to distinguish between how Catholics are to respond to the Church as their Mother and Teacher, and how to live out their faith in the Communion of Saints.

The Church Our Mother and Teacher

There are especially three implications for living out our belief in the Church of Christ as our Mother and Teacher. They may be expressed in three words: discernment, humility, and zeal.

  1. Discernment. Needless to say, it is one thing to recognize…pp151-152JAH…despises me”(Luke 10:16)

  2. Humility. Corresponding to the need for wise discernment#133;pp152-154#133;People of God.

  3. Zeal. Once again, it is one thing to recognize#133;pp154-156#133;Savior of the human race.

The Communion of Saints

There is one obvious way we can put our faith in the Communion of Saints into practice. This is by communicating with one another supernatural blessings that each level of the Mystical Body has received from Christ.

Thus the saints in heaven intercede for us before the throne of God. The souls in purgatory pray for us. Moreover, the lives of the saintly persons who preceded us into eternity are an inspiration for us to follow.

But we can pray for the poor souls, to hasten their entrance into heaven. We can and should prayerfully communicate with the saints in heavenly glory.

On the widest possible scale, none of us are “lovers” in this world. We are in mysterious communion of spirit with the millions who had served God faithfully in the ages past, and with the millions on earth, who are living in His friendship now. Through Him, these countless multitudes are also in communion with us.

Spiritual Thoughts

“All Christians in every state or walk of life…pp397-398 (Flannery)…and works through love” (II Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, V, 40-41).

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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