‘Dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ – Scripture and the Communion of Saints
Catholics believe that Jesus conquered death by dying on the cross and rising to new life. Therefore for Catholics those who have gone before us in faith are not dead but alive in Christ. Because we do not believe that those whom Jesus has made part of his body are undone by death we believe we can still have relationship with them now in Christ because they are alive in him just as we live in him in this world.
What is the communion of saints and where did it come from? The communion of the saints is the belief that Jesus has destroyed death and that all members of the Church, in this world or the next, live in him and share in his resurrection just as we shared in his death through our Baptisms. The belief comes directly from the cross of Jesus but there’s plenty of other evidence for it in the Old Testament as well.
Can you find the communion of saints in Scripture? Of course! We’ll have a look at the Old Testament first and see that even the just before Christ spoke to the living and prayed for them:
“When the woman saw Samuel [who was dead], she cried… And Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed, with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’.” 1 Sam 28:12,14-15
“I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; and when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you… I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter the presence of the glory of the holy one.”Tob 12:12,15
“Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvellous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, ‘This is a man who loved the brethren and prayers much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God.’” 2 Macc 15:13-14
We see in these three verses Samuel, who was dead, speaking with Saul who was alive and Saul giving him reverence as one of the just who had gone before him. Raphael, the Archangel, when speaking to those still alive claims that he intercedes for the living and carries the prayers of the Saints to God (this verse is referenced in Rev 1:4 and Rev 8:3-4). Finally Judas Maccabeus, high priest, sees a vision of a deceased high priest, Onias, praying for Israel and is introduced to the deceased prophet Jeremiah.
The New Testament too has many allusions to communication with the saints who have gone before us:
“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” Mt 17:1-3
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.” Rev 1:4
“I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our plod on those who dwell upon the earth?.’” Rev 6:9-10
We see here again that the Saints take an interest in the affairs of earth, that they pray to God and they pray for the Church, including sending their greetings as in the second quote. Although there is not room here also remember that in Mt 26:53 Jesus could have asked for the assistance of Angels, if the Lord can ask the Saints for help how much more are we in need of that help? Also check out these verses: Mt 18:10, Mt 27:52-53, Rev 5:8, Rev 8:3-4, Zech 1:11-12, Ps 148:1-2, Heb 12:22-23.