Read ~ Chapter 20: Mediation and The Communion of Saints
Father Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)
The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican
God’s plan to create and save a community of people
God created a community of people: It is obvious that God created a community of people, not only individuals. The interaction between individuals within the community has been studied by many philosophers and theologians. When two subjects, both in the image and likeness of God, and both transcendental by nature, relate to one another, the contact between freedoms and untouchable human dignities is always challenging.
The two parallel orders of creation and salvation: Unlike animals, human beings have spiritual and intelligent souls that enable them to relate to the world using their freedom and subjective consciousness. Relationships on many levels are established and boundaries are set in order to keep peace and create respect among individuals. All individuals are invited to help and love each other because all of them share the same fate. That is what God established in the ethos of creation (the logic and functionality of creation). Salvation is parallel to creation: there is an interaction between human persons on the level of salvation just as it exists on the level of creation. These two orders go hand and hand completing each other because the same God who created the human family wants to save it too. God the Creator and God the Savior are One and the same God.
God’s plan is a universal salvation: In the Old Testament, God called the people of Israel collectively: “Israel, you are my son.” Israel is the child of God collectively as people. Also in the New Testament Jesus Christ called the Twelve Apostles and founded the Catholic Church. The term “Church” in Greek is Ekklesia which means “a called-out assembly or congregation.” (Acts 11:16) The Church is Catholic (universal) and, consequently, God’s plan from the very beginning is to create a community of people and save them all as a Church. The Catechism teaches: “After confessing ‘the holy catholic Church,’ the Apostles’ Creed adds ‘the communion of saints.’ In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding: ‘What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?’ The communion of saints is the Church.” (CCC, 946)
God’s plan is to establish the Communion of Saints: The Church is the Body of Christ
St. Paul: the Communion of Saints exists because the Church is the body of Christ: As the Body of Christ, St. Paul teaches, all members must interact by necessity of creation and salvation. St Paul confirms that the hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you.” Neither can the ear reject the help of the eye, etc.… In that sense St. Paul teaches that “we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:9) Even though individuals maintain their identity and personal rewards, they still interact to help each other. God invites the entire human race of all times to help each other reach a universal salvation. And that’s what we call “communion of saints.”
God’s plan is One Mystical Body of Christ alive in the Holy Spirit: St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes this theology by saying: “Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others. . . . We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head. . . . Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all the members, through the sacraments.” (Symb., 10) We are God’s coworkers for the salvation of all. All the members of the Church, in relation to each other and to Christ, are like one living body. Saint Pope Paul VI teaches: “The life of each of God’s children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person.” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5) In the same way the spirit of the human person keeps them alive, so does the Holy Spirit animate the body of Christ. All members in relationship to each other and to Christ are connected through the Holy Spirit.
God is the God of the living: God is the God of the living not of the dead. God established one Church, part of it is on earth and part shares God’s eternal life. Therefore, all those members of the Church that are with God, the living God, are alive in God. Even though they are in heaven, they are still members of the one Church Jesus established. The heavenly Church and the earthly Church are one and the same Church and all of them make up the body of Christ. Therefore, they are still capable to help, pray, and intercede for each other as the members of the one body of Christ as St. Paul taught. That’s what God chose at the moment of creation of humanity.
Different forms of communions: The communion of saints involves communion of faith, communion of the sacraments, communion of charisma, communion of material goods, and communion in charity (see CCC, 949-953). It is a communion among the people; communion with the Head, Jesus Christ; communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
One Church but three different states of communions of saints: The people on earth, the people in purgatory, and the people in heaven are not three churches. They form One Church that has three different states. At the end of time these three states will be reduced to only one state sharing the glory of Jesus Christ. Vatican II teaches in this regard: “When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself Triune and one, exactly as he is.” (LG, 49) What is amazing about the communion of saints is that it works in every direction: everyone is helping everyone. The Catechism says: “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” (CCC, 958)
Pope Saint John Paul II, our actions, and communion of saints
The value of our actions in light of the communion of saints: When a person performs a good act, they influence all the members of the Church here and in heaven. But an evil action also but negatively influences the entire creation. St. Pope John Paul II emphasizes that there is a ‘communion of saints’ and also a ‘communion of sin.’ People either lift the whole world with them through good actions or lower the whole world with them through evil actions. We all need to create a consciousness that our identity and mission in the Catholic Church play a major role in everyone’s salvation.
The doctoral dissertation of Saint Pope John Paul II was “The Acting Person.” He asserts that we are not only persons who are acting, but also subjects who are conscious of their actions. As we journey through life, we are invited to remember that we will live for a short time, but we will be dead for a “long time.” So, we really need to develop a consciousness of who we are, what we are doing in our lives on earth, and how we are influencing the Body of Christ, the Church.
St. Therese of the Little Flower, realizing how important her work, identity, mission, and prayers were to the other members of the Church, wished to live over and over and over again until the end of time to cooperate in the redemption of humanity. As Saint Pope Paul VI teaches: “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5)
Does the communion of saints imply that Christ’s redemption is not sufficient? Was the salvation of Christ sufficient to redeem humanity? Of course. Can I add to that redemption? No. Can I share and cooperate in that redemption? Yes. We cannot add to the salvation of Jesus Christ because the Person acting in Christ is divine, and therefore all his actions have an infinite and eternal value. However, God in His divine providence, allows us to share in that redemption.
Along those lines, the Catechism teaches: “God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.” (CCC, 306) I can still share, cooperate, and contribute to Christ’s redemption because that was God’s divine plan from the beginning.
Mediation of the Virgin Mary and the saints as a part of God’s plan
Intercession and mediation is in the Bible: Many of our brethren in non-Catholic circles, unfortunately, don’t pay attention to the theology of the communion of saints. They assume that, “Christ has saved us and we are totally okay for good.” This theory will not work according to Scriptures. It is true, “Christ has saved us,” but, at the same time, we are God’s coworker for the salvation of all. The theology of intercession and mediation is all over the Bible. Saint Pope Paul VI teaches that the Church’s treasury “is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy.” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5)
We have mentioned that we cannot add to the salvation of Jesus Christ because the Person acting in Christ is divine and therefore all his actions have an infinite and eternal value. Therefore, every action Jesus did on earth is meant to remain valid forever throughout history of humanity. In John 2, the Virgin Mary intervened at the feast of Cana in Galilee to have Jesus change the water into wine. The Apostles interceded on behalf of the synagogue leader asking Jesus to heal his son. Jesus raised Lazarus at the prompting of his sister Martha. In many other instances in the New testament, Jesus acted because people interceded. Intercession is in Scripture and God will not change the truth of his eternal Word.
Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus by inviting him ‘come and see.’ (John 1:45-51) As a result, Jesus called Nathaniel to follow him. God’s will in the vocation of Nathaniel was communicated by Christ with the help of Philip. God, in his divine wisdom, uses human mediation to display and fulfill his plan. How can anyone deny this truth when St. Paul tells the Ephesians: “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles-assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.” (Ephesians 3:1-3)
Eliminating mediation is against God’s plan as shown in the Bible: Those who want to eliminate the interaction between God and humanity are mistaken. Mediation expresses the reality of the interaction between the human and the divine. Jesus is a personal God who became fully human with all the ramifications of human relationships. He is a concrete God and, because he was an authentic man, he established real relationships with humans. Therefore, listening to petitions and granting favors is part of this interaction. How many times did God stop from punishing the Hebrews because Moses asked him to? The entire Old and New Testament reveals God’s way: God granted many of his prophets and beloved favors when they interceded. One should never lose sight of the fact that Jesus Christ is still the only Savior of humanity. All mediations, Mary’s and the saints’ are in line with this unique mediation. Vatican II teaches: “Mary’s maternal function towards mankind in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its efficacy, because ‘there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5). This maternal role of Mary flows, according to God’s good pleasure, ‘from the superabundance of the merits of Christ; it is founded on his mediation, absolutely depends on it, and draws all its efficacy from it.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 60)
Jesus Christ is still the Only Mediator between God and humanity: The mediation of Christ is essentially different from the mediation of Mary and the saints. His mediation is ontological because he is one with the Father: Christ redeemed humanity from sin and death. His mediation coincides with our salvation because he is the only Savior. The mediation of Mary and the saints is a sharing in Christ’s mediation. They draw their mediation from Jesus’ mediation, cooperate with it to foster it. Their mediation does not add anything to the mediation of Christ. That was God’s plan from the beginning. Vatican II summarizes this theology by saying: “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They 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.” (LG, 49)
Jesus listened to Mary on earth and he will listen to her in heaven forever, because Jesus does not change his course of action: If Jesus accepted mediation on earth from people, he will not change His mind in heaven. Heaven, in fact, is the ultimate perfection of the earth not its negation. Did Mary ask him to do the miracle at Cana in Galilee? Yes. Was Jesus ready to start his public ministry? No. Did Jesus do the miracle? Yes. Why would Jesus do a miracle on earth when his Mother asked him to, and then change his way after his resurrection? Jesus will never change his course of action: he listened to Mary on earth; he will continue to listen to her in heaven. Saint Pope Paul VI says: “This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission in the unity of the Mystical Body.” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 5)
At Cana Mary comes to the aid of the human person: The Gospel of John, 2 is not a mere incident. It is God’s word that reveals God’s plan of action. God’s divine providence places Mary in the midst of human needs. She, at the same time, asks her Son to do the miracle but also reveals his Messianic power and the redeemer of mankind. The human dimension of Mary asking Jesus “they have no wine” assumes a permanent character: Mary comes to the aid of human needs is an icon to be places in front of the eyes of the Church forever. St. Pope John Paul II says: “This coming to the aid of human needs means, at the same time, bringing those needs within the radius of Christ’s messianic mission and salvific power. Thus there is a mediation: Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself “in the middle,” that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother. She knows that as such she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she “has the right” to do so. Her mediation is thus in the nature of intercession: Mary “intercedes” for mankind. And that is not all. As a mother she also wishes the messianic power of her Son to be manifested, that salvific power of his which is meant to help man in his misfortunes, to free him from the evil which in various forms and degrees weighs heavily upon his life…The Mother of Christ presents herself as the spokeswoman of her Son’s will, pointing out those things which must be done so that the salvific power of the Messiah may be manifested” (Redemptoris Mater, 21)
Maternity of Mary in the order of grace and her mediation: It is obvious in the Gospel of John that the intercession of Mary to perform the first miracle happened because she was the mother. Her identity as the “Mother of Jesus who was there” and her role telling the servant to “do whatever he tells you,” cannot be separated. The human need for the Messianic power of Jesus is not being extended to Mary’s role in heaven. Because of this extension of her role in the dimension of heaven, Vatican II speaks of a parallel between her human motherhood of Jesus and her mother in the order of grace toward the Church. Vatican II teaches: “This motherhood in the order of grace flows from her divine motherhood. Because she was, by the design of divine Providence, the mother who nourished the divine Redeemer, Mary became ‘an associate of unique nobility, and the Lord’s humble handmaid,’ who ‘cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls.’ And this maternity of Mary in the order of grace. . .will last without interruption until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.” (Lumen Gentium, 61-62)
Praying for the dead? The mission of the earthly Church is to pray for all those who passed away. You might think, “they’re already dead and judged by God. How can my prayer help them?”
If you believe that God has no sequence of time, God looks at the entire human history in a “one shot deal” and encompasses, understands, controls, and sees every single event in human history from the beginning of creation until the end of time. Therefore, God sees the prayers for the dead before they die and applies all prayers to them at the moment of their death. At the moment of his death St. Dominic said to his brethren: “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 life.”
My mom died in 1971. When I offer the Sacrifice of Mass for her today (2018), my prayers are present in front of God before my mother died because God is outside of time. Therefore, all the prayers that were offered for her before and after she died are present in front of God and were applied to her salvation at the moment of her death. Our job is to ceaselessly pray for those who passed away because they have no more chance to amend their lives. The prayer of the Church is the only hope they have. St. Theresa of Lisieux said once: “I want to spend heaven in doing good on earth.” (The Final Conversation) The Virgin Mary in all her apparitions that are approved by the Church, keeps inviting the Church to pray the Rosary constantly for the souls in Purgatory.
Explaining the effects of Christ’s redemption in human history through the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict VI says: “Hence, the connection is clear between the salvific mystery of the Incarnate Word and that of the Spirit, who actualizes the salvific efficacy of the Son made man in the lives of all people, called by God to a single goal, both those who historically preceded the Word made man, and those who live after his coming in history: the Spirit of the Father, bestowed abundantly by the Son, is the animator of all (cf. Jn 3:34).”
Reference: watch the series on “A vast company of witnesses: The Communion of Saints in Catholicism