Monday, December 21, 2009

I Believe in the Communion of Saints

(This began as a comment over on The Anglo-Catholic, and grew like Topsy...)

"The Communion of Saints" - a most consoling article of the Apostles' Creed...

Not for nothing is one of the Four Marks of the Church holiness! The spiritual fecundity of Holy Church is a great proof of her verity, fidelity and vitality.

As the late John Paul II put it, the witness of the saints - that a truly holy Christian life is possible and attractive and wonderful - is almost the greatest testimony to the Gospel for our world: even the most fallen find the beauty of holiness so attractive, giving hope to those who feel they cannot find their way. In these men and women Christ's call to live "in Him" is splendidly shown forth as fruitful for themselves and His whole Church.

This is why the Catholic Church has not hesitated to continue to promote the causes of saints, and to beatify and canonize those proven by rigorous examination to have lived as becomes saints and to have their sanctity signalled by signs from heaven, raising them to the honours of the altar as great examples for the People of God still on their way in this world toward heaven.

The saints are saints "for us" - whether or not they are acclaimed on earth is obviously of secondary interest to them, who love and worship God face to face; but as they love all members of the Church as their brothers and coheirs in Christ, they are glad to be examples, yes, and intercessors, for us still wavering between hope and fear as we work out our salvation, just as we and our fellow Christians here and now are or ought be mutual examples and interceders for each other. No one is a Christian for himself alone.

I would forcefully argue that the most important if not sufficiently emphasised pronouncement of Vatican II was about "the universal call to holiness" - and this is exemplified in the saints, who were men and women compassed by infirmity, but raised up by grace, the weak who were chosen and became strong in Christ our Lord.

Unfortunately, our modern age downplays the need, as the Anglican formularies put it, quoting Scripture, "That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous and sober life" (BCP, Mattins & Evensong, General Confession), "that the rest of our life may be pure, and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy" (ditto, Absolution).

Too often well-meaning folk, shying away from what seems overly challenging (i.e. the Gospel), substitute vague nonsense about "spirituality" for the upward call in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I note that the traditional Anglican liturgy powerfully reminds its participants of the "serious call to a devout and holy life", called to live as saints in the Communion of Saints - most of these quotations following can also be found in the B.D.W., demonstrating how Catholic they are:

O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP, All Saints' Day Collect) all thy people give thy heavenly grace, and specially to this congregation here present, that, with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear and receive thy holy Word; truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life.

(BCP, Prayer for the Church)

And we yield unto thee most high praise and hearty thanks, for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all thy Saints, who have been the choice vessels of thy grace, and the lights of the world in their several generations: (and chiefly in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and in the Holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs,) beseeching thee to give us grace to follow the example of their stedfastness in thy faith, and obedience to thy holy commandments, that at the day of the general resurrection, we, and all they who are of the mystical body of thy Son, may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
 Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our only Mediator and Advocate.

(Scottish BCP, Prayer for the Church, based on the original 1549 formula)

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways...

(BCP, Invitation)

...grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP, General Confession)

...let us beg of him grace to perform our vows, and to persevere in our good resolutions; and that being made holy, we may obtain everlasting life...

(Scottish BCP, Exhortation after Communion)

...thy favour and goodness towards us;... that we are very members incorporate in the mystical Body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom...

And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord...

(BCP, Prayer of Thanksgiving)

O God the King of Saints, we praise and magnify thy holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, and for all other thy righteous servants; and we beseech thee that, encouraged by their example, strengthened by their fellowship, and aided by their prayers, we may attain unto everlasting life; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Scottish BCP, a Collect which may be said after that of the Day or before the Blessing)

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