Catholic Truth Society Postal Course #14: The Communion of Saints, by Father Herbert C Fincham

Communion of SaintsThe supernatural life of our soul, which is called sanctifying grace, is a common life shared with all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body of which Christ Himself is the head. This union of the members of the Church, in heaven, on earth and in purgatory, is called the Communion of Saints, and it should encourage us to realize that we do not stand alone in our fight against the enemies of our souls, the devil, the world and the flesh. Our Saviour has compared this union to that of a Vine, and has warned us that without the life flowing from Himself, the vine, we, the branches, would wither away and die (John 15:1-5).

The Virgin Mother Of Christ

All the life of the Mystical body flows from Christ the Head, but to do so it must pass through the Mother of Jesus, as Pope Pius X asserts (Ad Diem ilium., 2.2.04). It was her very special prerogative to give to the world the Saviour, and His coming was left dependent on her consent. She shared with Him immaculate sinlessness, and played her part at the foot of the Cross in His great sacrifice of redemption. It was there according to the tradition of the Church that she formally accepted her office as Mother of all Christ’s followers, a position which was already hers because we are all His brethren. We cannot truly call ourselves His brethren or friends unless we honour and love in a very special way the one He has loved and honoured above all others by making her His Virgin-Mother.

Her virginity is clearly asserted in the Gospels of Saint Matthew (1:18 and 25) and Saint Luke (1:34,35) and it fulfilled the age-old prophecy of Isaias: “Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (7:14) The Jewish custom of calling any near relation “brother or sister” accounts for the mention of the brethren of Jesus without supposing that Our Lady ever ceased to be a virgin and bore other children (Cf. Matthew 13:55, 27:56 and John 19:25). In the idiom of the time “first born” (Matthew 1:25) was an official title for the first child to be born without any question of the need for a second born; nor does the expression “before they came together” (Matthew 1:18) infer in the original that they did come together afterwards.

The Assumption Of Our Lady

It is but fitting that Jesus would preserve this virginal and immaculate body from which He took His own most sacred flesh. For this reason the Church teaches that Mary was carried up to heaven at her Assumption (the Feast is August 15th), and crowned Queen of Christ’s Kingdom. After Christ our Lord, Mary is the most glorious member of the Communion of Saints and to her we give special honour and in her we have a special confidence, that of a child in his mother. Few prayers have been repeated so many times * The numbers in brackets refer to the Catechism of Christian Doctrine. in the history of the world as the Hail Mary, composed from the words of the Archangel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth, with a petition added by the Church. Thus it reminds us of the incarnation of our Saviour while calling upon Mary to come to our aid.

The Church Triumphant In Heaven

Not only have we the loving care of our heavenly Mother to assist us, but also the whole court of heaven; angels and saints watch over us rejoicing, as Our Lord assures us, “upon one sinner doing penance” (Luke 15:10). When we remember the great power of the prayers of the apostles and saints while they lived on earth, how are we to suppose that this powerful intercession is taken from them when they enter into their glory? The ancient and universal teaching of the Church is that, as they are God’s special friends, He will ever delight in favouring their petitions? It can be in no way derogatory to God’s power or our Saviour’s unique work of redemption to believe that God will listen to the prayers of His beloved friends in heaven. Moreover, this devotion and prayer to the saints is the link whereby we are in active communion with the glorious members of Christ’s Body.

The Church Militant On Earth

This mutual prayer is also one of the links which binds together the faithful on earth, but we have a more visible union in the Church militant. The Church is a visible society and all her children are members of the Communion of Saints. Non-Catholics, as we have seen, may belong to the Church by desire but are not visible members. Catholics in a state of mortal sin, on the other hand, remain visible members though they lack the Christ-life of grace in their souls. Christ can call them His members even though they be severed from Him, in the same sense that a man may call his finger his own after it has been cut off, as long as it remains in a state capable of being regrafted to his body. Once it is destroyed in the incinerator he should no longer call the ashes his finger. Dead members of Christ’s Mystical Body are capable of regrafting until they are destroyed in hell.

The Church Suffering In Purgatory

Again, prayer is the principal link between the Church militant on earth and the Church suffering in purgatory. It is revealed in Scripture that “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.” (2nd Machabees 12:46) It is a common opinion of theologians that the Holy Souls can also pray for us.


As we have already seen, the union of the Communion of Saints is not merely one of mutual aid but a oneness so complete that it can be compared to the human body or a tree. Hence, as well as this link of prayer there is a common sharing of life, and, with life, of health and sickness. As with our body the good health of the whole helps to restore the ills of one or other member, so in the Body of Christ the merits stored up by the great holiness of the Head, Christ Himself, and of Our Lady and the saints, are a common store of spiritual benefits on which all the other members may draw. The purpose of this treasure of merits is to assist sinners in making up for their lack of merit, in the one and only manner in which this can be done by others for them. It is possible for our friends to pay our debts for us and so it is possible for the debt of temporal punishment owing by one member to be paid by the merits of another member. This is what we mean by an indulgence. It has nothing to do with the forgiveness of the guilt of sin, nor, of course, is it permission to commit sin.

This common treasure of the Communion of Saints can only be dispensed on earth by those who have jurisdiction in the Church of Christ (Matthew 16:19) and its benefit is only on the conditions and to the extent laid down by the Vicar of Christ and the Bishops. However, once we have gained the remission of temporal punishment we are at liberty to sacrifice our own benefit and offer it to God for the relief of the Holy Souls in purgatory. Thus indulgences constitute a powerful link between the Church militant and the Church suffering, as well as between the Church on earth and in heaven; for it is from the saints that we gain these benefits which we can pass on to the Holy Souls. The measure of remission is taken by the Church from her ancient code of public penances and an indulgence is said to remit as much penalty for sin as would have been remitted by such or such a period of public penance; for example, plenary means all, a hundred days means, not a hundred days of purgatory, but the equivalent to one hundred days of public penance.

An Early Example Of Indulgence

The canonical punishment imposed by the Church on apostates was remitted in acknowledgment of the request made by a confessor in prison and awaiting martyrdom. The apostate, having, of course, repented, was allowed to see this libellus martyrum and bring it to the Bishop who could, if he thought fit, grant the remission of the canonical punishment, due to the apostasy, in view of the merits of the martyr. It would clearly have been a mockery, and no benefit, if this had not been a true remission but only a postponement of paying the debt until purgatory, and this same principle applies to our indulgences as granted nowadays by the Church. If they are not a real remission we are losers and not gainers as a result of their concession.

The Public Prayer And The Liturgy

The public prayer of the Catholic Church tends always to keep in mind and impress upon us this unity and communion of all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. Thus the year is divided into Liturgical seasons which recall the mysteries of Christ’s life and our Redemption. Starting with the preparation for Christ’s coming by Advent, we are reminded of His birth and infancy at Christmas; of His life on earth and its suffering, during the weeks before Lent; and of the Passion during Lent and Passiontide, with the climax on Good Friday. Then the glory of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday and forty days later the Ascension, followed by the Coming of the Holy Ghost on Whit Sunday. (Pentecost). Then until Advent we keep before our mind the foundation and growth of Christ in His Church.

Special Feasts

Interleaving these seasons we have the many feasts of Our Lord, His Holy Mother and the angels and saints on almost every day of the year, ever keeping us aware of our communion with the Blessed in heaven. In November we call to mind especially the Holy Souls in purgatory, though, indeed, we should remember them at all times. Other months which have a special devotion are: May to Our Lady, June to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and October to the Holy Rosary.

Devotion to our Saviour’s Passion has led His friends to honour in a special way those members of His crucified body which symbolize His love and sacrifice. Thus we have a feast in honour of His Sacred Heart, and Jesus revealed to Saint Margaret Mary. His will that special honour should be paid to His Heart as the symbol of His love on this feast and on all First Fridays. From earlier ages this special devotion has been shown to all the Precious Wounds of Christ.

The Stations Of The Cross

At all times the Holy Cross of Christ .has been held in special honour. It is the standard of Christ’s army and we must glory in it. The veneration of the Cross is an impressive feature of the Good Friday services, and in most churches pictures depicting the way to Calvary and the Crucifixion of Christ will be found round the walls. These are the Stations of the Cross and the essential part of this devotion is a few moments’ meditation on each station as we pass from one picture to the next. A fixed form of prayer may be used, but is not necessary for gaining the rich indulgences granted to all who make the Stations devoutly and pray for the Pope’s intention.

Other Devotions And Sacramentals

As well as the Liturgy and these devotions, together with the Rosary, which we have already studied, the Church has approved a vast variety of aids to spiritual progress. Anything that fittingly reminds us of God or our friends in heaven may be used as a prayer without superstition; medals, crucifixes, holy pictures, statues, relics, etc. Other things are specially blessed by the Church for this purpose, such as holy water, ashes on Ash Wednesday, palms on Palm Sunday, candles, incense; or special ceremonies such as churching, blessing sick children, etc. These institutions of the Church are called sacmmentals in distinction to the sacraments, which are instituted only by Christ Himself. The whole point of all these pious objects, devotions and sacramentals is their effect in raising up our mind and heart to God, which is the essence of prayer.

MLA Citation

  • Father Herbert C Fincham. “How We Are Saved”. The Catholic Postal Course, 1951. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 April 2016. Web. 28 October 2016. <>