In the ninth article of the Apostles’ Creed, we profess: “[I believe in] the communion of saints.” This communion of saints does not refer to the reception of the holy Eucharist but rather to the spiritual union that exists among all the members of the Church, both living and dead. In the Creed, we are all called “saints,” even though we may not yet have attained holiness.
The members of the Church, united by a common faith in Jesus Christ, belong to three groups or states: First, the Church Triumphant, composed of the men and women of all times whose souls have already attained the glory of heaven. Second, the Church Suffering, composed of “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, and who must undergo purification after death so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1030-1031). Third, the Church Militant, that is, all of us who are still alive and struggling to do God’s will and to live as disciples of Christ.
There exists among the three groups spiritual communion-a bond of faith, unity and love. The saints in heaven inspire and protect us, and intercede for us; and we in turn offer prayers and suffrages in behalf of the souls in Purgatory.
On November 1 and 2, we celebrate this article of our faith, the Communion of Saints. On November 1, we recall the Church Triumphant. It is the Solemnity of All the Saints—with emphasis on “All,” meaning, we recall not only the men and women whose holiness has been officially proclaimed through canonization—a relatively small number, but also the thousands and myriads who enjoy the glory of heaven and whose holiness is known to God alone. Some call this the feast of the Unknown Saint, in reference to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
November 1 is indeed a glorious and joyous celebration. It is a day to thank God for giving ordinary men and women like us a share in his holiness. It is a day to remember that all of us are called to holiness. The saints were not born saints; they became saints by being obedient to God’s will—many of them to the point of death. They experienced the same obstacles, trials and temptations we experience.
That is why they can be our role models. Besides, being God’s friends, they can also intercede for us before the only Mediator, Jesus Christ.
In the Philippines, the joy of the feast of All the Saints is all but overshadowed, first by the Halloween festival, with its emphasis on the ghostly and scary costumes and the trick-or-treat games; and then by the now well-established custom of going to the cemeteries to honor the dead on this day—one day ahead of time.
November 2 is the day to recall the Church Suffering–the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, also called All Souls’ Day. As mentioned above, the Catholic Church teaches that the souls of those who die without making up for sins committed, though confessed and forgiven (think of a person who could not reconcile, or could not repay stolen money, or could not restore a destroyed reputation), must undergo purification after death in Purgatory.
Non-Catholics deny the existence of Purgatory saying that no such word is mentioned in the Bible. True, the word purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible; but the rationale and the concept of purgatory are. In Revelation 21:27, we read, “Nothing unclean shall enter [into heaven].” In 2 Maccabees12:43-46 we read that “…The valiant Judas took up a collection among his soldiers and sent it to Jerusalem to be offered as a sacrifice for sin… so that the dead might be pardoned for their sin.” In Luke 12:58 we are enjoined to settle with our accuser on the way to court, “lest he drag you to the judge and the judge deliver you to the jailer, and the jailer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the very last penny.”
On November 1 and 2, as we honor and recall the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering, we renew our faith and our hope in the resurrection of the dead and in the life to come. For us, life is changed, not ended.