We are never alone in our efforts to seek God and salvation. As Catholics, we know that we are in communion with each other and every person who ever lived – alive today in heaven with the angels. We are the Church, in fellowship and spiritual solidarity here on earth and in heaven. Collectively, we are the communion of saints.
The communion of saints is headed by Jesus with 3 states of the Church:
- Church Militant – that is us.
- Church Suffering – those in purgatory (a/k/a Church Penitent or Church Expectant.
- Church Triumphant – those in heaven.
Communion in charity. In the sanctorum communio, “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” “Charity does not insist on its own way.” In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion.
953 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
All people are created by God at their conception, not at birth nor at any time prior. There is no such thing as an “old soul” or “reincarnation.” We have one life here on earth but will exist eternally – either alive in heaven or dead in hell. We do not go to sleep when we die. The souls in heaven are temporarily separated from their bodies (until Jesus comes again), but cheer us on and pray for us. They are all saints, those we have formally recognized in heaven (canonized Saints) and a multitude or others.
One place all members of the communion of saints join together is at Mass. Heaven and earth are joined in the presence of Our Lord. In the Eucharist, we are joined with Jesus and through Him, with each other. Through the Eucharist we grow in communion of the Holy Spirit and reflect Him to the outside world.
Angels and saints are with us at other times too. Kathleen Beckman recounted this beautiful story recently in a Catholic Exchange piece:
I recall the special graces associated with the passing of an aunt. She was married but her husband preceded her into eternal life. She did not have children because she was always the caregiver of extended family. She was in the process of dying a natural death in the warmth of the family home. It was not necessary that she be hooked up to machines; no intravenous drips of morphine or any other painkiller was needed. We sat around her bed and conversed with her as she went in and out of consciousness. Suddenly she said, “The room is filled with them. There is hardly enough room for all of them. Don’t you see them? Angels are all over this room.” I believed her because she was credible and the existence of angels is part of Catholic doctrine. She continued, “Oh, John (her deceased husband) is here. He is extending his hand to me. There are other family members too. I see them.” Then, speaking first person to her deceased husband she said, “Oh John, I want to go, but I will miss all these people. I am not quite ready please.” This no nonsense woman of faith was utterly believable. It seemed the natural order of things for a good woman who served others selflessly all of her life. We told her that we would miss her but we would be together again; it would be alright if she went to meet the Lord and her husband. The next day, with her face illumined, she looked up as if acknowledging the presence of someone we could not see and then she closed her eyes and peacefully breathed her last.
We can and do pray directly to God, for ourselves and each other. We also ask our brothers and sisters here in the Church Militant to pray for us. We especially ask those in the fullness of God’s presence, the saints of the Church Triumphant to pray for us as well.
The Catechism summarizes quite eloquently:
The three states of the Church. “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”‘:
All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together.
954 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church