What does the Council of Trent teach about the article of faith, "the Communion of Saints"?
Today on the Feast of All Saints, we honor particularly all those who have merited to enjoy the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven. There is of course a wider application of the theological term, "Communion of the Saints", and here we give an extract from the Catechism of the Council of Trent on this article of the Faith as expressed in the Creed.
The Evangelist St. John, writing to the faithful on the divine mysteries, explains as follows why he undertook to instruct them in these truths: That you may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ. This fellowship consists in the Communion of Saints, the subject of the present article.
Would that in its exposition pastors imitated the zeal of Paul and of the other Apostles. For not only is it a development of the preceding article and a doctrine productive of abundant fruit; it also teaches the use to be made of the mysteries contained in the Creed, because the great end to which we should direct all our study and knowledge of them is that we may be admitted into this most august and blessed society of the Saints, and may steadily persevere therein, giving thanks with joy to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light.
The faithful, therefore, in the first place are to be informed that this part of the article, is, as it were, a sort of explanation of the preceding part which regards the unity, sanctity and catholicity of the Church. For the unity of the Spirit, by which she is governed, brings it about that whatsoever has been given to the Church is held as a common possession by all her members.
The fruit of all the Sacraments is common to all the faithful, and these Sacraments, particularly Baptism, the door, as it were, by which we are admitted into the Church, are so many sacred bonds which bind and unite them to Christ. That this communion of Saints implies a communion of Sacraments, the Fathers declare in these words of the Creed: I confess one Baptism. After Baptism, the Eucharist holds the first place in reference to this communion, and after that the other Sacraments; for although this name (communion) is applicable to all the Sacraments, inasmuch as they unite us to God, and render us partakers of Him whose grace we receive, yet it belongs in a peculiar manner to the Eucharist which actually produces this communion.
But there is also another communion in the Church which demands attention. Every pious and holy action done by one belongs to and becomes profitable to all through charity, which seeketh not her Own. This is proved by the testimony of St. Ambrose, who, explaining these words of the Psalmist, I am a partaker with all them that f ear thee, observes: As we say that a limb is partaker of the entire body, so are we partakers with all that fear God. Therefore has Christ taught us that form of prayer in which we say our, not my bread; and the other Petitions are equally general, not confined to ourselves alone, but directed also to the common interest and the salvation of all.
This communication of goods is often very aptly illustrated in Scripture by a comparison borrowed from the members of the human body. In the human body there are many members, but though many, they yet constitute but one body, in which each performs its own, not all the same, functions. All do not enjoy equal dignity, or discharge functions alike useful or honorable; nor does one propose to itself its own exclusive advantage, but that of the entire body. Besides, they are so well organized and knit together that if one suffers, the rest likewise suffer on account of their affinity and sympathy of nature; and if, on the contrary, one enjoys health, the feeling of pleasure is common to all.
The same may be observed in the Church. She is composed of various members; that is, of different nations, of Jews, Gentiles, freemen and slaves, of rich and poor; when they have been baptized, they constitute one body with Christ, of which He is the Head. To each member of the Church is also assigned his own peculiar office. As some are appointed apostles, some teachers, but all for the common good; so to some it belongs to govern and teach, to others to be subject and to obey.
The advantages of so many and such exalted blessings bestowed by Almighty God are enjoyed by those who lead a Christian life in charity, and are just and beloved of God. As to the dead members; that is, those who are bound in the thraldom of sin and estranged from the grace of God, they are not so deprived of these advantages as to cease to be members of this body; but since they are dead members, they do not share in the spiritual fruit which is communicated to the just and pious. However, as they are in the Church, they are assisted in recovering lost grace and life by those who live by the Spirit; and they also enjoy those benefits which are without doubt denied to those who are entirely cut off from the Church.
Not only the gifts which justify and endear us to God are common. Graces gratuitously granted, such as knowledge, prophecy, the gifts of tongues and of miracles, and others of the same sort, are common also, and are granted even to the wicked, not, however, for their own but for the general good, for the edification of the Church. Thus, the gift of healing is given not for the sake of him who heals, but for the sake of him who is healed.
In fine, every true Christian possesses nothing which he should not consider common to all others with himself, and should therefore be prepared promptly to relieve an indigent fellowcreature. For he that is blessed with worldly goods, and sees his brother in want, and will not assist him, is plainly convicted of not having the love of God within him.
Those, therefore, who belong to this holy communion, it is manifest, do now enjoy a certain degree of happiness and can truly say:
How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.... Blessed are they who dwell in thy house, Lord."