Communion of Saints
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The Communion of Saints is the spiritual union of all Christians, the living and the dead on Earth, in heaven, and in purgatory. They share a single "mystical body", with Christ as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.
This doctrine is included in the Apostles' Creed, a major profession of the Christian faith from not long after the year 100, the basic statement of the Church's faith (William Barclay, The Plain Man Looks at the Apostles Creed, pages 10-12). Its current form was settled in the eighth century.
The words translated into English as "saints" can refer to Christians, who, whatever their personal sanctity as individuals, are called holy because consecrated to God and Christ. This usage of the word "saints" is found some fifty times in the New Testament.
The persons who are linked in this communion include those who have died and whom Hebrews 12:1 pictures as a cloud of witnesses encompassing Christians on earth. In the same chapter, Hebrews 12:22-23 says Christians on earth "have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect."
In Catholic terminology, the Communion of Saints is thus said to comprise the Church Militant (those alive on earth), the Church Penitent (those undergoing purification in Purgatory in preparation for heaven), and the Church Triumphant (those already in heaven). The damned are not among the Communion of Saints. The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church as well as the Anglican Church and the Assyrian Church of the East point to this doctrine in support of their practice of asking the intercession of the saints in heaven, whose prayers (cf. Revelation 5:8) are seen as helping their fellow Christians on earth. These same churches refer to this doctrine in support of the practice of praying for the dead.
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