Second Sunday after Epiphany—20 January A.D. 2013
"Share the needs of the saints.... Love one another with fraternal charity, anticipating one another with honor."
One of the things that distinguishes the churches of the Protestant Reformation from all of the earlier Christian Churches is their rejection of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. They may utter the words in the Apostles' Creed, but at most they think of the Communion as nothing more than a union of believers by being united with Jesus Christ.
But, in reality, the Communion of Saints is something much more: It is the solidarity of those in heaven (the Church Triumphant) with the Baptized on earth (the Church Militant), with the deceased in Purgatory (the Church Suffering). Even those living outside of the Catholic Church are part of this Communion--at least to the degree that they are united to Christ and to the purposes of the Church. Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that the Angels, too, are part of this Communion because Christ is Head of the Angels as well as the Head of the Church.
We learn something about the Communion of Saints from today's Gospel, in which we see the Blessed Virgin Mary interceding for the bridal couple with God's Son and her Son. Like the saints in heaven, she knew their need, and without being asked called upon Jesus to do something to keep them from embarrassment. The Jewish people were very big on hospitality, and here, at the very beginning of their married life, they were in danger of not being able to be hospitable. “They have no wine,” she said to Him, knowing that He would do precisely the right thing to solve their problem.
The six stone water jars were very big, being used for the washing of the guests' hands and feet, many gallons each--so our Lord did not skimp on the quantity. And the wine was of the best quality the steward of the feast had ever tasted. So, certainly, we can see the value of calling on the Blessed Virgin Mary for our spiritual and material needs.
But why would we call on the other saints? Why would God answer the prayers of other saints, who were not related to His Son? Even those who had never even met His Son? Saint Thomas tells us that all of the saints in heaven behold God directly in the beatific vision of Him. In that vision they know the prayers of the just, and they behold even their own heavenly glory—and part of their glory is in being like God—in this case, being like Him in wanting the salvation of souls—God hears the prayers of the saints, for their will is identical with His divine will for the salvation of the living.
But we also pray for each other here on earth. We pray for others, either because we have anticipated their needs, or because they have asked us for our prayers. In this we have the example of Saint Paul the Apostle, who asked for the prayers of those addressed in his Epistle to the Romans: “join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf.” If a saint as great as Paul was desirous of the prayers of ordinary men and women, so should we—and so should we be willing, and even joyful to pray for those in need. And, let us not forget Saint Paul's admonition to anticipate the needs of those who need prayers, even without being asked for them.
We pray for the souls in Purgatory, for our Lord told us that there are sins which are “not forgiven in this world or in the world to come.” Even before the time of Christ, it was the custom of Jewish people to pray for their dead, as we read in the Book of Machabees: “It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from [their] sins.” We read further that the Machabees sent an offering in silver to the priests of the Temple “for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead.” We do something very similar when we make an offering to have Holy Mass offered for the dead.
The souls in Purgatory are unable to pray on their own behalf, so they are in need of the prayers of the living—particularly of their relatives and friends. But let us not forget that those in Purgatory are destined saints of God, who will one day be joined with Him in the beatific vision, and who will be eternally grateful for our prayers. We should pray for them, so they will be reminded to pray for us!
Saint Thomas reminds us of two more things. The first is that in addition to prayers and good example, we can offer our good works for the benefit of another. This might be the gaining of an indulgence granted by the Church, or by performing some work of mercy, and then ascribing the value of that indulgence or good work to the benefit of some other soul.
The second thing Saint Thomas reminds us of is that even those in the state of mortal sin my do something for the souls in Purgatory—“the deed done may have a value apart from the status of the doer of the deed.” No one should deliberately remain in mortal sin, but this should be of some consolation who feel that they are trapped by the circumstances of life.
So, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, who interceded for the bridal couple at Cana, let us pray for one another—for those whose needs we perceive, for those who ask for our prayers, and for the souls in Purgatory, who cannot ask.