Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?

Archdiocese of Washington: Year of Faith series

Written by:

Dominican Brothers of the Province of St. Joseph

Halloween is one night of the year when adults and children alike seem to be full of imagination for the realm of the dead.  Maybe it is a fascination with ghosts and goblins, or maybe it is more sinister than that, but there is a profoundly Christian explanation for Halloween, and it has to do with today’s “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?” question, and the Communion of Saints.

There is no coincidence that the world is fascinated with the realm of the dead on the evening of October 31st, which is the night before All Saints Day – that day when the Church celebrates the lives of those whom we know have made it to heaven.

The first thing the doctrine of the Communion of Saints should teach us – whether we’ve graduated from the fifth grade yet or not – is that there is a bridge between this life and the next – between the land of the living and the land of the dead.  Jesus Christ is that bridge, and He makes heaven possible.

Every human person will continue to exist after death, as every one of us is created by God with an immortal soul.  This is not to say that all of us will go straight to heaven when we die.  The ghoulish character of Halloween should remind us that not all of us are saints.  Someone recently reminded me that you have to be made perfect to go to heaven.  For all of us who are yet far from perfect, this gives us pause to reflect and to pray about what we merit in this life – and to consider what happens after death.

But, the Communion of Saints is not just about the souls in heaven; neither does this phrase simply refer to the canonized saints.  In fact, the Communion of Saints refers to (D) all the faithful living and dead. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, there is a universal call to holiness.  That is, we are all, in fact, called to become saints by God’s grace.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us the context, “After confessing ‘the holy catholic Church,’ the Apostles’ Creed adds ‘the communion of saints.’ In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding: ‘What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?’ The communion of saints is the Church.” (CCC 946)

All of the faithful – both living and dead – make up the Communion of Saints, and this Communion makes up the Church.  This is the way that we are joined together as believers. The love that unites us in Jesus Christ unites us even beyond the grave.  As The Catechism says, it is a “communion in holy things (sancta)’ and ‘among holy persons (sancti).” (CCC 948)

The goal is heaven, as my grandmother liked to say.  However, few of us have an imagination for heaven these days, it seems to me.  While some may argue for Halloween’s merits, it seems it would benefit all of us to know of this night’s real meaning of the great splendor of the Communion of Saints, who are present to us from beyond the grave.

In this Year of Faith, it is well to remember that faith joins us in a real way with all the faithful souls living and dead.  Faith makes this possible by joining us to God Himself.

Join us on November 8th for our next “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?” post.

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One Response

  1. Peter Chabot says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Isn’t it strange the the CCC does not mention the word “purgatory” in this explanation? After all, everyone already should have the answer to this question memorized.

    What is meant by “the communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed?

    By “the communion of saints” is meant the union of the faithful on earth, the blessed in heaven, and the souls in purgatory, with Christ as their Head.

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