Who are the saints?
According to the New Testament the saints (Latin, sancti; Greek, hagioi; literally ‘holy people’) are all the members of the Christian church (Acts 9:13, Rom.1:7, 1 Cor.1:2, Eph.1:15, etc.). Christians are ‘holy people’, ‘saints’, not because they are morally perfect but because God has made them ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Peter 2:9). To be a ‘Saint’ is to be part of a community; the word is nearly always used in the plural in the New Testament, and refers to the important truth that Christians are not meant to live in lonely isolation but as members together in the body of Christ. The ‘saints’ to whom St Paul wrote in Corinth, for example, were far from being morally perfect; in fact, there were serious faults among them. Yet God had made them a holy people, and the apostle urged them to grow up into what God had made them.
While all Christians are members of the holy people of God, it is obvious that they vary greatly in holiness, from the luke-warm to those of heroic sanctity. This was true even in the time of the New Testament itself. After that period the term ‘saint’ gradually came to be applied to those of outstanding holiness, especially the martyrs. The days of their deaths, if known, were observed as their ‘birthdays’ into eternal life. Christians thanked God for their holy lives and for the inspiration of their examples. They were conscious of their fellowship with the saints in their worship and in their everyday life. The celebration of saints’ days is a reminder of the calling of all of us.
The Church of Ireland calendar appoints saints’ days for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christ’s apostles and other notable disciples mentioned in the New Testament. It also includes great figures of the early Irish church, like Patrick, Columba and Brigid. Lesser-known saints, too, are remembered in the dedication of many of our churches.
Does the Church of Ireland pray to the saints?
In its authorised worship the Church of Ireland does not pray to the saints but with the saints. Our worship is addressed to God alone, but we are conscious of the saints, both living and departed, both the exceptional and the ordinary, as our fellow worshippers. Christ’s church includes the blessed dead along with those still on earth. We worship God ‘with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven’ (Eucharistic Prayer, BCP 2004), with ‘The glorious company of apostles… the noble fellowship of prophets… the white-robed army of martyrs’ (Te Deum). In addition we observe saints’ days when we thank God for their holy lives and pray that we may follow their examples.
As well as those exceptional Christians to whom the church has given the title ‘saint’ we praise God for all those whose holiness is known to God alone on All Saints’ Day (1 November), remembering that we are ‘knit together’ with them ‘in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [Christ]’ (Collect of All Saints’ Day). Hence ‘the communion of saints’ (Apostles’ Creed) is an important reality for our worship and our lives as Christians on earth.
The above information copyright ©2005 APCK