By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

“What’s a Saint?”
“What’s the Communion of the Saints about?”
“What role should Saints play in the Christian life?”
“Don’t Catholics worship Mary and the other Saints?”

Considering the degree to which many Protestants fear things that even sound Catholic -- and “Sainthood” sounds as Catholic as they come -- I’m never surprised by questions like these. However, I am very dismayed at the idea that some Protestants still think that Catholics worship Mary and the other Saints. So, let’s begin here.

What are Catholics and other Christians doing when they light a candle before an image of Mary, then kneel down and pray? It looks like idol worship, doesn’t it? I mean, in most cases there’s no cross visible, nor even an image of Jesus. What’s going on here?

When I’m sick, alone, worried, frightened, troubled, tired, unsure, or in any other way in need of prayer, I will often turn to a few special people for help. I will ask my mother and father, my grandparents, my congregation, and my closest friends in the faith to pray for me; not because they have any magical powers, but because I believe in the divine power of intercessory prayer. Asking a fellow Christian for prayer is sanctioned by the Holy Scriptures, by the traditions of the Church, by Christian experience, and by reason. The power of massed prayer is beyond question.

Notice, I listed my parents first in the order of whom I ask to pray for me. I do this because I am the closest to them. I know how much they love me, and I trust them without question to pray for what is right and not just for what I want or think I need.

So far, all this sounds fine. I don’t know a single Christian who doesn’t believe in the power of intercessory prayer. I don’t know a single Christian who would hesitate to ask some fellow Christian to pray for them in time of need. I think we’re in agreement, here, that intercessory prayer is powerful, and important, and that we shouldn’t fear it.

Fine. So why does it have to end with death? When a Christian dies, are they robbed of the ability to pray? When a Christian dies, why do we Protestants suddenly forget about asking them to pray for us? I can remember feeling at a loss for someone to pray for me soon after my Great Aunt Lucy’s death. She was the great pray-er in our family, the one who had an “undeniable way with the Lord.” Why should her death, or the death of any other Christian, end their ability to pray for us? It doesn’t.

That’s what “The Communion of the Saints” and All Saints Sunday is all about! Nearly every Sunday we say, in the Apostles’ Creed, that we believe in “The Communion of the Saints,” but we often do so without ever considering what we mean by that proclamation. By saying that we believe in the Communion of the Saints, we are saying that we believe that those members of the Family of God who have gone on to glory are not lost to us. They are members of the Communion of the Saints, just like those of us who are alive today, and are still very much alive in Christ Jesus! We believe that death doesn’t end our relationship with God, nor with those who live here on Earth. Death transforms the way we “live,” but whether we live here on Earth or in Glory, we live in Christ Jesus our Lord! Since we have victory over death through Jesus Christ our Lord, Death does not separate us from the love of God or from the Community of Faith or from the Table of the Lord!

Now, when Catholics and other Christians kneel down before an image of the Virgin Mary, they are asking the Mother of Our Lord to pray for them. Sure, they never knew her in life, but she, too, is a member of the Communion of the Saints, and they therefore believe that she is able to pray for them. The same is true with all the Saints because, you see, every Christian is a Saint -- a “Saint under construction.”

One Sunday several years ago, during the Children’s sermon, I asked “What’s a Saint?” and had an incredible response.

“Saint’s are people who follow the Lord.”

The girl who said that knows more than most of us put together. Saints are Christians . . . all Christians. We may not look like Saints, and we certainly don’t normally act like Saints, but the Scriptures make it clear that we are Saints because God as made us so.

As we come to the Table of the Lord, let us join together with all the Saints who have gone on to God in Glory above and give thanks to God that death does not separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

© 1992 Rev. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from