November 01, 2007

The evolution of “saints”

The word “saint” means “holy.”

Today we use the word “saint” as a title for someone whom the Church publicly recognizes to be in heaven.

However, the Church originally used “saint” as a title for all baptized believers of the Church. That is how the New Testament uses it.

Acts 9:13,32
Acts 26:9-11
Romans 8:27
Romans 15:25-31
2 Corinthians 1:1-2
Ephesians 1:1-2
Ephesians 3:8
Ephesians 6:18
Philippians 1:1-2
Philippians 4:21-22

In those and other New Testament texts, the saints are the members of the Church living on earth. The New Testament use of the word “saint” is parallel to our use of the word “Christian.”
So, then, you and I are saints.
Let’s own up to it!
Let’s live it!
That’s what God wants for us.

As the early decades of Christianity began to roll into centuries, the Church increasingly began to use the word “saint” to refer especially to the martyrs.

The widespread devotion to St. Martin of Tours, who died in A.D. 316, was one of the earliest examples of the widespread popularity of a non-martyr saint.

The saints are in various categories, and the Church maintains those categories in a particular order of priority. We find this traditional priority, for instance, in several places in the Missale Romanum, for instance in the Litany of Saints during the Baptismal Liturgy at the Paschal Vigil Mass. The order of priority of the saints is as follows.

First, the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Holy Angels
Saint John the Baptist
Saint Joseph
Apostles
Martyrs
Pastors
Doctors of the Church
Virgins and Religious
Finally, other kinds of Saints

Some may find it odd that Saint John the Baptist is listed ahead of Saint Joseph. We “moderns” do not remember that, for more than the first thousand years of the Church, Christians had the greatest devotion to Saint John the Baptist; then we slowly forgot him.

The Litany of the Saints and the Roman Missal have not forgotten.

The Son of God himself said no one of earthly birth is greater than Saint John the Baptist [Mt. 11:11; Lk. 7:28].

At the Vatican, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of the Last Judgment shows the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist as the first ones seated to the immediate right and left of Christ.

In the Eastern Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist are known and pictured as the first intercessors on either side of the throne of Christ the King.

Although the Son of God names Saint John the Baptist as the greatest person of earthly birth, Jesus added that to be the least-born in the kingdom of HEAVEN is greater than being the greatest man on earth.

Through Baptism, you and I were born into the kingdom of heaven.
So, then, you and I are saints.
Let’s own up to it!
Let’s live it!
That’s what God wants for us.


2 Comments:

Blogger ServusMariae said...

Although I'm catching up to this post a bit late, Father, I just wanted to mention how this very matter is a point of contention for many Protestants, who'll argue that the Catholic Church is wrong to designate any individual as "Saint So-and-so," since every Christian is a "saint" already. And to make this claim, they'll cite such passages as you note here in a different context.

My standard rebuttal is to first to point out that in many walks of life we see certain individuals singled out for meritorious achievement above and beyond the call of duty, such as (to name a few):

* the soldier who is given a medal for bravery, injuries sustained or some other distinguishing service;
* an individual knighted or given a similar, though non-titled, honor in the United States;
* the company member who is named "employee of year";
* the student who graduates "with honors"; and
* the athlete who is chosen most valuable player or named to an all-star team.

In every one of these cases there is the constant of a person who rises above his peers in a certain endeavor. And so it is with the saints, though in a way that completely dwarfs these and similar examples, as it pertains to the spiritual.

When raised this way, most Protestants will concede the point to some degree, though the usual response is to question the authority of the Church to canonize at all, but that's ANOTHER matter (LOL -- the easy, if partial, comeback is that those considered for the honors of the altar are members of the Catholic Church, so that body can honor them if it wants).

5:52 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Dear Servus Mariae,

Ha! To a Protestant, your screenname is evidence you are an idolater.

The Gospel reveals two long-dead human persons who are in glory: Moses and Elijah who appear IN GLORY at the Transfiguration of Christ.

Christ gave his apostles authority to bind and loose heaven from the earth. If the apostles proclaim that so-and-so is to be publicly recognized as being in heaven, we believe it.

7:59 AM  

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