Why Do Catholics Believe that all Faithful Christians are Saints? *

The biblical Greek and Hebrew words sometimes translated as "saints" means literally "holy ones" (Acts 9:13) or "faithful ones" (1 Sm 2:9). Typically, these are general terms for God's people, who have a share in his holiness and are striving to become more holy (see Heb 12:10; 2 Cor 7:1)The apostle Paul was especially fond of addressing his letters to "all the holy ones" in the churches (2 Cor 1:1).

All faithful Christians, then, are indeed "saints" in this sense. In fact, the catholic Church teaches that the vocation to holiness in universal; God speaks to all believers when he says: "Be holy because I (am) holy" (see 1 Pt 1:14-16).

Nevertheless, the Greek term for "saints" or "holy ones" appears in some scriptural passages to have a narrower sense. Mark's gospel refers to the 'saints" who rose from the dead after Christ's resurrection (see Mt 27:52), faithful departed being taken by Christ to heaven. St. Paul speaks of the "holy ones" who accompany Christ from heaven when he returns to earth (see 1 Thes 3:13). St John uses the same term to refer to the "holy ones " who are now in heaven praying to God (see Rv 5:8; 8:3).

It is in this latter, narrower, sense that the Catholic Church honors certain departed Christians with the formal title "saint." This title indicates the Church's confidence that the individual died in friendship with God and is now in heaven with him (see "Why do Catholics Believe Strange Things About Heaven?").

Why is it important for the Church to designate certain Christians this way? "Saint" is actually much more than a title of honor. Because the Church is confident that these "holy ones" are now in heaven, Catholics are urged not only to venerate them, but also to imitate their holiness and ask for their intercession (see "Why Do Catholics Pray to Saints and Angels?").

How does the Church gain confidence that a particular person is in heaven? Various kinds of evidence are sought in the process of "canonization" (formal recognition of sainthood): reliable testimony to the person's extraordinary holiness, evidence that the person's life has drawn other closer to God, and documented miracles occurring after the person's intercession has been invoked (see also "Why Do Catholics Believe in Miracles?").

See also: Saints

Other related scriptures: Lv 11:44; 19:2; Dt 33:3; Ps 89:6; Lk 1:75; Rom 1:7; Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:2.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 61; 823-829; 867; 946-962; 1161; 14741479; 2030; 2683; 2692.

*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com

Additional insights at: www.catholic.com