Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Why honor the saints?
This is an important question that many exploring Anglicanism ask, especially those peering into this tradition from the standpoint of “non-Catholic” Christianity.
The talk of “saints” quickly strikes a nerve as it conjures up Roman Catholic devotions: prayers to saints, veneration of relics, and the constant observation of saint days. This “cult of the saints” was at its zenith during the late Middle Ages, and so it became a casualty as the Reformation sought to purify the Church.
The result is that most Protestant and Evangelical churches don’t mention the saints. They fear that labeling someone as “St. so-and-so” sets them up on a holy pedestal and creates a “class distinction” among the Body of Christ.
Anglicanism’s response to the medieval situation and the modern practice among Evangelicalism is both “yes and no.”
Anglicans agree with Luther’s critique of Rome’s outlandish devotions. It is notable that when Thomas Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer, he didn’t include a single prayer to a saint, and no BCP has included one since.
But Anglicans don’t go so far as to ignore the long history of the Church regarding saints and their veneration. The BCP has always included assigned readings and prayers (to God) for particular saint days. Cranmer wanted the saints and their veneration to play an important role in our devotion to God. Why?
Honoring the saints honors the One who makes them holy.
The saints (“Holy Ones”) are those “knit together” in Christ’s “mystical Body,” the Church. This is a gift given to us from our gracious God. We become a saint when we are baptized into Christ. His holiness sets us apart and makes us holy as well.
His holiness is not static, though. It is alive and active. It is the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to transforms us and conform us to the image of Christ. A saint, then, is someone on the journey of becoming by grace what God is by nature: holy and perfect.
I think Evangelicals would agree with this: every Christian is a saint and will become like Christ when he returns.
Anglicanism pushes even further. While agreeing that everyone who is baptized and believes is a saint, we also recognize that there are those in whom the image and holiness of Christ is abundantly manifested. These we boldly label as “St. so-and-so.”
I say “boldly,” because calling someone a saint in this regard is more than an honorary title—it is a powerful proclamation about God’s ability to take someone “dead in their sins” (Eph. 2:1) and make them alive in Christ.
In other words, to venerate a saint and observe his or her feast day is nothing more than to venerate the all-surpassing power of Christ himself.
This is why we observe the feast days of saints and a day like All Saints. It reminds us of our own “sainthood” given to us in baptism. It calls to mind Christ’s work among our brothers and sisters departed this life in holiness. And it even serves as an invitation to us to “go and do likewise.”
As the collect for All Saints’ Day puts it, we remember the saints and pray that God will grant us “grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.” By grace alone the saints have embodied divine love, so much so that we can hold them up as role models for discipleship. Their life and witness calls us to continue progressing along the path of perfection in Christ.
If we do this, we too might be remembered as “St. so-and-so.”