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Article Info:
published: 3/17/04
updated: 8/14/14

Honoring the Saints

Sainthood in Christianity

The concept of saints is common to all branches of Christianity. The Apostle's Creed, affirmed by all Christian denominations, states belief in the "communion of saints." In Christian doctrine, the term "saints" refers to all deceased persons who are now in heaven.

When it comes to rituals and practices related to the saints, however, there are significant differences between Christian denominations. Protestants generally make little to no mention of the saints in worship and have no rituals related to the saints.

Lutherans and Episcopalians do name churches after particular saints and recognize some saints' days, but they do not canonize saints or emphasize the intercession of saints. For most Protestants, great Christians of history are people to be admired and emulated, but not called upon in prayer.

Saints in Catholicism and Orthodoxy

By contrast, saints play a prominent role in the rituals of Roman Catholicand Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Both branches canonize saints, recognize saints' feast days, name churches after saints, display icons and statues of saints, and pray to saints to intercede for them before God.

This set of practices is sometimes called the "cult of the saints" (not in the sense of a sect, but in the sense of the Latin word cultus, worship). In both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the Virgin Mary is the preeminent saint.

  • Canonization: Deciding Who's a Saint

    Complete guide to the process of identifying deceased Christians as saints in the Orthodox and Catholic churches, including a list of who Pope John Paul II has canonized.

  • Intercession of the Saints

    Discussion of the practice of calling on the saints for help, its biblical basis, and Protestant objections.

  • Veneration of the Saints

    Forms of devotion to the saints in Cathoilcism and Orthodoxy, including icons, litanies and feast days, as well as Protestant objections to the practice.

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