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Religious Role of the Saints

In traditional belief, as taught by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern churches, faithful Christians on earth and the saints in heaven are all members of the church, and just as living members seek the prayers of others and share in the merits of others, so the living ask those in heaven for their prayers and share in their merits (see indulgence). An aspect of the same cooperation of the living and the saints is prayer for those dead who are not yet saints (i.e., in purgatory).

Prayer to the saints ("veneration" or "honor") is distinct in kind from prayer to God ("worship" or "adoration"), who is the source of all their glory. In the liturgy saints are commemorated and their intercession sought on special days ("saint's day"; see also All Saints' Day), usually the anniversary of their death. In the ancient churches each member has at least one patron saint from baptism, and in the West another is adopted at confirmation; patrons are expected to have a mutual relation of affection with their earthly charges. Saints vary in popularity: St. Joseph, very popular today among Catholics and Orthodox, had scarcely any cultus 1,000 years ago; St. Nicholas, for centuries a favorite in the West, has today few devotees among Roman Catholics. Examples of nonliturgical devotions to saints are pilgrimages (see pilgrim), many forms of litany, images and icons, novenas, and annual celebrations in honor of patron saints.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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