Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Review: "Communion of Saints" by Stephen Walford

Any time I come across a book with endorsements from Scott Hahn and Fr. Thomas Weinandy (Vatican International Theological Commission) and a foreword from Cardinal Lacroix, it immediately makes my "to read" list. Now that I have finished Stephen Walford’s Communion of Saints, I can unabashedly say that it is the most comprehensive treatment of the subject that I have seen. Its subtitle, The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ, displays the work’s Trinitarian grounding and sweeping scope – the Church militant on earth, suffering in purgatory, and triumphant in heaven. Mr. Walford’s theology is masterfully grounded in Scripture and the Church Fathers, illuminated by tales from the lives of the canonized saints, and further explicated with vignettes from private revelation.

Walford demonstrates that the Church was not an afterthought on God’s part, but Christ’s chosen partner for disseminating the grace of salvation to the world. Not only was the Lord Jesus’ life prefigured in the Old Testament, but so was His Church’s sacraments and intercession. We, its members on earth, have been called and consecrated to manifest Christ’s life before the world, living the beatitudes just as He did. The Church is the blossoming of God’s Kingdom on earth, the place where Jesus’ Kingly rule is already manifest. As soldiers we fight the Lord’s battles, overcoming the sin within ourselves and the world, assisted by the prayers of our brothers and sisters who have already arrived in the glory of heaven. In turn, we intercede for those of our number who depart this world still in need of purification.

Mr. Walford’s treatment of purgatory is exceptional. In addition to the classical scriptural supports for the doctrine, he has marshalled extensive evidence for the belief in the early Church. I appreciated the way that Walford includes quotes from Scripture and the Fathers in the body of the text rather than directing readers to other works. Readers will come away with a more thorough understanding of “temporal” punishment, the Church’s “treasury of merits,” and indulgences as well as the penetrating insights of St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Thérèse of Lisieux into the nature of purgatory and the means of circumventing one’s need for it. You will also read a number of accounts from canonized saints like Padre Pio and Teresa of Avila that the Lord allowed to be visited by souls seeking intercessory prayer to assist them in their purification.

This book also directs our gaze toward heaven – both its current residents and the life that awaits us there. I thoroughly enjoyed Walford’s narration of miracles investigated in the course of canonizations from the last century. (I, personally, have a great fondness for the writings of St. Louis Marie De Montfort but had never learned of the astounding 1927 healing that led to his canonization!) The scriptural justification and theological explanation for venerating the saints, their relics, and images is well done. I applaud Walford’s treatment of the Blessed Mother as an icon of the Church, Christ’s return, and the resurrection of the body. In a time when we seem deluged by private revelations of the apocalyptic variety, Walford is a voice of sanity directing us to the established Tradition of the Church regarding events that must precede Christ’s return.


Communion of Saints: The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ is a genuine tour de force. Steeped in Scripture and Tradition, Walford deftly punctuates his explanation of this great mystery with saintly insights, private revelation, and personal theological speculation; critical readers should, however, have no difficulty rightly weighing the authority attached to each. If you received an Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, then I can’t think of a better way to put them to use. In addition, all proceeds from this book are donated to Aid to the Church in Need to assist persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Not only will you be reading about the Communion of Saints, you will be acting for its benefit!

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