Why Do Catholics Pray To Saints?
The biblical and historical roots of praying to the saints, trace back to the dawn of Christianity. The Old English word to pray simply means to ask or to petition. In the same way that we ask the saints on Earth to pray for us, Catholics also ask the saints in Heaven to intercede for us.
“The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” — James 5:16
The saints in Heaven have been completely sanctified and made perfect in Christ (Hebrews 12:23). We ask the saints for their intercession out of our own humility, acknowledging that we need their help. As sinners, we are imperfect and since, the saints in Heaven are more worthy and righteous, their prayers for us are even more powerful and efficacious.
Intercession Is Not Idolatry:
In Catholicism, the following Greek terminology is used to distinguish between worship and reverence:
latria (adoration/worship) – exclusively for God alone. The sacrifice of the Mass is only offered to God (Exodus 20:1-5)
hyperdulia (highest form of reverence/honour) – Mary (Luke 1:48)
dulia (reverence/honour) – All other saints and angels (Romans 13:7)
We honour the saints, in particular Mary, because of their holiness and devotion to God. Above all the saints, Mary’s intercession is most powerful, as Mary specially cooperated with God’s grace to bring about salvation to the entire world. Thus, Mary is most loved by God because His only begotten Son was incarnate in her womb.
By honouring the craftsmanship, we honour the Craftsman. God is superior above all His Creation and therefore, He does not compete but rather delights in His own designs. Everything good, true, and beautiful ultimately glorifies God.
One Mediator Between God And Man:
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” — 1 Timothy 2:5
If praying to the saints violated the one mediator between God and man, it would also imply that believers could not even pray for one another, as this would also be a form of mediation. However, simply a few verses before, Paul commends intercession.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” — 1 Timothy 2:1
Jesus is the unique and only God-Man mediator of our redemption. Nevertheless, when Paul exhorts secondary mediation between believers in the same body, he does not take away from the unique intercessory role of Jesus, by commending intercessory prayer.
Jesus is the One High Priest, yet we are royal priests. Jesus is the only Son of God, yet we are adoptive sons and daughters of God. Likewise, Jesus is the one unique mediator and we are secondary mediators when we pray for one another.
“The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.” — 1 Corinthians 12:21-22
Everyone should pray directly to God (Hebrews 4:16). Yet, God also wills for the saints to intercede with and through Him, as Jesus regularly performed miracles based on the faith of another. Jesus conquered death so that nothing would separate us from God (Romans 8:37-39). Therefore, the mystical body encompasses both those in Heaven and on Earth.
“But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep.” (Origen - A.D. 233).
The Saints Offer Our Prayers To God:
“When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” — Revelation 5:8
“The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.” — Revelation 8:4
The elders and angels, having full knowledge and possession of our prayers, intercede by offering the prayers of the saints on Earth to God. Psalm 141 mentions how our prayers rise to the Heavenly altar in the form of incense.
“In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer].” (Clement Of Alexandria - A.D. 208).
Intercession Is Not Necromancy:
According to Deuteronomy 18:11, the Bible condemns necromancy. Necromancy is defined as the “conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events.” Asking the saints to pray for us, does not conjure up their spirits.
Whereas necromancy involves gaining occult knowledge apart from God, intercession involves entrusting knowledge to the saints, who are one with God. In the same way that it was not necromancy when Jesus spoke to the spirits of Elijah and Moses at the Transfiguration, asking the saints to intercede for us is not necromancy and does not contradict Scripture.
“God said, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' So he is the God of the living, not the dead." — Matthew 22:32
In Heaven, the saints are more alive than we are, and their perpetual prayers help us on our journey towards eternity.
“Brothers and sisters, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” — Romans 10:1
Prayer enables believers to cooperate in the redemptive mission of Christ, by saving souls. Why would that change upon death, if Jesus is Lord of both the living and the dead? (Romans 14:9). Even St Jerome, who compiled and translated the Scriptures affirmed this:
“You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard. . . . But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?” (Jerome - A.D. 406).
The Saints Have Knowledge Of Our Prayers:
“We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” — 1 John 3:2
If we are to be like Jesus in Heaven, why would we not intercede on behalf of others, like Him? If Jesus desires for all to be saved, why would we not pray for others to be saved? In Heaven, the Beatific Vision enables the saints to see God face to face, having full knowledge of our prayers. (1 Corinthians 13:12) Therefore, aware of the injustice on Earth, the saints make their petitions known to God (Revelations 6:9-10).
“Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:” — Luke 16:27
The King James Version makes it obvious - the rich man asked for Abraham’s intercession. If the rich man in Hell showed concern for those on Earth, how much more will the saints in Heaven be concerned with our salvation? Evidently, the saints rejoice knowing that people turn back to God.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” — Luke 15:7
The saints are not required to be omniscient, as they are beyond space and time and have eternity to pray for us. God is perfectly capable of allowing the saints to hear our prayers and intercede for us (Ephesians 3:20).
Biblical Examples Of Intercession:
Genesis 48:16 - Jacob invokes an angel’s blessing for his children.
Job 33:23 – Angels are described as intercessors for those on Earth.
Jeremiah 15:1 – In the next life, Moses and Samuel plead and intercede on behalf of Israel.
Zechariah 1:12 – The Angel intercedes for those on Earth, pleading God to show them mercy.
Tobit 12:12-15 – The Angel Raphael intercedes, offering the prayers of the saints on Earth to God.
2 Maccabees 15:12-14 – In a vision, the Prophet Jeremiah and Onias pray on behalf of Israel.
Luke 22:43 - When praying, an angel assists and strengthens Jesus.
Hebrews 1:14 - Angels are spirits sent by God to assist those on Earth, helping them on their path to salvation.
Out of humility, let us not refuse the help of the saints who surround us (Hebrews 12). Through imitating Christ, may they intercede for us so that we may finish the race…
“Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another.” (Cyprian of Carthage - A.D. 253).