Actually….they we do. We also ask for intercession from others as well. In fact, just last night I asked some friends to pray for me. Not one of them refused my request telling me just to take it directly to God. They were all glad to intercede for me. This is sort of how it is with Catholics and prayers to the saints. When a Catholic says he or she is praying to a saint, what they really mean is they are asking for intercession from that saint. They are basically saying “St. So-and-So, pray for me”. Even in the Rosary, we ask Mary to “pray for us sinners”. This practice of asking the departed for their intercession dates back to the earliest days of the Christian Church. The confusion is often one of semantics and being unfamiliar with Catholic-ease. If not explained, this practice can be a cause of great concern among non-Catholics. (Just as an aside, the word “saint” can mean different things to different people. In the Old Testament, King David used this word to refer to the Jews. In the New Testament, Paul uses it to refer to believers. Catholics also use the term “saint” to refer to Christians who have run the race and achieved the crown of heaven.)
But isn’t Christ supposed to be our “one mediator”? (1 Tim. 2:5)
Absolutely! I don’t think I need to convince anyone here that in asking my friends to pray for me, they are not detracting in any way from Christ’s unique role as mediator between God and man. I also don’t think I need to convince anyone that having others pray for us is good and right. Paul exhorts us to intercede for one another:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. ” 1 Timothy2:1-4
Saints in heaven are praying. We are told that in Scripture:
“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” Rev. 5:8
“And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.” Rev. 8:3-4
And also in writings from the Early Church Fathers (ECF’s):
“But those who are weak and slothful in prayer, hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask him. But you, [Hermas,] having been strengthened by the holy angel [you saw], and having obtained from him such intercession, and not being slothful, why do not you ask of the Lord understanding, and receive it from him?” Hermas, A.D. 80
“But not the high priest 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
That those in heaven pray is supported in scripture and by the ECF’s. The choice to invoke them or not is completely mine. There is no mandate of the Church to seek the intercession of the departed. However, since I know this is true:
“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” James 5:16
…and since I need all the help I can get, then I say why not?!?
July 2012 Update: Of all the posts on this blog, the one continues to garner the most attention. I am incredibly blessed to know this post has helped so many (whether they agree or disagree) have a better understanding of Catholic prayer. I wish I was able to dedicate time to answering questions that have come up in the combos. However, I just don’t at this season in my life. When I started this blog, I was the mother of 4 young girls. Now, I have three teenagers, a ten year old, and a toddler boy who I strive to keep from injuring himself every day. :) If you are sincerely interested in digging deeper into this topic, may I suggest you take a look at my reading list. I had many of the same concerns I’ve seen voiced in the comments and those books were extremely helpful. Some good websites that also might be helpful are:
Please keep in mind that you will get the most accurate and thorough answers to your questions about Catholicism by reading articles/books written by Catholics themselves rather than those who think they understand Catholicism.
I continue to welcome your comments and questions but please understand that it’s unlikely I will be able to give you the thoughtful response your sincere questions deserve. I will delete any comments that are unkind or snarky.