Praying to the Saints: An Unbiblical Practice
Question: A Catholic friend recently sent us a book explaining the Communion of Saints. It presents the argument that Christians are the body of Christ and that nowhere in the Bible does it suggest that this excludes Christians in heaven. It reasons that saints really are not dead and are more alive that we are here on earth; that we can ask for their prayers just as we would of our brothers and sisters here on earth. They go on to say that prayers to saints is no more worship than asking a fellow Christian for prayer.
Answer: At first glance this argument sounds convincing but it is not difficult to see that it is really misleading and deceptive. Please consider the following:
1. Death disrupts the interaction between saints on earth and saints in heaven
We believe in the communion of the saints – whether we are on earth or in heaven, we have a joint participation in the grace of Jesus Christ. However that does not imply that death does nothing to the interaction between us! We all know something of the painful and terrible reality of death separating us from our loved ones. The soul of the departed is alive and conscious – in heaven or hell, but there is no communication between the departed and us. That’s why the Bible forbids us from trying to communicate with the dead.
A paralyzed limb is still very much part of the body, yet it does not respond to the body’s commands. Similarly, the dead saints remain part of the body of Christ, but there is an effective separation from the living saints. The same Lord who healed paralytics during his earthly ministry will one day give His people a glorified and immortal body and gather us all together. Until then we must face the sad consequence of death: separation!
2. Praying to the saints in not equivalent to asking fellow Christians for prayer
This excuse may be convincing to some Christians who never had any personal experience of the Catholic religion. Otherwise, every Catholic (and former Catholic) knows that praying to Mary or the saints is completely different than asking a fellow believer for prayer.
Suppose a Christian brother comes and kneels before you, imploring you with great devotion to pray for him. Would you allow him? How would you react if he calls you his advocate, his hope and refuge? What if he thanks you for the many graces you conferred on him and for delivering him from hell? Suppose he tells you that he confines his salvation to your care and pleads with you to stay with him until you see him safe in heaven?
Would you call that “asking a fellow Christian for prayer”? Of course not! That kind of prayer and confidence is nothing less than divine worship and it should be directed only to the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet that is exactly the kind of prayer that Catholics offer to Mary and the saints. For instance, read the following prayer to Mary by St. Alphonsus.
Ask yourself whether this sounds like asking another Christian to pray for you, or whether this is the kind of prayer should only be addressed to God. Would you call another Christian your advocate, hope and refuge? Do you thank another Christian for all the graces he or she conferred on you? Would you thank another Christian for delivering you from hell? Do you place in any other Christian all your hope and confine your salvation to his or her care? Whose mercies would you be singing in all eternity?
3. Praying to the saints really comes from a distorted view of the goodness of God
Catholics often have a definite (though unspoken) perception that God is distant and difficult to reach. For many God is distant because they do not know Christ who has brought perfect reconciliation, access to God's presence and a sweet communion with the Father. They feel more comfortable praying to Mary and the saints, hoping that they are in a better position to persuade God to grant them the desired graces.
St. Bernard writes: "It is true, of course, that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator of justice between human beings and God, and that, by virtue of His own merits, He can obtain for us, and wants to obtain, pardon and grace as He promised. But in Christ human beings cannot help recognizing and fearing the Divine Majesty, which belongs to Him as God. So it was necessary to appoint another Advocate, to whom we can have recourse with less fear and with greater confidence. And this second Advocate is Mary" (Quoted in 'The Glories of Mary' by St Alphonsus Liguori). What a distortion of the goodness of God! God is ever near His children, for His Son had bridged the infinite gap which had previously separated us. Contrary to the blasphemous words of man, the Bible assures us that in Christ "we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him" (Ephesians 3:12).
God wants us to pray for each other as an expression of our unity and solidarity, and sometimes He does not grant our prayers immediately to teach us faith and perseverance. Yet there is not a shred of doubt in the heart of every Christian on the mercy and the goodness of God.
I used to pray to Mary, the saints and the angels as well as to God. Everything changed when I was saved through faith in Christ Jesus. God became my dear Father and communion with Him became the sweetest experience of my life.
Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A