Praying to the Saints: Alleged Proof Texts
Question: The Bible directs us to invoke those in heaven and ask them to pray with us. In Psalms 148 we pray, "Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!" (Psalm 148:1-2).
In the book of Revelation, John sees that “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8). Also we read that " another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand." (Revelation 8:3,4). We see that those in heaven, angels and humans, pray for us.
Answer: The above quotations are the closest attempts by Catholic apologists to give biblical support to the tradition of invoking dead saints. However, if we carefully look at those scriptures, we quickly discover that they do not support this practice at all.
The psalmist expresses his desire that the angels and all creation praise the Lord:
The psalmist addresses the heavens, the waters, the beasts, the birds, the fire and the snow, and all the people of the earth to praise God. Are we to conclude that this psalm teaches us to invoke the angels? We might as well say that we should be praying to the sun and the moon and the stars!
In the book of Revelation we read about the saints (Christians) on earth praying to God. The incense that is offered to God by the angel and the elders symbolizes their prayers.
It must be emphasized that the incense represents the prayers of the saints – that is, the prayers of Christians on earth. Twice we are told that the incense is 'the prayers of the saints.' Therefore the incense does not represent the intercessory prayers of the angel or the elders in heaven. Moreover, these prayers were addressed to God, and not to the elders in heaven or to the angel, for the incense ascended up before God. The saints on earth were praying to God; they were not asking the angels or saints in heaven to pray for them.
Clearly these passages do not teach us to pray to departed saints or angels, nor that they are interceding for us. If anyone desires to learn from the Bible about prayer, he would be in no doubt to whom he should address his prayers.
From the dawn of human existence, when men begun to call upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26), to the last prayer recorded in the Bible (Revelation 22:20), the consistent example of all God’s people was to address their prayers to the Lord. Jesus teaches us by His example to pray to God (Luke 6:12). Jesus also teaches us to address our prayers to 'our Father in heaven.' The apostles and the disciples prayed to the Lord. We are taught to pray 'for' (not 'to') all saints, that is, we should pray for the needs of the living Christians on earth (Ephesians 6:18).
Communication with the dead is the practice of pagan religions and the occult, and not the Judeo-Christian faith as recorded in the Bible. The prophet Isaiah tells us:
Whoever teaches that we should "seek the dead on behalf of the living" is in darkness and degrades the Christian faith to the level of the occult and superstition. I appeal to you in the name of the Lord to repent from this pagan practice, and to embrace the truth of the Bible about prayer, and call upon the name of the Lord for your salvation and for every other need.
Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A