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I understand that the Roman Catholic church direct some prayers to Mary, the mother of Jesus. For me it would be strange to address my prayers to anyone outside the Holy Trinity. Do Catholics pray to any other individuals other than God?

Is praying 'to' individuals other than God widely practiced in any other denomination? If so, who do they pray to and why?

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In Latin America its common for people to pray to Saints. –  JustinY Aug 23 '11 at 19:32
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@JustinY That is because Latin American Christians are mostly Catholic. –  Muhd Nov 1 '11 at 19:47

8 Answers 8

The phrase "pray to" confuses most people as it gives the impression that anyone who asks a saint to "pray for" them is actually praying to the saint as if he/she was God. This isn't true and is probably an artifact of language.

The word "pray" also has the meaning to "make an earnest petition" so Catholics, and, I think, other Christians, call upon any saint, past or present, to pray for us.

Just as I might ask my friends to pray for me I might also ask a saint in Heaven to pray for me.

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That's a very good clarification. So when they are praying to a saint, they are not asking them to perform a miracle, but asking them to also pray to God on your behalf. –  a_hardin Aug 23 '11 at 19:58
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@a_hardin yes, that is it. You said it better than I did. –  eBeth Sep 9 '11 at 0:05
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Catholics teach that those that die are still part of our Catholic family (the communion of saints), which is why they talk to them. It is like asking someone in your church to pray for you. –  James Black Sep 11 '11 at 17:13
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What about if the gulf is smaller? For example, if I try to say something to one of my former classmates who is still alive and is somewhere in Europe at the moment - I don't know where exactly - so if I, while being in Asia, try to say something to him aloud right now (a case, in which he will most likely not hear me - despite the lesser gulf), would you qualify that as a prayer or as an ordinary talk? –  brilliant Feb 7 '12 at 7:44
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Any biblical basis for this? –  Dan the Man Aug 9 '13 at 23:11

First off, it's useful to understand that Catholics (and that's Roman or Eastern Catholic, and, for that matter Eastern Orthodox) do not pray to the saints, so much as ask the faithful departed to pray for them to God. (1)

The idea has it's roots in the "communion of saints", along the lines of Hebrew's 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

Following on from chapter 11, the cloud of witnesses referred to is the faithful who have already died in Christ (those of the Old Covenant looking forward to Christ and the cross, those of the New Covenant looking back).

Since those who have died in Christ are now alive in him, the Catholic understanding is that we can converse with them just as with any believer still alive in this realm. Since they are alive we can asked them to pray for us just as we would approach a fellow believer who is living in this realm to pray for us: "Bob, I am really struggling with X right now. Would you please pray for me to find victory in this area?"

Coupled with the idea that "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (James 5:16), it then seems to make sense to ask those who have been recognized by church authority as being righteous and exemplary to pray for you.

The logic is then that, if (a) you accept that asking another believer to pray for you is OK, and (b) you believe that those who have died with Christ are alive with him, then it follows that you can ask those who have died in Christ to pray for you.

(1) Note that it's not uncommon for individuals to actually, and wrongly, pray to the saint; but if you pay attention to the liturgy the words are of the form "St Peter, pray for us; St Paul, pray for us...".

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I think the Bible can answer this for us. I'm racking my brain for a verse, but here is John 14:6 to start:

6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Why pray to someone who is not empowered to save you? God is the one who created you, and His Son Jesus is the one who died on the cross to forever save your soul if you choose. His Holy Spirit is the part of God that remained behind to comfort you and guide you. Is there any reason to pray to anyone other than God, His Holy Trinity? He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Another useful verse that might lend some useful insight in regards to who to pray to is 1 Timothy 2:5-6:

5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

According to the Bible, Jesus is the sole mediator between God and men. No mention of saints, regardless of how righteous they may have been. According to the bible, only Jesus gave himself to save you from your sins. It seems only reasonable to direct your prayers to the one who gave himself to death for you personally. To direct your prayers to the one who sent his only son to die a brutal death for you personally.

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Catholics pray for the entire communion of saints to intercede on their behalf.

It's more than just the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church (what most people refer to as Roman Catholic) it's the entire Church in communion with the pope, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church who prays fervently to the saint.

According to Catholic doctrine Angels are also saints (St. Raphael, St. Michael) and anyone who believes in angels must believe they can intercede for them (what else would they do).

I don't know whether it is common for other Christian denominations to pray to their guardian angels, but the belief in their intercessory powers is certainly there, at least in popular culture and literature.

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I think the response to this must be that just because angels could intercede, that does not make praying to them appropriate or effective. –  Joel Coehoorn Feb 6 '13 at 2:40

There is both prescription and pattern to pray to God and God alone in the Scriptures:

Prescription

Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." Matthew 6:9 ESV

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:13-14 ESV

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. John 15:16 ESV

In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:23-24 ESV

Pattern

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you... John 17:1 ESV

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3 ESV

... and many other places.

So, if we are following the pattern and prescription of the Scriptures, we should pray to the Trinity. If we wish to pray to anyone else, we should find a pattern or prescription for that in the Scriptures.

Yet, if there is no pattern or prescription for praying to Mary or the saints in the entirety of Scripture, what would lead us to believe that we ought to do that?

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Does this even attempt to answer either of the questions asked? –  tomjedrz Dec 22 '11 at 14:58

As stated above by others no Catholic or Orthodox prays to a saint in the same way that he or she prays to the Blessed Trinity. In Latin for instance two entirely different words are used for the two actions. On Earth I would ask my brothers and sisters to pray for me in my hour of need. We simply believe that those in Heaven can still pray for us so we ask for their prayers. We understand that they have no power, they are just fellow Christian who have entered into glory. If we did pray to saints as we pray to God then we would not be Christians but polytheists. It is Christ and Christ alone in whom we place our trust.

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I didn't know that about the terms in Latin; could you expand this to explain the differences? –  Ryan Frame Jun 30 '13 at 4:09

Both the Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic Church do practice the invocation of the saints in heaven, that is, they pray to holy persons ( both to angels and to humans in heaven) who are made holy by God. According to these churches, when we pray to God, we ask him to give us something because God is able to do so but when we pray to a saint to give us something, then, this is impossible because only God answers prayers.This practice only denotes intercession which means that a person only prays to a saint in heaven to pray for him/her.Nothing more, nothing less.

The intercession of the saints in heaven is Biblical but the invocation of the saints in heaven is not biblical based on the facts written in the inspired scriptures:

Intercession of the saints in heaven- this denotes that alive people in Christ who are in heaven intercede through prayer for those living on earth. The Bible is explicit that intercession of the saints in heaven is a teaching of the earliest church, that is, the first century church:

Revelations 8:4: "And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel".

In fact, the Old Testament concurs:

If there shall be an angel speaking for him . . . He shall have mercy on him, and shall say: Deliver him, that he may not go down to corruption" (Job 33:23).

And the non-inspired Jewish literature also agrees:

When thou didst pray with tears… I (Archangel Raphael) offered thy prayer to the Lord. (Tobit 7:12)

The Bible and the Apocrypha both show that people in heaven already pray for people on earth without these people on earth asking for it.

Invocation of the saints in heaven- this denotes that people on earth can ask people in heaven for prayers.

Example:

Roman Catholics ask Mary with a prayer like this:

" Holy Mary, Mother of God; Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our dead.Amen"

But neither the Bible nor the Apocrypha shows that invocation of the saints is an accepted ancient doctrine of either Judaism or the 1st Century church but rather, both the Bible and the Apocrypha clearly shows that intercession of the saints is a reality.

Conclusion:

Christians must only pray to the Trinity because the Holy Scriptures only commands us to pray to God. The Scriptures never commanded us to pray to Christians in heaven to pray for us because they're already doing that without us asking them.

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How does this answer address the question of whether invocation of saints is "widely practised in any other denomination? If so, who do they pray to and why?" –  Andrew Leach May 12 at 11:09
    
While this is really good, I have to agree it's not really an answer to this specific question. I'm sure there's another question somewhere it would fit better! –  curiousdannii May 12 at 11:23
    
I edited it. :) –  Radz Matthew Co Brown May 12 at 11:31
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This seems within the spirit of my question, so I've edited my question to explicitly include information about why other denominations don't pray to the saints. –  8128 May 12 at 13:50

A general rule of thumb would be that those Christian bodies that claim apostolic succession (think Orthodox, Coptic, Jacobite, Ethiopian Orthodox, Roman Catholic) and can demonstrate that succession with a distinct lineage BY NAME from apostle to bishop to bishop (and so on) generally ask for the intercessions of those who are alive in Christ (He is the God of the living, not of the dead). Note that these Christian bodies are also the oldest in the world.

Those denominations that have a much shorter history (usually dating from the 16th century at the earliest) and can in general demonstrate no apostolic succession (and generally do not believe it to be important) tend to pray to God alone. Note that these denominations are the newest in the world.

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It's been logically untenable to maintain the doctrine and practice of apostolic succession as a safeguard from error since the great schism when it's two greatest proponents excommunicated each other as heretics. –  bruised reed May 15 at 3:48
    
I fail to see how it would be logically untenable. Suppose during the Civil War of the United States, both parties had called themselves the United States, claiming the practices of the other party were unconstitutional. We would not then automatically conclude that both parties were in error and that a legitimate United States did not exist. –  sambolic May 15 at 6:55
    
Your analogy is neither realistic (the South seceded to form a new entity, it didn't claim to be the United States) nor sufficiently developed - what would constitute heresy/orthodoxy and apostolic succession in your analogy? –  bruised reed May 22 at 12:01
    
I assure you I realize that the South didn't claim to be the United States. This is why my analogy began with the word "suppose". And it should be obvious what would constitute heresy (departure from the constitution) and apostolic succession (lineage of presidents, senators, and judges). –  sambolic May 26 at 19:55

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