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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. –  user23 Aug 23 '11 at 19:32
@JustinY That is because Latin American Christians are mostly Catholic. –  Muhd Nov 1 '11 at 19:47

7 Answers 7

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
@a_hardin yes, that is it. You said it better than I did. –  eBeth Sep 9 '11 at 0:05
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
Um, what about this: "Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a nun whose order prayed to the pope after he died, said she was cured of the disease, an ailment that also afflicted John Paul II." She prayed to him, and she believes that he responded and performed a miracle for her. The Catholic Church has recognized it and has beatified him for it, and if he is made a saint, it will be one of the official reasons. –  Seth J Jul 3 '13 at 20:28
Any biblical basis for this? –  Daniel Pendergast 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, rather, they 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) 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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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
As well, there is absolutely zero indication in scripture that angels ever intercede on behalf of humans; they are consistently portrayed as messengers (the literal translation of the word) and their job appears to be to deliver messages, labor in the heavenly realm on our behalf, especially contending with evil principalities and powers, and to minister to our needs. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 19 '14 at 19:16
@LawrenceDol you ever read Tobit? –  Peter Turner Sep 19 '14 at 19:33
@Peter: Tobit is not recognized as canonical by protestant churches, so it will hold no weight outside of Catholic people (and maybe Orthodox? I don't know if their canon includes the apocryphal books). –  Lawrence Dol Sep 19 '14 at 19:38
I mean, by way of example, the battle against the Prince of Persia that delayed Michael in coming to Daniel in Dan 6 (IIRC); and specifically not interceding to God on our behalf, which prerogative scripture seems to reserve for the Son and the Holy Spirit. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 20 '14 at 1:29

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.


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 death. 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.


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 '14 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 '14 at 11:23
I edited it. :) –  Radz Matthew Co Brown May 12 '14 at 11:31
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 '14 at 13:50
Even if I accept the your conclusion that the Bible never addresses prayer to Saints, it still doesn't follow that prayer to Saints is wrong (unless Scripture specifically condemns it, which it doesn't). Now, it does seem you are implicitly assuming that "that religious thing which is condoned not in the Bible is not acceptable," a premise accepted only by sola-Scriptura Protestants. If this principle is accepted, it does follow that prayer to Saints is unacceptable. However, Apostolic Christians reject it. In short, this debate seems to be ultimately concerning Sola Scriptura, IMHO. –  Lucretius 13 hours ago

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 '14 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 '14 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 '14 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 '14 at 19:55

I'm tempted to say non-Protestants pray to Saints, but that might be confusing, and misleading. Instead I'll make a short list: Catholic Churches, Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, Coptic and Ethiopian Churches, "Churches of the East," Polish Catholic Church, and Old Catholic Church, as well as parts of the Anglican communion and some Lutheran denominations. There may be more, but I can't think of them right now.

Here are my past thoughts on this Saint intercession (as a Catholic):

We Catholics see the Church as a body in a very real sense: living things are wholes which have interdependent parts (you can't separate my heart nor brain from the rest of me without destroying me). The parts work intristically together. The principle that causes these parts to become one is called the soul, or spirit. The Holy Spirit is the principle who causes the Church to be one. The Spirit comes from Christ's intercession, which he then gives to us as he becomes one with the Church. Just as the Church is truly then one whole, with Christ as the head, whose parts work together for and with all the other parts, the Saints in Heaven are a part of the Church which helps the part of the Church on earth by interceding for us more Grace.

The Saints and baptized, by virtue of their rebirth ("born again in the water and the Spirit"), have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them ("we are temples of the Holy Spirit"). Grace to a Catholic is ultimately the Holy Spirit becoming "one" with us. Grace is therefore a share in the life of the Holy Spirit, and thus the very life of the Trinity itself ("the Lord and giver of life"). We live eternally because we live in the Holy Spirit. Original sin is essentially a lack of the Holy Spirit in a soul, which is why those who have Original sin can't get to Heaven, as the eternal Water who flows up to eternal life doesn't live within them. In other words, the Son took on human nature so that the Divine nature can "transfer" the Holy Spirit and Grace back those with human nature after the original sin. St. Athanasius says that "God became Man so that men could become gods." We become by Grace and the Spirit what God is by Nature.

The difference is that of an instrument and a member of a body. In the old Testament, the Patriarchs were instruments of God. Joshua was His sword, Moses His measure, and Isaiah His trumpet. In the New Testament, we are no longer just instruments of God's will, we are actual members of His body. St. Paul is His writing hand, St. Augustine His brain cell, and St. George His strong arm. For us to be His Body again, he took on a human one for himself.

In the West, we call this infusion of the Spirit/ infused Grace divinization. In the East, this is called theosis. So all the baptized, having the same Spirit within them, are one body, and as one completes all purgation of the connection with sin, and thus coming in perfect union with the Spirit, which finishes in the fire of purgatory after death (St. Catherine of Genoa says that purgatory is the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit within cleansing us: in a sense we are already in purgatory), the Saint realizes the full communion with all the other Baptized, as we all have the same Spirit within us. And the Saint prays to God out of Love for us, interceding for us. Since the Saint is a part of Christ's Body, the intercession is still through Christ. Thus, we pray to the Saint.

Because God now works within us instead of just through us, when we know through faith, we know with Divine Knowledge, and when we love with the supernatural virtue of Charity, we love with the Divine Love. Charity is the overflowing love of God via the Holy Spirit flowing from us to our neighbor.

The ancient Jews thought that by worshiping false gods, the gods came to possess their souls: God prepared the Torah and the Israelites by cleaning them of false gods, so that they might then become temples, clean from the filth of demons, for the Holy Spirit. We sin, and we allow the spirits of lust and the like to defile us, which exiles the Holy Spirit, since God will not dwell in such a divide and disgusting place. Sin (specifically mortal sin) is then literally the casting out the Holy Spirit from our souls, as if He were a demon

You might say the pure, satisfying Water of the Spirit (see the discourse of Women at the well in the Gospel of John) flows ultimately from the spring of the Father through the river of the Son, also can follow through the ocean of the Saints before he reaches us (this analogy is from St. John of Damascus). Water from the Spring doesn't come to the ocean unless it comes through the river though, and so the Spirit doesn't come from the Father except by the intercession of the Son (see the Gospel of John and Romans). However, the Saints receive in Heaven an overflow of Grace through Christ, which they can also give to us. So, when we are asking for the Saint's help, the Grace/Holy Spirit, which came from the intercession of the Son, flows to the Saint, and the Saint, overflowing with the eternal life (again, Woman at the Well), intercedes for us, and the Holy Spirit flows from the Saint to us as intercession. The Grace COMES from the intercession of the Son with the Father ultimately though.

By the Saint interceding for us, God sends his Grace through the Saint to us. Mary does this par excellence, as she is perfect, with the Spirit perfectly in her.

Source: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=955078&highlight=Intercession

I think that the reason Protestants don't understand the Saint Intercession of the Apostolic Churches is in part because they reject infused Grace for imputed Grace.

Another reason, which I increasingly think is the main reason (IMHO), is that Protestants see prayer as worship per se. It is not. Prayer can be worship, but it can also not be. Liturgy/ Mass is worship in itself, though, and the basis for all worship. Because Protestants reject the Sacraments, and thus the Liturgy, they don't understand what real worship is anymore, nor prayer, or at least worship and prayer as an Apostolic Christian understands it.

Christi pax.

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The question is "Is praying 'to' individuals other than God widely practiced in any other denomination? If so, who do they pray to and why?" This doesn't seem to answer that. Answers must answer the question from the frame of the question. This may be deleted. It's not personal or censorship; it's just an effort to keep things organized and quality high. Ref: What should we do about matching the viewpoints of askers and answerers? –  fredsbend 12 hours ago
What you've written is good info. There might be another Catholic scoped question (e.g. why do Catholics pray to saints?) where this would fit perfectly. –  fredsbend 12 hours ago
@fredsbend: I think my answer answers the "why" part of the question. I'll add in those Churches that pray to Saints. –  Lucretius 11 hours ago
Currently, this is only about Catholics and their motivations. Doesn't answer the question at all since it doesn't address why other denominations do it. You could argue they have the same reasons, but it doesn't really count unless you can demonstrate that. –  Mr. Beatitude 11 hours ago
@Mr. Beatitude: I used Eastern sources here, so I know that the Orthodox believe this, as the Catholics do. My run ins with a Coptic Christian also lead me to think they have similar reasons, although I'm willing to be corrected here. The other groups I'm not familiar enough to say for certain. Most of the Churches I mentioned probably do it at least because it has always been there in their tradition. –  Lucretius 11 hours ago

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