64

I understand that the 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?

0

7 Answers 7

56

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.

11
  • 9
    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, 2011 at 19:58
  • 1
    @a_hardin yes, that is it. You said it better than I did.
    – eBeth
    Sep 9, 2011 at 0:05
  • 2
    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, 2012 at 7:44
  • 3
    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, 2013 at 20:28
  • 3
    Any biblical basis for this?
    – Daniel
    Aug 9, 2013 at 23:11
44

First, it's necessary to understand that Catholics (whether Roman or Eastern Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox) do not pray to the saints; rather, they ask the faithful departed to pray for them to God.(1)

The idea has its basis in the "communion of saints," which may be derived from Heb. 12:1 (as well as other scriptures):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us (NABRE)

Continuing from Heb. 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 fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful" (Jam. 5:16, NABRE), 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 okay, 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.


Footnotes

(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..."

2
  • Remarkable answer. :)
    – user900
    Sep 20, 2015 at 1:10
  • @h3br, Thanks, I appreciate that. I also appreciate your edits very much, however I would have preferred you leave the scripture quotes in the version I chose, not changing them to what is obviously your preferred version. But not a huge deal.
    – user32
    Sep 20, 2015 at 3:08
13

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.

7
  • 3
    I think the response to this must be that just because angels could intercede, that does not make praying to them appropriate or effective. Feb 6, 2013 at 2:40
  • 1
    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.
    – user32
    Sep 19, 2014 at 19:16
  • @LawrenceDol you ever read Tobit?
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 19, 2014 at 19:33
  • 1
    @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).
    – user32
    Sep 19, 2014 at 19:38
  • 1
    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.
    – user32
    Sep 20, 2014 at 1:29
6

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.

1
  • 5
    I didn't know that about the terms in Latin; could you expand this to explain the differences?
    – Ryan Frame
    Jun 30, 2013 at 4:09
2

Some Christians do not agree with the teaching of the Catholic Church on when the judgement occurs. Where Catholics believe that some who have died have already received final judgement, and been accepted into heaven, and thus are risen from the dead, and alive, some Christians believe that judgement has not occurred, and that departed persons have not yet been judged, and are not yet in heaven, and thus cannot hear or act on requests for intercession.

On the other hand, some Lutherans, and most Anglicans accept that at least some Christians who have died have already been judged worthy, are risen from the dead, and that the intercessions of these persons, may be asked by those living on earth. So one might ask the Mother of God, or St. Luke, or even Great Grandma Smith, to pray for us, and they will do so, just as one might ask the next door neighbor to pray for us in time of sickness.

0
1

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.

5
  • 1
    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. May 15, 2014 at 3:48
  • 1
    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, 2014 at 6:55
  • 1
    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? May 22, 2014 at 12:01
  • 1
    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, 2014 at 19:55
  • Again, this would not be realistic, the constitution only provides for one set of valid institutions and office holders and prescribes the method of succsession for the latter - there simply could not be dual legitimate claimants for the respective offices. Sep 20, 2015 at 6:40
1

Praying to people outside the Trinity?

For those who are Catholic, we do not equate praying to the ”saints” with the act of ”adoration” which is reserved to God alone in the persons of the Divine Trinity. Adoration is clearly different from the honour paid to angels and saints, since adoration is entirely reserved for the supreme honour due to God alone.

As asking for help from the saints, Catholics, the Orthodox, the Anglicans and some other Christian denominations all pray or rather petition the saints in heaven to help us, while still on earth 🌎. We call this the intercession of the saints!

Catholic do not pray to any saint in the same way that he or she prays to the Blessed Trinity!

Intercession and invocation

We shall here speak not only of intercession, but also of the invocation of the saints. The one indeed implies the other; we should not call upon the saints for aid unless they could help us. The foundation of both lies in the doctrine of the communion of saints. In the article on this subject it has been shown that the faithful in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory are one mystical body, with Christ for their head. All that is of interest to one part is of interest to the rest, and each helps the rest: we on earth by honouring and invoking the saints and praying for the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven by interceding for us. The Catholic doctrine of intercession and invocation is set forth by the Council of Trent, which teaches that

the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their own prayers to God for men. It is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, and help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Who alone is our Redeemer and Saviour. Those persons think impiously who deny that the Saints, who enjoy eternal happiness in heaven, are to be invoked; or who assert either that they do not pray for men, or that the invocation of them to pray for each of us is idolatry, or that it is repugnant to the word of God, and is opposed to the honour of the one Mediator of God and men, Jesus Christ (Sess. XXV).

This had already been explained by St. Thomas:

Prayer is offered to a person in two ways: one as though to be granted by himself, another as to be obtained through him. In the first way we pray to God alone, because all our prayers ought to be directed to obtaining grace and glory which God alone gives, according to those words of the Psalm (lxxxiii, 12): 'The Lord will give grace and glory.' But in the second way we pray to the holy angels and to men not that God may learn our petition through them, but that by their prayers and merits our prayers may be efficacious. Wherefore it is said in the Apocalypse (viii, 4): 'And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel' (Summ. Theol., II-II, Q. lxxxiii, a. 4).

The reasonableness of the Catholic teaching and practice cannot be better stated than in St. Jerome's words:

If the Apostles and Martyrs, while still in the body, can pray for others, at a time when they must still be anxious for themselves, how much more after their crowns, victories, and triumphs are won! One man, Moses, obtains from God pardon for six hundred thousand men in arms; and Stephen, the imitator of the Lord, and the first martyr in Christ, begs forgiveness for his persecutors; and shall their power be less after having begun to be with Christ? The Apostle Paul declares that two hundred three score and sixteen souls, sailing with him, were freely given him; and, after he is dissolved and has begun to be with Christ, shall he close his lips, and not be able to utter a word in behalf of those who throughout the whole world believed at his preaching of the Gospel? And shall the living dog Vigilantius be better than that dead lion? ("Contra Vigilant.", n. 6, in P.L., XXIII, 344).

The chief objections raised against the intercession and invocation of the saints are that these doctrines are opposed to the faith and trust which we should have in God alone; that they are a denial of the all-sufficient merits of Christ; and that they cannot be proved from Scripture and the Fathers. Thus Article 22 of the Anglican Church says: "The Romish doctrine concerning the Invocation of Saints is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God."

(1) In the article Adoration it has been clearly shown that the honour paid to angels and saints is entirely different from the supreme honour due to God alone, and is indeed paid to them only as His servants and friends.

(2) The doctrine of one Mediator, Christ, in no way excludes the invocation and intercession of saints. All merit indeed comes through Him; but this does not make it unlawful to ask our fellow-creatures, whether here on earth or already in heaven, to help us by their prayers.

(3) As regards the proof from Holy Scripture and the Fathers, we can show that the principle and the practice of invoking the aid of our fellow-creatures are clearly laid down in both. That the angels have an interest in the welfare of men is clear from Christ's words: "There shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance" (Luke 15:10).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .