Why do Catholics Pray to Mary
and the Saints?
"We are Surrounded by a Cloud
we also have so great a cloud of witnesses over our head
, "laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us,
let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us."
are often asked why they pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or to the
Saints. In a way, it is difficult to understand this question because
it often comes from people who claim to have read Sacred Scripture,
and who hold themselves to be quite familiar with it. Most often it
is asked in sincerity and charity, but often enough in disdain. Such
a practice — that is to say, intercessory prayer (from the Latin,
"intercessionem" or a "going between") —is often regarded
as something verging upon, if not tantamount to, superstition at best
or sheer ignorance at worst. It is regarded as a vestige of medieval
spirituality fostered by the Church at a time when literacy was not
wide-spread — a superstition that would be quickly dispelled once the
Latin Vulgate was translated into the vernacular and such a practice
would quickly be revealed as uncorroborated by the Bible.
The first happened, but the second did not.
It is, to Catholics, a thoroughly perplexing
question because the answer lies precisely in Sacred Scripture; an answer,
moreover, that accords with both reason and common sense.
Let us answer it, then, not simply as we
understand it, but as the earliest Christians understood it, as the
Apostles themselves understood it. St. Paul tells us the following:
helping withal in prayer for us: that for this gift obtained
for us, by the means of many persons, thanks may be given
by many in our behalf.” (2
St. James, likewise exhorts us to,
|"... pray one for
another, that you may be saved."
(St. James 5.16)
We see clearly the exhortation of two of the
Apostles to pray for one another.
Despite this, the question persists: "Why should
we pray for each other if it is sufficient to pray directly to God?"
Should we be praying directly to God? Of course.
But we also see that we can assist another
by petitioning God on their behalf. This is part of what Catholics understand
in the beautiful doctrine of the Communion of the Saints, or
the unity of all God’s children — both those alive, and those who have
died — who form the One Body of Christ, which is His Holy Catholic Church:
both those living and those who have died. Christ was very clear
about this when He told the Sadducees,
the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which
was spoken by God, saying to you: I am the God of Abraham,
and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the
God of the dead, but of the living.”
(St. Matthew 22.31-32)
Christ is telling the Sadducees that Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob are not dead, after all — but alive!
In the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we find that Lazarus is
alive in Heaven, and the rich man in Hell (St. Luke 16.19-31), and even
though in Hell, the rich man implores Abraham to send Lazarus to his
brothers. To what end would he seek this if there is no communion between
the living and those who have died and are in Heaven — in this case,
We see, then, that the living have a vital connection to those who died
before them. Unlike the case with the rich man, forever condemned to
Hell, how much more so can those who are still living by the grace of
God petition those in Heaven to help them in their needs?
To understand this more clearly, we need a deeper understanding of
The Communion of the Saints. It is the living relationship
between the Church Militant on Earth (those now living
on Earth fighting as good soldiers of Christ 1), the
Church Suffering (the souls in Purgatory, or those assured of
Heaven but not yet prepared to enter it), and the Church
Triumphant (those already in Heaven). These are not three Churches,
but one Church, and each person, either in Heaven, on Earth, or in Purgatory,
can assist, pray for, the other. Those in Heaven, of course, do not
need our prayers, but they can — and do — pray, petition,
for us. And those in Purgatory can be prayed for by the living (as well
as those in Heaven), and they in turn can pray for us (the living,
or the Church Militant on Earth). We are always and forever one and
inseparable in Christ Jesus.
Consider this: when we die and (hopefully)
go to Heaven, do we become different people from the people that we
are now? Do we cease loving those whom we now love? Do we forget those
for whom we now care? If we did, then we would be different persons
from the persons that we are on Earth. We would be, in a word, less
than human, for it is part of our human nature to ever love whom we
love and to be mindful of those we love. It is indefeasible to love
and therefore indefeasible to man. If we are becoming perfect through
Purgatory, or are already perfected in our humanity in Heaven — how
could we be less human than we are now? Would we consider a person
perfected or perfect — who no longer loves whom they loved
on Earth, and who is no longer mindful of them nor cares any longer
for them? We would say of such that they did not love us after all,
for when apart from us they completely forget us. We are created in
the imago Dei, in the image of God — Who Is Love — in
Heaven, then, will we be less like God or more like God
— Who Is Love? Will we love more perfectly, or less perfectly?
If imperfect, selfish and sinful people on
Earth can love others and be mindful of them, ever solicitous of them,
never forgetting them, and always striving to do good for them —
how much more so when we are perfect in Heaven?
In the end, you really know nothing of love
until you really know something of the Communion of the Saints. Some
of them have gone before you, and some remain with you, but all
of them never cease loving you.
1 2 Timothy 2.4
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