Why do Catholics
Pray to Mary
and the Saints?
Surrounded by a Cloud of Witnesses”
|“And therefore 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. Why?
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
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.
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?
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.
2 Timothy 2.4
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