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.
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 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 Corinthians 1.11)
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.
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.
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 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)
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.
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
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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yet you have kept My word, and have not denied My Name.”
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