Praying to Saints was one of the very few things about Catholicism that never really bothered me, even at my most fiercely Protestant.
The idea that Catholics worship the Saints by praying to them just didn’t wash.
The first thing to clear up is that praying to saints is definitely not worship. These days of course, praying is often equated with worshipping or adoring. We hear “Catholics pray to saints” and we think “Catholics worship saints”. But that’s not the case. To pray is simply to beg, to beseech, or to ask very, very politely. This is broader use of the word has fallen out of use. (A shame I think. It takes away the deliciously Jane-Austeny way of saying, “Pray be seated, Miss Bennet. Or the equally condescending, “I prithee, unhand me ye vile, vicious villain!” or whatever Shakespearean heroes say. (NB: Prithee is a contraction of “pray thee”.))
But even when I knew praying to Saints wasn’t worship, it still seemed wrong. It seemed at best, unnecessary and at worst, dishonouring to God.
I mean, why would you pray to Saints when you could be using that time to pray to God? Why wouldn’t you just approach God himself – when we know that we can approach Him with confidence? (Heb 4:16) Why would you be inserting another “mediator” between you and Jesus – when we know there is only one mediator, Jesus Christ? (1 Tim 2:5)
I remember asking my grandma, soon after I became Protestant, why Catholics soon after I became a Protestant. Her answer?
“Oh, you Protestants like to do things so straightforwardly and so “ha! look at me!” but we Catholics always go round the back door, just in case. We like to be sneaky.”
Truly, I wish I was making that up. And while I love my grandma to bits, it turns that out presenting a robust case for the Catholic practice of praying to saints is not one of her strengths.
What Catholics are doing when we pray to saints is actually asking the Saints in Heaven to pray for us. And it’s no different them asking any saint on Earth to pray for us.
We’re always praying for each other and asking others to pray for us. When I ask a friend to pray for me, we’re not trying to avoid Jesus or sneaking around the back.
And we’d be rightly annoyed if anyone said that praying for each other was somehow dishonouring Christ. It’s because “there is one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5) that St Paul urges us “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” (1 Timothy 2:1)
Instead, what we’re doing is joining together as the Body of Christ and participating in the work of the Head, this ministry of mediatorship from Christ, just as we are commanded.
Well, the logic of Earth is same as Heaven and our brothers and sisters are as alive as we are.
“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Rom 6:8)
Why? Because our Head has defeated death, our Lord has risen from the Dead. He announces to St John,
“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18)
So… if we can ask our Christian brothers and sisters alive on Earth can pray for us then maybe, just maybe, we can our Christian brothers and sisters alive in Heaven to pray for us.
“If my brother leaves me to cross the seas I believe that he continues to pray for me. And when he crosses the narrow sea of death and lands on the shores of eternity, why should he not pray for me still? What does death destroy?”
(James Gibbons, Faith of our Fathers, 1917. Kindle Edition, location 2352-2354)
What does death destroy? If we truly confess that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead, then nothing. Nothing of consequence.
Christ truly does give life and when we die, He takes us to Himself. The Saints are alive. They are with Christ.
And they are praying.
This is the communion of Saints that the Nicene Creed talks about. A communion that stretches from Heaven to Earth and Back Again, that encompasses all those who are living on Earth in Christ alive with Christ in Heaven. Being able to pray to our brothers and sisters in Heaven, and receiving their prayers, is one small benefit from the death of Death. It’s like one small, unwitting bequest from The Last Will and Testament of Death itself.
For those in Christ, Death is dead. We are alive all in Him. We are in communion with each other.
And it’s only possible because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life who, in dying, has defeated Death.