This is one of the most common questions we get asked as Catholics. ‘Why do you pray to saints? Why not just pray to God or Jesus?’
I indirectly and partially answered this question in this post about St Michael and prayer. Feel free to check that out. But I’ll answer this question directly in this post.
The Communion of Saints
The saints are alive in Jesus Christ. They are not dead, as is often supposed. They live in Christ. It is true that they don’t yet have their resurrection bodies, but their spirits are in heaven with Jesus.
Hebrews 12 speaks of this when it says that we have come to Mount Zion, to the City of God, to Heaven, and ‘to the spirits of just people made perfect’. This speaks of how we have come to the saints and angels in heaven. We have approached them through faith in Christ.
Just read the text! It says it perfectly beautifully. We have already come to angels and saints in heaven. We can’t get away from them and relating to them, just as they can’t get away from us and relating to us. We are FAMILY.
This means we have a relationship with them through our relationship with Christ. A special relationship. As the Apostles Creed says: ‘I believe in the communion of saints.’
The ancient Christian belief in ‘the communion of saints’ means far more than just that Christians have fellowship with each other. There is nothing special about this. This is true of all religious people involved in any religion. Muslims are in fellowship with each other, for instance.
So why does the Apostles Creed say AS A SPECIFIC ARTICLE OF FAITH: ‘I believe in the communion of saints’?
Because it means that as Christians we have communion with the saints in heaven, with the Church in heaven. The Church on earth and the Church in heaven are in fellowship and in communion.
The saints in heaven care about us very, very much. They love us. Christ’s new commandment is: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ (John’s gospel). We are called to love other Christians sacrificially, laying down our lives for them as Christ did for us.
We on earth at best can only fulfil this command imperfectly, but the saints in heaven fulfil it perfectly. They love us as Christ loves us. They pray for us all the time. They do all they can to help us in this life.
So many proven miracles …
We also pray to saints because the plain and consistent experience of Catholics worldwide since very, very early in Christian history is that praying to saints produces miracles. That’s right. God has constantly performed miracles for people on earth because they have prayed to a saint or to saints.
There are so many testimonies of this, but it would suffice to mention all of the many, many countless testimonies and witnesses of the power of St Padre Pio. So many Catholics all over the world saw real ‘praise Jesus’ miracles through St Padre Pio’s prayers whilst he was alive. Now that he is with Christ, he does even MORE than he ever did whilst on earth, as he said he would.
St Padre Pio is ONLY a recognised saint because the Church rigorously examined the claims of just 2 miracles attributed to the Padre’s intercession after his death. 2 miracles are needed before someone can be recognised as a real Saint by the Church. The Church employs doctors and experts to examine such miracles before she is willing to concede that a miracle has taken place.
It may surprise you to hear this, but the Catholic Church doesn’t believe everything she sees is a miracle. She wants proofs, evidence, and she is careful to say that something is a miracle.
Goodness me, the Church opened up the tomb of St Bernadette whose body had died decades ago, and there was NO smell of decay at all. Even then, the Church still didn’t say this was a miracle, even though it baffled the doctors present. You can read about this here.
So when the Church says something is a miracle, she says it for extremely good reason: usually only because experts have examined the case and said that they cannot find a natural explanation for what’s happened.
And yet, there are SO MANY miracles that have happened through the prayers of saints that Catholics cannot help but believe that this is a time-honoured way to honour God: to pray to saints and receive their heavenly help.
The same thing could be said of the Catholic Mass. There are some well-documented and scientifically examined cases of the Catholic Eucharist actually physically changing into human blood and DNA. How is someone supposed to explain this away?
We ask the same thing that Jesus asked those who saw him: ‘If I do the works of God, why do you not believe me?’ Likewise: if we have all these examples of the works of God attributed to prayers to saints, who could be against this? It would be to oppose God.
Prayer is not necessarily Worship
The real objection to prayers to saints comes from really a rather simplistic way of looking at Christianity. In essence it’s as follows:
- Prayer and worship are the same thing
- God alone must be worshipped
- Therefore: only God should be prayed to.
But this is not true because prayer and worship are not the same thing.
Prayer is asking someone for things. It is pleading for someone’s help. Usually, Christians ask God for help, but we are encouraged in Scripture to also ask for the help of other Christians. St Paul is always asking other Christians to pray for him. In effect, Paul is praying to them, that they might pray for him.
Worship is far higher than simple prayer. Worship in Scripture is always of a sacrificial character. Go through the Old Testament, and you will discover that the form of Worship ALWAYS commanded by God is the blood sacrifice of animals.
In the New Testament, God no longer requires the sacrifice of animals, but he still requires blood sacrifice: that of Christ, the Son of God.
This is why the true worship of God is only through the blood of Christ, both his death on the cross and through the Holy Eucharist, the offering of his blood to God at Mass.
This kind of high worship is never, ever offered to a saint, or even to Mary or the highest Archangel in glory. Only God is worthy to receive the offering of the blood of Christ. Mass is never offered to a saint, but only to God.
So prayer and worship aren’t the same thing. A prayer could be a simple asking, a request, from a sense of need. Worship is MUCH more than merely this. It would be a mistake to confuse the two.
Once we realise this, it is only a small step to accepting that prayers to saints is an acceptable thing to do.
What does Scripture say?
One more objection might be, ‘But where does it say in Scripture that we can pray to saints?’
Well, we can reverse this: where in Scripture does it ever say that we can’t pray to saints in heaven? Nowhere. So we can’t say that this practice is sinful or wrong.
In fact, on the contrary, Scripture is FILLED with examples of people on earth communicating with
heavenly beings. Abraham talks to the three angels. Lot speaks to the angels who save him. John in Revelation speaks to an angel. Tobit goes on a journey with Raphael the angel. Zechariah, John the baptist’s father, sees and speaks to an angel in the temple of God.
Goodness me, an angel from heaven even came down to comfort the Son of God in the Garden of Gethsemane! How about that? Even Jesus Christ himself needed the help of an angel.
I mean, how can we get away from this? What does it matter whether someone speaks to an angel on earth or an angel in heaven, it’s all the same thing. It’s prayer, effectively.
And the Psalmist says: ‘Bless the Lord, you HIS ANGELS’ (Psalm 103:20). There’s a command that human beings can give to angels in heaven. Not merely a prayer: a COMMAND! Isn’t that something?
So Scripture may seem to say little on this subject, but if anything, Scripture gives a great deal of encouragement for us to seek the help of angels and saints, and to talk to them.
Recommended, but No Obligation
Indeed, Catholics DO NOT have to pray to saints if they don’t want to. There is no command for us to do this by the Church, so far as I am aware. But we are permitted to do it and even encouraged to do it. It is recommended but not obligated.
Catholics can, of course, simply just pray to God if they please. But because of the very strongly relational aspect of the holy Catholic faith, many of us find we truly connect with certain saints, and we simply want to call upon them and ask them for help in our lives. It’s a mystery really.
Why do I find myself constantly asking Mary and St Joseph to pray for me? Why don’t I simply ask Jesus or God all the time? I don’t know. I suppose because I WANT to ask Mary and St Joseph for their prayers, just like I WANT to pray to God. I can’t explain it really.
There are some things I would rather go to Mary about. There are other things I would rather go to St Joseph about. And still, there are other things I would rather go to another saint about. And still, there are other things I would rather simply appeal directly to Jesus or God for.
Anyway, the main reason for praying to the saints is because they really can help us. They really can. Their prayers before God carry tremendous power, especially the prayers of the Virgin Mary, who is the Queen of all saints. The prayers of St Joseph also are much to be coveted, since God always grants the requests of St Joseph, who is the Patron and Head of the entire Church on earth.
One of the reasons I wanted to convert to the Catholic Church was because I became very aware of how much I needed the help of the saints in my salvation and in conquering sin in my life. Life and sin were getting so hard, I needed help. And God has provided so much help for us through the saints.
If you have any questions on this topic, please get in touch or leave a comment below.