Many people believe that it is wrong to “pray” to saints and suggest that prayer should be offered to God alone. While Catholics agree that worship is due to God alone, it is not correct to suggest that we cannot pray to our fellow believers who have gone to heaven before us. The difference in opinion hinges on the definition and usage of the word “pray”. Let’s examine the meaning of this word to resolve this dispute.
Two Meanings, One Word
When we speaking of prayer to God and when we say we’re praying to a saint, we’re talking about two very different types of prayer. However, we use the same word for both in English.
Prayer to God includes worship which is never given to saints while prayer to the saints can include honor that is their due but never worship. Part of our difficulty in understanding one another when speaking of prayer is simply due to semantics.
According to a dictionary definition of “prayer”, the word can mean worship of God, but it also means petition or intercession given to a man. This latter definition is what Catholics mean when they speaking of praying to a saint.
In former times, speakers of Old English would often use phrases such as “Pray tell” or “I pray thee” in everyday speech when speaking to one another. An example of this is found in the King James Version of the Bible which was written in Old English. In 1 Kings 20, we read the following exchange between King Solomon and his mother, Bathsheba:
Then she said, “I desire one small petition of thee; I pray thee, say me not nay.” And the king said unto her, “Ask on, my mother: for I will not say thee nay.”
While this language may sound strange to our modern ears, we can see from this example that one person, speaking to another person, uses the word “pray” in a manner which obviously does not mean communication with God alone.
Another charge leveled against Catholic prayers to saints concerns the prohibition against necromancy which is found in Deuteronomy 18:10-11. However, reading the verse in context, it is clear that God is prohibiting the practice of communicating with the dead through mediums or conjuring up the dead as Saul did through the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28.
On the other hand, the Bible does not condemn all communication with the dead. This becomes obvious when we consider that Jesus Himself spoke with the “dead” at the Transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17 where we read:
“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” (Matthew 17:1-3)
Additionally, when David asked the angels of heaven to bless the Lord, this also was not offensive to God (Ps.103:20–21). Likewise, when a Catholic asks St. Peter to pray for him, he is not conjuring up a spirit from Hades in order to acquire secret knowledge. After all, those in heaven are “like the angels,” and are more alive than we are, since the Lord is “not God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:36–38). So, if it does not offend God when a Catholic says “St. Peter, pray for me,” we should all rejoice that God has given us the gift of Peter’s prayers.
Can they hear us?
Another charge made is that the saints in heaven cannot even hear our prayers, making it useless to ask for their intercession. However, this is not true. As Scripture indicates, those in heaven are aware of the prayers of those on earth. This can be seen, for example, in Revelation 5:8, where John depicts the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God under the form of “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” But if the saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God, then they must be aware of our prayers. They are aware of our petitions and present them to God by interceding for us.
Some might try to argue that in this passage the prayers being offered were not addressed to the saints in heaven, but directly to God. Yet this argument would only strengthen the fact that those in heaven can hear our prayers, for then the saints would be aware of our prayers even when they are not directed to them!
In any event, it is clear from Revelation 5:8 that the saints in heaven do actively intercede for us. We are explicitly told by John that the incense they offer to God are the prayers of the saints. Prayers are not physical things and cannot be physically offered to God. Thus the saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God mentally. In other words, they are interceding.
Hope this helps. :tiphat: