What's the official position of the Catholic Church on praying to the Saints?

Hi everybody.

In every article (written by Catholics or Orthodox) that I read on praying to the Saints, in response to Protestant polemic, it is almost always inferred, suggested, that Catholics or Orthodox simply pray to the Saints in the sense of addressing them and asking for their prayers to God/Christ. But I who grew up in a Catholic milieu, in a country of Catholic history/culture, know that this isn’t really the case. The common, simple people, will ask for the intercession of the Virgin and the Saints in some instances, for instance when they say the Hail Mary, the rosary, which asks for Her intercession (…pray for us poor sinners now and at the hour of our death, amen), or when they will read a prayer on a paper or behind the image of X Saint or Angel asking for intercession, but otherwise in private generally they will ask things from the Virgin or the Saints directly. I lost something in the house, St Anthony of Padua find it for me, I want that such thing happen St … make it happen, you know what I’m saying. They request things from the Saints as they would request things from God, except they view God as God, St Mary as St Mary, and the Saints as the Saints. They understand that there’s a hierarchy of dignity.

So what does the Catholic Church say? Should Catholics in principle only ask for the “intercession” of Virgin Mary and the Saints, or Is it correct to both ask for their intercession and ask them things directly? And if the Catholic position is that both are correct, Isnt it a bit dishonest presenting to Protestant readers only one side of things? I know maybe this thread will make many uncomfortable, and please forgive me, but I need to ask this.

God bless.

Many Catholic apologists do downplay the ability of Mary and the Saints to act for God directly when we ask for their heavenly aid. They can only do so through the power of the Holy Spirit, but then, in that they are really no different from us on earth for our prayers and ability to affect spiritual change can only happen through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Our Lord himself laid aside his heavenly powers and relied on the Holy Spirit to do his miracles. This is why he could say to the Apostles: “Greater things that these shall you do…” They would take up the authority and duty to stand in Christ’s place in the world. The only way they could do that was by the power of the Holy Spirit which Christ conferred upon them both in the Upper Room after his resurrection and at Pentecost.

I think a lot of people in the USA shy away from emphasizing this when discussing the Communion of Saints with our Protestant brethren who don’t believe in the CoS or in intercessory prayer–to help them get past the hurdle that merely praying to a saint is the same thing as worshipping a saint–which is how they see it. I really can’t fault those Catholics who wish to carefully guide non-Catholics from one misconception without leading them into another. Those Protestants who have strong feelings against praying to Mary and the Saints have a hard enough time grasping the difference between veneration and worship as it is. To them asking Mary and the Saints to actually do things smacks of worship because they only ask God directly do things for them. They need to be introduced to this deeper teaching later, but I agree that Catholic apologists ought not to give Protestants the idea that Mary and the Saints cannot do things for us. But it can be hard to get Protestants to understand that they cannot do things for us in and of themselves without the power of the Holy Spirit or against God’s will. I know, I’ve tried. It’s like telling them that black is white. They need time to absorb something that’s anathema to them–that they have rejected all their lives.

What’s the official position of the Catholic Church on praying to the Saints?

There is no “official” position. You can stand, sit, or kneel…Its kinda like the EF versus the OF, or Communion by mouth or by hand…all are acceptable…but there will be lots of arguments about it! :smiley:

My wife thinks that St. Anthony ought to be my patron Saint. It’s amazing how many times I have quickly found something (for which I had already diligently searched) after asking for his aid. My wife has not had the same experience (even though I think that if only one of us goes to heaven, it will be her, no question). Maybe St. Anthony takes pity on me.

But I never pray, “find it for me.” I pray, “help me find it.”

It would be easy for a poorly Catechized Catholic to imagine St. Anthony himself somehow nudging me along in the right direction. But you and I know that’s not how it works. The “help” we seek is in the form of his prayers on our behalf.

And, since we know that the prayers of a righteous person are very effective (James 5:16), that’s some pretty effective help.

Here’s a very good answer:

catholic.com/tracts/praying-to-the-saints

Ed

Look, there are plenty of people who pray carefully when they pray to God, adding all the caveats like “if it be Thy will,” or “if it will be good for me.” That’s how their mind works; that’s how they show their love and devotion.

Then there are other people who just pray, because they assume that God will only grant the prayer if it be His will, and if it will be good for them. And again, that’s how they show their love and devotion.

So basically, you can do the same things when you’re talking to a saint. You can be very careful and precise, and talk about how you’re asking your brother or sister in Christ to pray for you to the Lord our God, and you’re able to do that because we are both in Christ’s Body, and the Beatific Vision, and the Communion of Saints, blah blah, and go through the whole theological thing. You can quote every Gospel verse and every relevant OT and NT Bible passage.

Or you can just say, “Help!” You know what you mean, the saint knows what you mean, the entire conversation is going through Jesus Christ anyway and He certainly knows what you mean, and the Father and the Holy Ghost are also right there and They know what you mean. We’re not going around anybody’s back; we’re just being personal and intimate. You don’t even have to know all the theology. You’re talking to your saintly family up in heaven.

It’s not a big deal for someone who’s been Catholic long enough to know the Communion of Saints in his bones. It is a big deal for somebody who isn’t used to it. It’s worth a little elaboration of what’s going on.

I don’t want to scandalize somebody into thinking I’m casting spells or worshipping demons when I’m just talking to my old buddy and sister in heaven, St. Therese. If people were afraid of cellphones, I’d be willing to explain them too, even though mostly I just hit the right buttons for a phone call and don’t think about it.

Heck, if somebody hadn’t been speaking English very long, you would probably have to elaborate on the word “Help!” and explain that there’s an implied “(You) help (me)!” in it. Nobody who’s a normal native speaker would ever think or talk about those implied words, but an English language teacher does have to think and talk about them.

That said…

It isn’t true that the saints only help us with prayers on our behalf, any more than our guardian angels only help us with their prayers. If the Lord commands a saint or angel to act in the world, and if the Lord empowers a saint or angel to do so, that saint or angel will act on our behalf. Generally one would expect miraculous actions or miraculous healings to come because the saint or angel interceded for us, and because the Lord then chose to act through them for His own purpose and as a loving task for the saint to enjoy. But the Church has never said that those in Heaven cannot act on Earth.

For example, Marian apparitions. Obviously Mary never stops interceding for us, but that doesn’t mean she can’t talk, ask for things, do stuff, and otherwise pass along God’s will.

Of course, since saints are part of Christ’s Body and are basically living in Heaven in unceasing prayer and praise, there’s probably no real line between prayer and active response to God’s will. They’re always doing what He asks them to do.

The Catholic position is just like the Oriental Orthodox position. Intercession of saints are real, it is a good and efficacious practice of Apostolic teaching, and it would be improper and possibly heretical to reject it.

Here’s some official teaching on this:

[quote=Council of Trent]The holy council commands all bishops and others who hold the office of teaching and have charge of the care of souls, that in accordance with the usage of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, received from the primitive times of the Christian religion, and with the unanimous teaching of the holy Fathers and the decrees of sacred councils, they above all instruct the faithful diligently in matters relating to intercession and invocation of the saints, the veneration of relics, and the legitimate use of images, teaching them that the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their prayers to God for men, that it is good and beneficial suppliantly to invoke them and to have recourse to their prayers, assistance and support in order to obtain favors from God through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who alone is our redeemer and savior;[5] and that they think impiously who deny that the saints who enjoy eternal happiness in heaven are to be invoked, or who assert that they do not pray for men, or that our invocation of them to pray for each of us individually is idolatry, or that it is opposed to the word of God and inconsistent with the honor of the one mediator of God and men, Jesus Christ,[6] or that it is foolish to pray vocally or mentally to those who reign in heaven.
[/quote]

ewtn.com/library/councils/trent25.htm

[quote=Second Vatican Council]49. Until the Lord shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him (266) and death being destroyed, all things are subject to Him,(277) some of His disciples are exiles on earth, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding “clearly God Himself triune and one, as He is”;(1*) but all in various ways and degrees are in communion in the same charity of God and neighbor and all sing the same hymn of glory to our God. For all who are in Christ, having His Spirit, form one Church and cleave together in Him.(268) Therefore the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who have gone to sleep in the peace of Christ is not in the least weakened or interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the perpetual faith of the Church, is strengthened by communication of spiritual goods.(2*) For by reason of the fact that those in heaven are more closely united with Christ, they establish the whole Church more firmly in holiness, lend nobility to the worship which the Church offers to God here on earth and in many ways contribute to its greater edification.(269)(3*) For after they have been received into their heavenly home and are present to the Lord,(270) through Him and with Him and in Him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us,(4*) showing forth the merits which they won on earth through the one Mediator between God and man,(271) serving God in all things and filling up in their flesh those things which are lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His Body which is the Church.(272)(5*) Thus by their brotherly interest our weakness is greatly strengthened.
[/quote]

vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

Also, after quoting the passage from the Second Vatican Council above, the Catechism quotes St. Dominic and St. Therese of Lisieux:

[quote=CCC, quoting St. Dominic and St. Therese, respectively]956…Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.496

I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.497
[/quote]

I think it can be an and/both situation. I wouldn’t rule out the Saint acting directly on behalf of God. For example, in Scripture, the angels do this quite often and Jesus says we will be like the angels in Heaven (Matt. 22:30). For an example of a Saint doing so in Scripture, Jeremiah is said to both be praying for the people and he gives Judas Maccabeus a sword directly as a gift from God to help him in his battle. (2. Macc. 15:14-16).

Lets say there is a business somewhere that you would love to be employed by. You know someone (a good friend) who works there. He’s not a manager, but a lowly peon. You ask him, “Hey Bob, can you get me in?” Bob says, “Sure” Bob goes to his manager and hands him your resume and puts a good word in for you. Pretty soon, you get a call from personnel for an interview.

Now you know perfectly well that Bob did not hire you. You know Bob has no authority. You know that Bob was only interceding for you. You know that there is the possibility that the manager will look at your resume and toss it in the trash, or not look at it at all. But your request “Hey Bob, can you get me in?” sounds to an uninformed person that Bob has the power to hire you. But we all know the real score.

The saints in heaven hand our resume to God. God looks it over. Then we get a call from personnel, or not. It doesn’t matter how you phrase your petition. God answers or not, as His will dictates.

THIS. Makes so much sense. Thank you!

Glad I could be of assistance! :tiphat:

First…you do not know what is in their hearts…and one, it is an issue of lingo or the usage of language.

My grandmother always told us, if we need something, to pray to the BVM for she is miraculous. On first glance, you may think hearing her the first time, you would think Mary is the one causing the miracle. But what she meant was…to pray for intercession from the BVM because she is a saint and close to Jesus…it did not mean she cause the miracle.

So when you hear ordinary catholics or orthodox say this…or when they will read a prayer on a paper or behind the image of X Saint or Angel asking for intercession, but otherwise in private generally they will ask things from the Virgin or the Saints directly. I lost something in the house, St Anthony of Padua find it for me, I want that such thing happen St … make it happen, you know what I’m saying…it does not mean the saint is the one causing the miracle or what was prayed for…but it is through the intercession of saints. Look at the inner heart, not what is plainly said, where you could misunderstand what is being stated.

Thanks all. Trying to make sense of all that has been said, asking the intercession of a Saint for something or asking to the Saint directly that something are both legitimate since both require the ok of God and the blessing is flowing ultimately from God, the Saint having no independence from God. They are two equal ways of addressing the Saints to get grace from God ‘through’ them.

Did I get it right?

First…you do not know what is in their hearts…and one, it is an issue of lingo or the usage of language.

My grandmother always told us, if we need something, to pray to the BVM for she is miraculous. On first glance, you may think hearing her the first time, you would think Mary is the one causing the miracle. But what she meant was…to pray for intercession from the BVM because she is a saint and close to Jesus…it did not mean she cause the miracle.

So when you hear ordinary catholics or orthodox say this…or when they will read a prayer on a paper or behind the image of X Saint or Angel asking for intercession, but otherwise in private generally they will ask things from the Virgin or the Saints directly. I lost something in the house, St Anthony of Padua find it for me, I want that such thing happen St … make it happen, you know what I’m saying…it does not mean the saint is the one causing the miracle or what was prayed for…but it is through the intercession of saints. Look at the inner heart, not what is plainly said, where you could misunderstand what is being stated.

There’s no judgment or condemnation on my part. The point is that many Catholics when they petition a Saint do not on the moment imagine in their heads the Saint going before God and ask Him “Can I do what he/she just asked me?” They just ask the Saint what they ask and they expect him/her to answer the prayer and that’s it. They don’t philosophize about it. But they know if they think about it that God is with the Saint and that the Saint depends on Him.

I notice the catechism puts an emphasis on the intercession of the Saints, and that we should ask their prayers.

I would like to write to a Catholic apologist, like Tim Staples or Jimmy Akin, to see what they have to say about the subject. Anyone know if/how I can contact them?

:yup:

There’s no judgment or condemnation on my part. The point is that many Catholics when they petition a Saint do not on the moment imagine in their heads the Saint going before God and ask Him “Can I do what he/she just asked me?” They just ask the Saint what they ask and they expect him/her to answer the prayer and that’s it. They don’t philosophize about it. But they know if they think about it that God is with the Saint and that the Saint depends on Him.

Yes. Catholics tend to pray in “shorthand,” as do all who pray, really. No Evangelical philosophizes about theology, either, when he prays, “Father God we just want to thank you and ask you for_____.” They assume their prayers will be answered according to God’s will–they don’t have to remind God of that. Likewise, Catholics don’t need to remind themselves or God about the nuances of the CoS, either. We simply know that the Saints in heaven cannot possibly ask or do anything outside the will of God. They’re interaction with the Holy Spirit is instantaneous and of one will–God’s will. We know this, we don’t have to interject this truth into our prayers so that God and the Saints, or us, will “get it.” :smiley:

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