Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pray For Me....

One of the major charges leveled against Catholics is that we are idol worshipers, or that we have many gods, because we pray to the Communion of Saints. Without bogging down the discussion from the get-go I will say this before we look at the biblical roots of intercessory prayer:

Catholics have long held that the Saints in heaven are worthy of veneration and we ask them to join us in praying to God; the Blessed Virgin Mary owing to being the Tabernacle of the Incarnation is considered the first in the Hierarchy of Saints (stole this explanation from Brother Nick, sorry dude). Only the Godhead is due worship. 

Saint Augustine, that great pagan convert to Catholicism and Doctor of the Church says the following:

It is true that Christians pay religious honor to the memory of the martyrs, both to excite us to imitate them and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers. But we build altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although it is to the memory of the martyrs. No one officiating at the altar in the saints' burying-place ever says, We bring an offering to you, O Peter! Or O Paul! Or O Cyprian! The offering is made to God, who gave the crown of martyrdom, while it is in memory of those thus crowned. (Contra Faustum 20:21)

We honor the saints in heaven, because we know they lived righteous lives, and are now enjoying the Beatific Vision, they are great role models to emulate, so we can get closer to God. To become a Saint it must be proven that two miracles were performed as a result of that person's intercession. For instance Venerable John Paul the Great, soon to be Blessed John Paul, was asked for his intercession in healing a nun with Parkinson's. That nun has since been cured.

Wikipedia says "...It must be proven that a miracle has taken place by his or her intercession: that is, that God has shown a sign that the person is enjoying the Beatific Vision by God performing a miracle in response to the Blessed's prayers. Today, these miracles are almost always miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to establish based on the Catholic Church's requirements for a "miracle." (The patient was sick, there was no known cure for the ailment, prayers were directed to the Venerable, the patient was cured, the cure was spontaneous, instantaneous, complete and lasting, and doctors cannot find any natural explanation.) (Wikipedia Canonization article)

Now that we have defined what it means to be a saint let's look at the biblical roots of prayer to the saints. Hebrews 12:1 says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. From the Church Fathers onward Catholics have long understood that as what we call the Communion of Saints.

As for that Cloud of Witnesses, Catholics note that Jesus told us God is the God of the living not the Dead. Jesus is referring to God telling Moses he was the God of Abraham and Isaac. Jesus is telling the audience (in this instance Sadducees and his disciples, that the righteous dead are in fact aware of life on Earth). This is born out at his Transfiguration when he converses with Elijah and Moses. See Mark 9:3 and Luke 9:30-31. So the dead can converse with the living. Jesus also tells us that there is much rejoicing in Heaven over the return of one lost sheep. See Luke 15:4-10.

Saint Paul routinely asks his audiences in his epistles for their prayers. After all prayer is just asking for something. See Col 4:3 and 1st Thess. 5:25. Webster defines it thusly:
entreat, implore —often used as a function word in introducing a question, request, or plea <pray be careful>

Revelation has several references to prayers of intercession. For instance in Rev. 5:8, we see the Holy Ones in heaven offering up the prayers of those of us still on Earth. Another reference in Revelation is in Rev. 8:3-5, where we see an angel offering prayers to God as incense.

We are also told in James 5:16 that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful. Catholics believe that those in Heaven are Sanctified and made perfectly holy, after all "Nothing unclean will enter Heaven. Rev. 21:27. So if the prayers of a righteous man are powerful; and the saints in heaven are righteous, their prayers must be powerful indeed. That is why Catholics turn to our friends in Heaven asking them to join their prayers with ours; even as Jesus taught, "Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven." Matt 18:19-20.

Catholics always catch a lot of flack from Protestants who think of this practice as necromancy or a seance. It is none of that. For we are all one body in Christ, who is the head and we all should seek to build each other up (I believe it was a saint who said that).


Matt Stephens said...

Well first, I'll just say that I'm not posting this to start an arguement, simply just stating an opinion and more of a self defense as a protestant. There are those Protestants that are quick to judge and call names, however, there is a reason that we do not believe in praying to saints. First off, it's simply because we were not taught that. Secondly, would be the reason we are not taught that. The “dead” are those humans who have already died and passed over to the other side – whether it be to heaven or to hell.
God instructs us not to try and communicate with those that are dead. The reason for this is because God the Father is a jealous God. He, and He alone, is our one and only true God and Father. He, and He alone, is the only One who has the full supernatural power to answer any of our specific prayer requests.

For a few references;
1. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)

2.Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:31)

3.So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. (1 Chronicles 10:13)

I'm pretty sure that when most Catholics pray to saints, you would say that you're not praying 'to them', but basically asking them to relay the message (if you will) to God. However, I've never met a Catholic that said in a prayer, "Dear Saint Peter, please tell God...".

In response to your statement of the Virgin Mary, I also know (as I've had many discussions about this) how she is held in such high regards to Catholics. Maybe not all pray 'to' her, but the argument has been made that she 'is the mother of Jesus, don't you think she's pretty important?'. My response is yes, she absolutely is. However, we are not instructed as Christians to hold her in that high of regards as she herself was a sinner in need of a savior. And while she was important, she was not held 'above' others, but rather 'among' others. (I can't itallicize so I have to use quotations).

Again, not trying to start an argument or label you as one who partakes in seances or witchcraft, I'm just helping support the reason Protestants believe they way we do. You can probably come up with counters for all of this too, but isn't that's what these blog thingys are for?? Haha!

Good to talk (indirectly) with you!

Michael said...

Matt, all of those are good points, which I think I handled in the original post. Catholics don't see it as seeking after mediums, or familiar spirits because we are all connected in the Body of Christ. God is the God of the Living.

I like your relaying the message idea, one of the prayers I say with Tommy is to St. Rita and the prayer actually says something along the lines of please take this prayer before Christ.

We may not specifically say when we pray to/with the saints please ask God for's implied.

As for the Marian argument I wrote a blog about her awhile back...she absolutely was in need of a Savior and she says as much in St. Luke's gospel.

Hope all is well with you, glad you read my blog.