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The Feast of Saint James the Great
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Why do Catholics pray to the saints?

Word on Fire

Caitlin Bootsma - published on 04/26/13

Isn't it better to pray to God directly?

One criticism that some Christian denominations have of the Catholic faith is our practice of praying for the saints to intercede for us. “Why not pray directly to Jesus?” they might ask.

The first response to this is “yes” – we should pray directly to God! However, this does not exclude asking for the prayers of others (intercession).

We are all familiar with Christ’s words to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Indeed, not only Catholics, not even just Christians, but people of many religions pray for the intentions of their fellow men. As Catholics, we do this during the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass, at many other liturgical functions and as we offer prayers around the dinner table or before we sleep at night. Praying for one another is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ.

If we ask for the prayers of our fellow Christians, it makes sense that we would also ask the prayers of those that are already in Heaven. After all, these holy men and women not only stand as examples of a true Christian life, but they also are in the presence of God. Who better to ask to pray for our intentions?  The Book of Revelation tells us that the saints do indeed offer prayers: “the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel” (Revelation 8:3).

Through their prayerful intercession, the saints help to build up the Church: “For after they have been received into their heavenly home and are present to the Lord, through Him and with Him and in Him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us…Thus by their brotherly interest our weakness is greatly strengthened” (Lumen Gentium, 49).

Why not ask for the intercession of the saints who are so eager to pray for us? St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus is well known for saying, “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.” Asking for saintly intercession does not negate or contradict prayers to Jesus Christ, but rather adds to them the strength of the entire Church, not only on earth, but also in Heaven.

* * *

Dr Frederick Marks adds (5/14/2013):

Q. Does anyone in the Bible ask for the prayers of others?
A. Paul asks for those of the Romans and Thessalonians (in his letters).
Q. Can we be sure the saints are alive and well?
A. Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Q. Are there any examples of intercessory prayer "changing God's mind," as it were?
A. Abraham whittled God down from 50 to 10 (as the number of innocents required for the staying of his hand at Sodom), and Moses interceded successfully for those worshipping the Golden Calf (he slew 3,000 but dissuaded God from destroying them all).

Frederick W. Marks, Ph.D., has written and taught extensively on both Catholicism and American diplomatic history.

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