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Isn’t praying to the saints idol worship?


François Philipp - CC

Katrina Fernandez - published on 08/30/16

Katrina Fernandez fixes it for you in a response to a reader's concern about this practice of the Catholic faith

Dear Katrina,

As I observe, some people are frequently visiting shrines of different saints and praying novenas. Some strongly believe saints can intercede for them and secure their wish / prayer request granted, or attribute a miracle performed by God to the intercession of that saint.

I respect saints because they followed Christ’s teaching with their heart, mind and soul. They were doers of the Word of God, and they set an example for us to follow, to be genuine and attractive Christians. However, as a general observation, this practice gives me doubt — do people tend to give more importance to saints than Almighty God?

Are we not deviating from the core of our belief and faith?  Too much of idolatry in the name of saints?

I appreciate your expert guidance.

Thanks and regards,



Dear Chack,

Even saints asked other saints for intercession in their own prayers. If we’re using the lives of saints as an example of well-lived Catholicism, why would you choose to ignore that very important aspect of their prayer life? Emulate the saints … even their prayer life.

Every single canonized saint has sought the intercession of Our Blessed Virgin Mother. Were they loving Christ less by seeking her prayers and petitions? Of course not. What about our own patron saints that we take at confirmation, or our guardian angels? Should we ignore them in our prayers? No.

You ask if seeking saintly intercession goes against the core beliefs of being Catholic. Well I assert that NOT doing so goes more against our beliefs. It’s not just “some people” who visits shrines, make pilgrimages, and pray novenas… it’s popes, religious brothers and sisters, bishops, all the saints before us, and just about every single Catholic that practices his or her faith and all the Catholics before them.  

Saints wrote those novenas and built those shrines you question. St. Faustina was divinely inspired by Christ Himself to give us the Divine Mercy devotions and novenas. There is nothing idolatrous or dishonoring to God about having a devotion to his Divine Mercy.   

Do you ask your friends to pray for you? If so, why? If you ask your friends to pray for you, are you dishonoring God by loving your friends more? After all, you could have just prayed directly to God yourself, right? But Catholics asks the saints for intercessory prayers in the same way you asks your friends to pray for you, except our friends (the saints in heaven) are closer to God’s ear.

What if you were seeking a promotion at work? Would you ask a random co-worker to put in a good word for you or would you ask the boss’ executive assistant to put in a good word for you? Who is going to have more influence in that situation? The boss’ executive assistant, of course. In no way are you dishonoring your boss or showing favor to the executive assistant by simply seeking the assistant’s help.  

And lastly, our human hearts have no limit on love. We are perfectly capable of loving more than one person at a time, would you not agree? Do parents love a child less because they’ve used up all their love on the other kids? Having an affection or love for a saint doesn’t diminish our love for Christ. On the contrary, it magnifies it. The saints draw us nearer to God. That’s their job. We imitate their lives to draw nearer to God. We ask for their prayers to draw nearer to God. We honor their status in heaven to draw nearer to God. We don’t place them above God, we honor them because of God. We aren’t replacing God with the saints, we are using the saints to get as humanly close as possible to God.  

A really great book that helped with my understanding of idols, because I had questions very similar to your own when I was a new Catholic, was Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods. In it, she explains the very real idols in our lives that we use to replace God. I think it would help you better differentiate between true idolatry and the way the saints work in our lives. I can’t recommend it enough.

I know I have a pretty plain way of explaining things because I’m no theology professor, so if you still struggle with this issue I suggest you pray about it and talk this over with a priest.

Good luck to you.   

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