Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Praying to [with] the Saints

Before I say anything, I wish to say something to Catholic apologists who insist on saying that we pray with rather than to the Saints. I understand where you are coming from. For Protestants, worship and prayer are synonymous; one is unable to pray without worshiping. Thus, some of you deny the charge that we pray to the Saints, and insist that we pray with them when we ask for their intercession. Although it is certainly true that we do pray with the Saints, denying that we pray to them causes more confusion. This is so for two reasons: 1) many Catholic apologists do speak of praying to the Saints, 2) prayer need not be restricted to worship. To pray means “to ask,” so, just as the word “prithee” or “I pray thee” means “I ask this of you”, so any form of supplication, be it to God, a Saint, or to the person sitting next to us is a form of prayer. That being said, prayer is generally expanded to mean all forms of communication and limited to mean communication beyond the visible world. But at times we might still speak of a pagan praying to a statue, a visible object (something Catholics do not and must not do!)
So, in this precise meaning of the term, a person prays when 1) addressing God, 2) addressing a Saint, 3) addressing a deceased loved one, 4) addressing Satan or another demon, 5) addressing any kind of “spirits”, 6) holding a séance, 7) &c. Clearly, some forms of prayer are acceptable, others are not. The question in the issue of praying to the Saints is whether or not it is acceptable. Protestants who are beyond the “Mary-worship” mentality are the ones that are willing to discuss this debate, which is what I want to talk about today.
My question is: Is there a Biblical precedent for praying to the Saints?
I believe that there is. During a recent period of trial, I struggled with this question. Actually, I’ve struggled with it for years. I have never been comfortable with prayer to the Saints in my five years as a Catholic. That’s not to say that I haven’t had particular devotions over the years, but I have always been uneasy, never fully accepting in my heart that it was acceptable.
One night a few weeks ago, I spoke with Christ and asked Him whether it was acceptable to pray to the Saints. I asked, “Why shouldn’t we always go directly to God?” The question phrased by anti-Catholics is usually, “Why can’t we go directly to God?” That’s a complex question, meaning that it is phrased in such a way that a Catholic can’t answer it (compare it to questions like, “Do you still beat your wife every night?”) The fact of the matter is that we can go directly to God. The proper question is, “Why then should we bother with the Saints? Why shouldn’t we always go directly to God?” The apologist’s response to this is the value of intercession. Just as we can pray with others here on Earth and ask them to pray for us, likewise, we can ask the Saints to pray for us. The Saints do not distract us from God any more than asking my friends to pray for me does. And to use an analogy, suppose I want something from my brother. Would it be wrong to ask my sister or my mother to speak to him with me or for me?  Of course not.
The next problem is that while there is nothing wrong with asking those on Earth to pray for us, is there any reason to believe that those in Heaven can hear us? There is an obvious difference, especially in terms of our psychology, to calling a friend and asking her to pray for me, and getting on my knees and asking Mary to pray for me. The former person is bodily present, though mediated by a phone. The other is only spiritually present, if that. I can appeal to the fact that Mary and the Saints are united to Christ as am I, and that this spiritual unity, theirs being perfect, is enough for them to hear my prayers, but this isn’t convincing enough, since my unity with Christ is not perfect, and for this reason I can’t pray to my friend without actually calling her on the phone.
That night I was left unresolved. I prayed a prayer to Our Lady of La Salette, though it was hard for me to get it past my lips. I was unsure if I had sinned or not. I went to bed unresolved.
The next morning as I was taking a shower my mind returned to this issue. I asked myself, “Is there a Biblical precedent for praying to the Saints?” My first thought was 1 Samuel 28, where Saul visits the Witch of Endor and conjures the spirit of Samuel. But this can hardly be seen as an endorsement for praying to the Saints. If anything, it is a condemnation. (I do not think it is, for conjuring spirits is an attempt at controlling the divine, not being humble to it.)
Next, I remembered two verses in Revelation where the Angels and the Elders are said to present the prayers of the holy ones (or saints on Earth) to God. What we have in the verses below is a scene from Heaven. What we see is those in Heaven praying to God and offering them our prayers. The Bible does not say that they are merely prayers for us (I would never deny that those in Heaven can pray for us), but they are our prayers themselves. How did they receive these prayers? Did God receive them, hand them to the Angels and Elders, who then turned them into incense to offer back up to God? I suppose that is possible, but it makes more sense to me to say that we gave them our prayers, which they in turn present to God.
The first excerpt is from Revelation 5:
1I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.
2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?”
And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.
Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it;
5 and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”
6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.
7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
9And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
10“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
The book is a book of judgment; when it is taken, prayers are presented. What might these prayers consist of? Likely, prayers for mercy and justice. But most importantly, they are prayers of the saints, or “holy ones.” A saint in Biblical terms is any Christian. Paul uses it to speak of those in what we now call the Pilgrim Church or the Church Militant: those Christians alive and on Earth. The Elders present God with our prayers, they praise Christ and in doing so they pray for us (v. 10).
Next is Revelation 8:
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.
4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.
5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
Again, we see the prayers being offered prior to judgment, and they are prayers “of the saints” offered to God by an Angel.
This is enough proof for me. There might not be a verse written by Paul that says, “And let us now ask the Holy Martyr Stephen to pray for us!” Instead, we have something more powerful: an image of the very act of intercessory prayer occurring in Heaven! Rather than telling us that Saints can hear our prayers and offer them to God, the Bible actually shows it to us! Let those who have eyes to see, see.

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