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Invocation of Saints

Catholics pray to the saints in heaven. Why do they do this? They pray to the saints in order to ask them to pray for us. The saints, being perfected, are much more likely to receive the graces asked for, since "the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (Jas. 5:16). Jesus often acted upon the faith of some when the faith of others was lacking (Matt. 8:13, 15:28, 17:15-18; Mark 9:17-29; Luke 8:49-55). It is not that the saints can do anything for us by their own power, but they can help us by way of their own prayer.

Protestants get confused when Catholics talk about "praying to" the saints. They say only God should be prayed to, because they say, prayer is an act of worship. But the word "pray" simply means "to ask earnestly." It is in this sense that Catholics "pray" to the saints–they simply ask the saints earnestly for their prayers. Prayer can be an act of worship, as when a Christian praises God for His infinite goodness and His perfections. But the prayer directed to the saints is different.

Protestants say, why pray to the saints? Why not pray directly to Jesus? Of course, praying to Jesus is not only important, it is also necessary. But Protestants themselves ask others here on earth to pray for them. One may ask why they ask others to pray for them, and why they do not just go straight to Jesus. They would respond, and rightfully so, that it helps to have others pray for the same intention (Matt. 18:19). So if it helps to have those on earth pray for a given intention, it would be equally beneficial to have those in heaven pray for one's intentions. If we should go straight to Jesus and not ask the saints to intercede, than by the same logic, we should go straight to Jesus and not ask others here on earth to intercede. But that is not the Biblical way. Paul asks for intercessory prayer repeatedly: "Strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf" (Romans 15:30). "You also must help us by prayer" (2 Cor. 1:11). "Making supplication for all the saints, the saints, and also for me" (Eph. 6:18-20). "Through your prayers" (Phil. 1:19). "Pray for us also" (Col. 4:2-4). "Brethren, pray for us" (1 Thess. 5:25). "Brethren, pray for us" (2 Thess. 3:1-2).

Protestants also make the argument based on 1 Timothy 2:5, which reads: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ." Thus, they say, when invoking the saints, we are in violation of this passage, because we are making the saints our mediators. But once again, Protestants ask others to pray for them, and are therefore making mediators out of those who pray for them. Is this acceptable? Yes, because our mediatorship is secondary to and dependant upon the mediatorship of Jesus. The meaning of 1 Timothy 2 is that without Jesus, there is no mediation. When we pray for others (and when the saints pray for us), we go to God, through Jesus Christ. We do not bypass him. If asking someone in heaven to pray for you violates Christ's mediatorship, then so does asking someone on Earth to pray for you. There is no logical way one can claim that asking those in heaven for their prayers violates Christ's mediatorship while asking those on Earth to pray for us does not.

Protestants also quote Romans 8:26-27, and say it is the Holy Spirit that intercedes for us, not the saints. But elsewhere, the Bible states that Jesus intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1). And, of course, we intercede for each other, so it is not as though the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on intercession.

Some Protestants argue that the saints are so preoccupied with God that they no longer concern themselves with earthly affairs. But the rich man, in the parable of Lazarus, after he died and went to Abraham's bosom, was still very concerned about his brothers (Luke 16:19-31). Even though Lazarus was not in heaven, the Bible elsewhere explains that those in heaven are concerned about the world. In Revelation 6:9-10, John states: "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?'" And Revelation 19 shows the saints saying: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants . . . The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever."

Similarly, Protestants say heaven would not be heaven if saints were aware of earthly troubles. But God is aware of our troubles, and he is in heaven. Angels are aware of our troubles, and they are in heaven. And the saints are aware that some are suffering in hell, but heaven is still a place of complete joy and happiness, because the saints rejoice in the perfect justice of God, and understand perfectly why some souls had to be damned.

Is saintly intercession Biblical? In Maccabees, Judah had a vision in which "Onias spoke, saying, ‘This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God'" (2 Macc. 15:14). Jeremiah, who was long dead, was praying for the Jews. In Revelation we read: "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8). Here we see the twenty-four elders, representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles, and also the saints in heaven, interceding by presenting the petitions of men to God, supporting the petitions with their intercession.

Angels similarly intercede on our behalf: "And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God" Rev. 8:3-4). The archangel Gabriel clearly intercedes for Tobit (Tob. 12:12). And the Psalms say: "Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!" (Ps. 103:20-21); "Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!" (Ps. 148:1-2). Here, the angels are being asked for their intercession. We are told that guardian angels intercede: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10).

Protestants claim that the saints cannot hear our prayers. But Hebrews 12:1 says we are surrounded by "a great cloud of witnesses". This verse refers, of course, to the Old Testament figures who are now in heaven. So the Saints in heaven are "witnesses" to our invoking of their prayers and their help.

But if the saints can hear our prayers, that must mean, say Protestants, they are omnipotent and omnipresent. But omniscience and omnipresence is not necessary. The saints in heaven see God (the Beatific Vision), and they see in God all that God wishes for them to see. God permits the saints to hear us invoke them. God, who gives the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues, would also allow the saints to understand the prayers said in various languages.

It is also argued by Protestants that the saints would hear too many prayers. They say the saints could not pray for all the people that invoke them, because they receive many prayers at one time, and they cannot keep up with it. But in the afterlife, there is no time. Since the saints are outside of time, they can pray for all those who invoke them. We will witness every detail of our lives on Judgment Day (Luke 12:2-3), but surely this will take a moment rather than as many years as it took to live our lives.

Protestants also cite this passage: "Let no one be found among you . . . who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead . . . the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers" (Deut. 18:9-15). Thus, they say, God forbade contact with the dead. Invoking of the saints violates this command, they claim. But God did not forbid the invocation of saints, he forbid the practice of conjuring up the dead for the purposes of acquiring information, which God said they should not do because He would send them prophets to tell them what they would need to know. Asking saints for their prayers is not the same as a seance. Besides, God does not forbid the dead to communicate with the living. The first book of Samuel gives us an example: "When the woman saw Samuel [who was dead], she cried . . . And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. Then Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" (1 Samuel 28:12,14-15). And then there is the transfiguration: "Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him." (Matt. 17:1-3). The dead communicated with the living after the crucifixion as well (Matt. 27:52-53). Besides, saints are not spirits of the dead, they are "alive to God" (Mt 17:13; Mk 9:4, 9:30).

And finally, what about patron saints? The Catholic Church has chosen certain saints to be patrons of whatever it is they might have a special concern for, because of their life's experiences. For instance, a saint might be chosen as patron over a certain place because of he lived there, or he may be chosen as patron of a certain occupation, because he held that occupation. Patrons are chosen because they are believed to have a special concern for what they are chosen patron of, and therefore their prayers will be more fervent.

Hermas (The Shepherd 3:5:4 [A.D. 80]) "But those who are weak and slothful in prayer, hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask Him. But you, having been strengthened by the holy angel, and having obtained from Him such intercession, and not being slothful, why do not you ask of the Lord understanding, and receive it from Him?'".

Clement of Alexandria (Miscellanies 7:12 [A.D. 208]) "In this way is he always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him (in prayer)".

Origen (Prayer 11 [A.D. 233]) "But not the high priest (Jesus) alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep".

Cyprian of Carthage (Letters 56[60]:5 [A.D. 253]) "Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides (of death) always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence the first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father's mercy".

Anonymous (funerary inscription, Rome [A.D. 300]) "Atticus, sleep in peace, secure in your safety, and pray anxiously for our sins"; (ibid.) "Pray for your parents, Matronata Matrona. She lived one year, fifty-two days".

Methodius (Oration on Simeon and Anna 14 [A.D. 305]) "Therefore, we pray thee, the most excellent among women, who glories in the confidence of your maternal honors, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in thee, and who in hymns August celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away".

Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures 23:9 [A.D. 350]) "Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition". Ephraim (Commentary on Mark [A.D. 370]) "You saints, intercede for us who are timid and sinful men, full of sloth, that the grace of Christ may come upon us, and enlighten the hearts of all of us that so we may love him".

Basil (Liturgy of St. Basil [A.D. 373]) "By the command of your only-begotten Son we communicate with the memory of your saints . . . by whose prayers and supplications have mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of your holy name".

John Chrysostom (Orations 8:6 [A.D. 396]) "When you perceive that God is chastening you, fly not to his enemies . . . but to his friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to him, and who have great power [in God]" .

Jerome (Against Vigilantius 6 [A.D. 406]) "You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard . . . But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?" .

Augustine (Against Faustus the Manichean [A.D. 400]) "A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers"; (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]) "For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended"; (Homilies on John 84 [A.D. 416]) "At the Lord's table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps".

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