Why do Catholics pray to saints?

One of my alert readers (God bless her!) asked this question on yesterday’s Mary blogs.

“I’m no Catholic so I’m about as qualified as a stick of butter to discuss a lot of this, but don’t Catholics actually pray to the Virgin Mary and the saints? In the Protestant faith that’s a big no-no, and Protestants who do so are in violation of church orthodoxy. We’re only to pray to the Lord God in the form of Father, Son and/or Holy Spirit.”

In the article I linked below, the author says, “We pray with saints, not to them.”  Well, yes and no. It’s a linguistic thing.

In the modern sense, “to pray to” usually means “to speak to God.” This obviously includes worship that is wholly inappropriate for anyone to offer to another created being. However, prayer also includes praise, supplication, thanksgiving, confession, intercession. We do all of these things with our families and friends who are alive, do we not? Catholics simply extend the practice to those who have passed on.

In the now-archaic sense (e.g., in Shakespeare), “I pray thee” also means to ask, implore, or beg.  Yes, we pray with the saints. But we also pray to them in the sense that we ask, implore, or beg for their prayers and assistance.  Again, we do all of these things with our families and friends who are alive.  Moreover, God clearly approves of it.  “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20).

When I received very scary news about my third pregnancy, I went to church to pray. Father asked why I was crying, then went and got me a little prayer card to St. Gerard. I leaned hard on Gerard throughout the rest of that pregnancy. My daughter, who was very sick at mid-term, was born full term and healthy. Her doctor, a noted specialist in high risk pregnancies, told me, “You can call this a miracle if you want to. I treat every baby in central New York that has this disease. There is no cure. There isn’t even a treatment. I have no explanation for how she recovered, but the tests clearly show that she had the disease at 20 weeks and she doesn’t have it now.”  Does St. Gerard deserve the credit? No. Only God can do a miracle. Does St. Gerard deserve my gratitude for interceding for my baby? Absolutely!

I understand that some Christians believe the soul goes to sleep at death and will not awaken to consciousness until the end of time. For them, praying to saints makes no sense. As one of them put it to me (repeatedly), “You can’t talk to dead people.” However, this “comatose soul” thing is neither Catholic teaching nor consistent with the repeated experience of Christians ever since the first century.

We have loads of evidence that those who have died in Christ are alive in some temporary, spiritual body and can hear us, pray for us, and even sometimes assist us in specific ways (as God permits) much as our guardian angels do. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us often that she only appears and gives us messages because God allows it.

2015_03 25 Our Lady of Medj ms

There is nothing in Scripture that says that praying to saints is wrong. And there is LOTS in Catholic history that says God blesses the practice. In fact, the process for someone becoming a canonized Saint is, first, that someone prays to that person and, second, that someone receives an indisputably miraculous answer to his/her prayer. This is the Church’s way of ensuring that only those God chooses are elevated to capital S sainthood.(1)

Note: The RCC is extremely conservative and cautious about presuming to know who is in Heaven.(2) The canonization process is long, tortuous, and expensive.  One important aspect is the assignment of an expert in Church law to argue AGAINST canonization. His job — known as Devil’s Advocate (3) — is to dig into the evidence and try to disqualify the person who has been proposed.  The Devil’s Advocate closely examines the person’s life history and looks with great skepticism at all the medical evidence. If anything smells the tiniest bit off, the cause for canonization is suspended.

Miracles that qualify as true signs from God are not of the “Jesus’ face on toast” variety. They are of the “this person should be dead, but now has zero sign of their incurable illness” variety. I read about one person who had had a colostomy, who was not only healed of the cancer, but also had had that chunk of colon fully restored! I read another one where bone cancer had eaten away inches of leg bone. This person was also healed of the cancer AND had that bone restored.

Ponder how careful the RCC is and then consider the fact that there are thousands of canonized saints. Is it any wonder we treat our Saints the way we do?!

  1. In Catholic parlance, Christians on Earth (Prots too!) are “little ess saints”, souls in Heaven who have not been canonized by the Church are “middle ess saints”, and those who have been canonized are “capital ess Saints.”
  2. The RCC has also never made any claims to know who is in Hell.
  3. Linguistically, the expression “devil’s advocate” is rooted in this RCC position.

Grunt of Monte Cristo wrote an excellent comment about this subject.

Frequently Asked Questions About Saints

St. Gerard


Filed under Catholic Church, Heaven, Prayer

4 responses to “Why do Catholics pray to saints?

  1. Thanks for this, Chrissy. As you know, I was raised Evangelical Protestant and was told all kinds of lies about Catholicism (especially that old canard about worshiping Mary), so I had a lot of b.s. to unlearn once I finally learned to think for myself. When it comes to asking the saints to pray for me, I’ve never had a problem with it, since I don’t see how it’s any different from asking anyone else to pray for me. I figure I need all the help I can get.

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  2. Stick o’ Butter here … I dunno, praying to or with the saints is definitely a thorny theological question. Ask a thousand Protestant pastors — men well-versed in the word of God — and we know none of them would endorse the practice. On the other hand, ask a thousand equally well-versed priests and bishops and we’d get a very different result.

    I did a quick Google search and the first thing that came up was this http://goo.gl/QZA0v0, stating such practices are clearly non-Biblical. But again on the other hand, the very Bible itself is different between Catholics and Protestants, so all of this sort of addresses why we have hundreds of religious iterations worldwide.

    On the THIRD hand (now we’re entering Ganesh the Elephant God territory??) I don’t really have a dog in this hunt since I agree with Voltaire that “It is not more surprising to be born twice than once; everything in nature is resurrection” (http://goo.gl/GTpyPN) and that’s about as non-Biblical as it gets.

    Maybe the bottom line is: religion is supposed to make it easier to get through our day, and get through our life. No committed pastor or priest would agree with me on this, but if you’ve found something that honestly offers comfort in time of affliction, that can’t be all bad.

    I see God in everything. I mean it … there’s no way I could kill a cockroach or even an ant. Which presents a whole new set of problems, trust me.


    • I can respect that. About seeing God in everything, I mean. My wife hates to kill even a spider, but she’s ok delegating that to me. 😉 And if the cockroach is flying into her hair, I think she gets really close to being able to kill it.