By Tom Quiner
You can’t beat a lively discussion between a Southern Baptist and a Roman Catholic!
A Quiner’s Diner reader, who is a Southern Baptist, asked for clarification from a previous post, “Why Catholics believe in the power of intercessory prayers.” Her question:
“Hello friend, it is I, your SB [Southern Baptist] follower. Having read the above, I’m sorry to say I still don’t understand the whole thing w/ prayer to those resting in Christ. I know it is written that the saints and angels gather and bring prayers to the Father, but I don’t find any place where it is said the prayers were to be TO the saints or the angels.
I sort of view it like the employee of a vineyard or orchard. The fruits they bring to the owner are the owner’s, not theirs. As a nurse I often pray for my patients,but also my friends,family and associates. I pray for the world and its inhabitants. I do it as Christ himself instructed. “Our father, who art in Heaven…”
I do believe we are to intercede for one another…directly to The Father. I am always interested in where I can improve my understanding, and welcome any scriptural passage that will instruct me. I have always been cautioned to avoid the “traditions of men”.
It’s a good question. First of all, we established in the previous post the scriptural basis that saints in heaven hear our prayers
To the question, everything hinges on what is meant by the word “to.”
By praying TO the saints in heaven, are Catholics worshipping that saint as a deity? No, that would be heresy. Rather, they are asking a saint to intercede on their behalf through their own petitions to God.
For example, if I were to pray TO St. Augustine of Hippo on behalf of a wayward child, I am asking him for his prayers of intercession from his perch in heaven, much like his own mother, St. Monica, prayed for her wayward child (him) from her perch on earth.
The veil between heaven and earth isn’t a barrier to prayer.
This does not replace our own prayers directed to the Holy Trinity, it adds to it and strengthens the entire idea of ‘thy Kingdom come’ as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. We are all part of God’s kingdom, His family, so to speak.
One of the most popular of all intercessory prayers for Roman Catholics is the Hail Mary. This beautiful prayer calls upon the most powerful saint of them all, Mary, Mother of God, our Blessed Mother, to join us in prayer to her Son. The prayer ends with the words,
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
You see, our prayers directed towards the saints are simply our request for them to pray for us and with us in our hour of need.
Our bodies may be separated from heaven, but not our prayers.
My reader suggests we merely pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”
Who can argue with that? On the other hand, Jesus tells us in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) that persistence in prayer is huge:
“… will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, [d]and will He delay long over them? 8 I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find [e]faith on the earth?”
Two reactions to this passage:
- We demonstrate persistence in our prayer by asking the saints to join with us in our persistent prayer. If Jesus hears us praying for “X” ten times a year, think how much more effective the prayer if He hears ten saints praying with us for “X” ten times a year. You do the math.
- Regarding faith on earth: by asking the saints to persistently pray with us and FOR us is a proven approach to strengthening our faith and pulling us closer to the Father. Just ask St. Augustine, the wayward child who repeatedly rejected God. Few saints have been as persistent in their prayers as St. Monica was for her brilliant, prideful son. Legend has it that she prayerfully wept for him every night.
The persistence of prayers was too much for Augustine to withstand. Today he is but one of some 36 Church Doctors in the Catholic Church. What a demonstration of the fruit of intercessory prayer.
Finally, the idea of intercessory prayer is suggested in the Apostles Creed when we pray:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”
The term “communion of saints” gained meaning from sacred scripture when St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 that …
12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For [j]by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
In other words, we are ALL part of the Body of Christ. Paul makes it clear that this includes those who now live in heaven in Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of [a]witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness]…
He goes on to call this ‘cloud of witnesses’ the “assembly of the firstborn who are registered [as citizens] in heaven.”
We’re not alone.
We’re part of a huge, loving family, some on earth, some in heaven.
Both can join WITH us in praying the persistent, intercessory prayers that God so loves to hear.