What does it mean to pray TO the saints?

By Tom Quiner

The Communion of the Saints

The Communion of the Saints

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? 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


  1. d. knapp on October 22, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    I also believe the saints hear our prayers. I believe all beings in Heaven do. I also believe they carry the prayers to The Father. I believe they are gathering what is the Father’s (prayers being the vineyard fruits I used as an example). I still don’t know what prayer to Mary or others does, when Christ himself said to pray directly to The Father. He never said for us to address his mother, dad or anyone else. If He would have told the followers in the garden to pray “Hail Mary full of grace…” I could get it it. My husband explained it as a tool to help people understand what it is appropriate to pray for. He said, if there weren’t a patron saint for it, then it’s probably not something to pray to God for. I see how that can be a helpful guide as some don’t realize that some things we may crave on Earth are just plain wrong. It seems some may take it a bit far and offer worship and praise to the saint rather than asking for intercession.I don’t say this lightly. I have known Catholics with full out shrines to a saint in the house that they used daily to praise the saint. I guess this is where the uncle that was a minister cautioned me to beware the traditions of men and be sure that I tend to my loving and fearful relationship with The Father first and foremost. I am with your other protestant reader and want never to hurt someone’s feelings on such matters. I respect the devout practice any Godly religion, even if it’s not mine and I dont agree. We will find out one day when our eyes have the veil lifted. I dont know if its b/c I’m too old now to learn a new way, or I’m too thick to see it, or if I’m right. My version is mine and yours is yours and will defend both. Bless you always.

    • quinersdiner on October 22, 2016 at 10:30 pm

      Let’s focus on your first sentence. It acknowledges that saints can go to bat for us through their intercessions on our behalf, because they do hear our prayers. Sometimes we’re weak or hurting so bad that we can barely get the prayer out. It’s good to have a friend, and saints are our friends, who can stand in the gap for us and pray for us and take our petitions directly to God. Just as you can ask your husband to pray for you in those circumstances, or any circumstances, you can ask Mary or any saint to also pray for you and with you. It doesn’t take the place of a prayer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it amplifies it.

      • d. knapp on October 24, 2016 at 11:09 am

        I believe they are the friends of all believers. I don’t have to be asked to pray for another I know and the same can be said of those I know have done so for me w/o being asked. It seams if a saint is anything more than a dead member of the family of Christ and able to do more than just carry the prayers to The Father, then I don’t think they would need to be asked. If they are hearing our prayers to them they probably are aware anyway. I am afraid that such prayers may be distracting from a relationship w/ God. at least and b/c idol worship at its worst. I will never tell a person they are wrong. I will not know that until I meet The Father. I only say why it is I don’t do these things. I only want people to understand why they do or don’t do anything in life in general. I don’t much care for a Baptist who says the things they do or does the things they do without actually understanding why either. You certainly do have an understanding of what you are doing and why. I respect that. I only ask that my own introspection and scriptural investigation led practices be respected. I haven’t heard anything or read anything that leads me to feel it necessary to pray to people other than the Father or the Son. Other than the severe illness/death of child or spouse I have known much struggle, pain and grief. The ability to pray just doesn’t ever elude me. The only time I didn’t seem to have the ability was in that time before I’d made my decision as a 24 yr old to follow Christ. There were some very dark days then. I dont know what great saint prayed for me then to get me through the awfulness of some of those days. The frame of mind I was in at times, I feel certain that others’ prayers were all that kept me from doing something awful to myself. Since i didn’t even think of payer, as a need I wasn’t asking for it from the living. If it was prayer, it was those of the saints…unsolicited.

        • quinersdiner on October 24, 2016 at 2:22 pm

          I really appreciate hearing your perspective on this subject. Thanks for letting me share mine. As a convert to Catholicism, this is an aspect of the faith I have found particularly fulfilling. Time willing, I may continue the conversation in a future post. Thanks again for weighing in.

  2. karensiena on October 23, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Look at it this way d. knapp –

    Why should anyone ever ask you to pray for them when they can go directly to the Father? They do it because your prayers are added to theirs as an act of love. And why did God make that matter when he hears the prayers that come directly to Him? Because His plan is that we would become one body with Christ at the head that grows toward Him in love. It isn’t just me and God. It is me and the body of Christ before God.

    Does that make sense?

    We should ask the intercession of those Christians in heaven, who have already had their sanctification completed, for “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (Jas. 5:16). If we think that those in heaven are more righteous than us, it makes sense that asking them to pray for us would be beneficial. And who would you imagine could be more righteous than the woman who was chosen to be the ark of the new covenant – Mary? God would not have chosen a sinful ark, but only a pure ark to carry the Son of God.

    I am digressing, but what do you think Jesus was saying when from the cross he says to John “Behold your Mother.” and then to Mary “Behold your Son”? He was giving all of us a spiritual Mother. We are the family of God, and a family needs a Mother.

    Do you have kids? Do they have a loving father? Does their father love them more than you or visa versa? I bet not. But kids will most often go to their mom when they really want something because they know that if Mom asks for it, the request has more power.

    The human family is a reflection of the family of God. Everything here in this world matters. Everything is supposed to teach us about God. The Godly human family is supposed to teach us about heaven.

    Back to the main question. There is plenty of biblical reference to praying to the saints. Here is one:
    (Rev. 8:3–4). “An angel came and stood at the altar [in heaven] 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.”

    And here is some tangible proof – Yes, everyone in heaven is a saint, but in the Catholic church, we don’t give them that special designation unless there are 3 rock solid, scientifically verified miracles attributed to prayer to them. The Catholic Church takes this very seriously, and when a miracle is claimed, they talk to physicians, scientists and whoever else is necessary to prove that there is no earthly explainable reason for the miracle. The process can take years. There are thousands of these miracles that have been verified.

    Bishop Sheen has not been named a Saint yet, but take a look at this video we put together.

    And as a point of interest google “incorruptible bodies.” You will find it interesting.

    I think that the problem that most protestants have with Mary is because they don’t understand the Catholic view of her. We venerate her, we honor her, we don’t worship her.

    God bless you and thanks for the great discussion.

    Karen Quiner

  3. karensiena on October 24, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    I am not telling you are “wrong” either dear sister. I absolutely respect someone like you who thinks and prays on these things. In fact, it is so refreshing to have an exchange of ideas with someone who is truly interested on our belief system and not approaching it as if we are wrong. None of us will know for sure until we get to the other side.

    I obviously believe that the Catholic Church holds the fullness of the truth, that is why I am Catholic. Just as I am sure you feel the same. The important thing is that we always, in whatever stage of our life, stay open. That goes for both of us.

    Here is food for thought, Jesus himself told us to pray, even though our Lord knows our needs even before being asked. He also said that “when two or more are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.” And “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” That would mean that the prayers of two gathering together are more powerful than one praying alone, wouldn’t you think? All we are saying is that we can include the saints in heaven in those prayers. My mom included, even though she doesn’t have the special designation of Saint.

    There doesn’t seem to be any way of convincing a protestant that this is not idol worship no matter what we say. All I can say is that we don’t worship saints, we don’t idolize them, we simply feel that they veil between heaven and earth is a veil we experience, not them, that they are closer to God than we are because they have gone through the final purification, and that they love us and want to help us.

    A statue of a saint in my home is simply a tangible reminder of how that person became holy and that if I can follow their example, I can become holy also. I don’t worship the statue or who the statue represents. If a Catholic does that, they are not following Catholic teaching in doing so.

    • d. knapp on October 24, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      I completely understand that the catholic church does not teach one to worship the images of the saints. i just know some who did. They take the idea of Mary being immaculately conceived and get the idea she is the equal of her son. Add one statue and and a prayer and the request for intercession stops being involved. The protestants are not the only ones to have noticed this and been adamant about the whole images thing. The Eastern orthodox has a similar view on it all. Its not bad to talk to saints but I think it can be a slippery slope for many. I still don’t see the mention of asking the dead to for prayers. I believe if they do pray, it is w/o being asked. If my mom has the ability to intercede for me w/ the father,and has an idea of my life, she would do it for me w/o me asking. I believe all the saints would and do. My life is secluded by choice. i spend much of my time alone or w/ my child when hubby travels for business. I definitely know The Father hears and acts on my prayers. I dont usually have a 2nd here unless I am at church a couple of times a week. I live church in my home and even in my part time work teaching adults nursing. I believe every sect has teachings that can be misconstrued by people that misunderstand. I was always taught that to be ware of the traditions of man. Be blessed today and always.