Asking Our Fellow Christians in Heaven For Help
Like all Christians, Catholics believe in life after death. But unlike some Christians who believe that the divide between our life here on earth and the life of those who have died and gone to Heaven is unbridgeable, Catholics believe that our relationship with our fellow Christians does not end with death. Catholic prayer to saints is a recognition of this continuing communion.
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
As Catholics, we believe that our life doesn’t end at death but simply changes.
Those who have lived good lives and died in the faith of Christ will, as the Bible tells us, share in His Resurrection.
While we live together on earth as Christians, we are in communion, or unity, with one another. But that communion doesn’t end when one of us dies. We believe that the saints, the Christians in heaven, remain in communion with those of us on earth. We call this the Communion of Saints, and it’s an article of faith in every Christian creed from the Apostles’ Creed on.
WHY DO CATHOLICS PRAY TO SAINTS?
But what does the Communion of Saints have to do with praying to saints? Everything. When we run into trouble in our lives, we frequently ask friends or family members to pray for us. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we can’t pray for ourselves. We ask them for their prayers even though we’re praying, too, because we believe in the power of prayer. We know that God hears their prayers as well as ours, and we want as many voices as possible asking Him to help us in our time of need.
But the saints and angels in Heaven stand before God and offer Him their prayers, too. And since we believe in the Communion of Saints, we can ask the saints to pray for us, just as we ask our friends and family to do so. And when we make such a request for their intercession, we make it in the form of a prayer.
SHOULD CATHOLICS PRAY TO SAINTS?
This is where people begin to have a little trouble understanding what Catholics are doing when we pray to saints. Many non-Catholic Christians believe that it is wrong to pray to the saints, claiming that all prayers should be directed to God alone. Some Catholics, responding to this criticism and not understanding what prayer really means, declare that we Catholics do not pray to the saints; we only pray with them. Yet the traditional language of the Church has always been that Catholic pray to the saints, and with good reason—prayer is simply a form of communication. A prayer is simply a request for help. Older usage in English reflects this: We’ve all heard lines from, say, Shakespeare, in which one person says to another “Pray thee . . . ” (or “Prithee,” a contraction of “Pray thee”) and then makes a request.
That’s all we’re doing when we pray to saints.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRAYER AND WORSHIP?
So why the confusion, among both non-Catholics and some Catholics, about what prayer to the saints really means? It arises because both groups confuse prayer with worship.
True worship (as opposed to veneration or honor) does indeed belong to God alone, and we should never worship man or any other creature, but only God.
But while worship may take the form of prayer, as in the Mass and the other liturgies of the Church, not all prayer is worship. When we pray to the saints, we’re simply asking the saints to help us, by praying to God on our behalf—just like we ask our friends and family to do so—or thanking the saints for having already done so.