Although this is a topic I’ve addressed before, it’s worth revisiting, because a Baptist preacher on the radio this morning claimed that the only person in the Bible to encourage praying to angels was Satan, when he tempted our Lord in the wilderness. This claim is wrong, but in a revealing way. First, let’s look at the verse being referenced, Luke 4:5-8:
And the devil took him [Jesus] up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
Note that Satan encourages worship of a demon (himself), and it’s a common Protestant error to confuse WORSHIP and PRAYER.
If you understand prayer more broadly, to include speaking to angels, you’ll see that there are several examples throughout Scripture, like Abraham, Lot, Zechariah, the Virgin Mary, St. John the Revelator, etc.
Let’s take just the first of those examples. We see Abraham praying to an angel in Heaven in Genesis 22. For example, in Gen. 22:11, “But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’” So Abraham is speaking with an angel in Heaven. From a Protestant perspective, is that okay? It is from a Biblical perspective. God blesses Abraham through the angel (Gen. 22:15-18):
“And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’”
So it seems to me that there are really only a couple of choices: either Protestants should condemn Abraham for praying to the angel (which would pit them against God, who blesses Abraham), or they should accept that praying to angels is okay, or they should come up with some reason it’s okay for Abraham and not us (and be able to prove that distinction from the Bible, so it’s not just special pleading).
Now let’s look at the last of the examples I mentioned. Revelation 22:8-9 shows the distinction between SPEAKING or PRAYING to angels (which is good!) and WORSHIPPING angels (which is evil!):
I John am he who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
From this passage, we can say three things:
- First, that communicating with angels is clearly okay. The whole Book of Revelation is rooted in an angelic revelation: that’s what John means when he refers to this as “the angel who showed them [these things, the revelation] to me.” So if you can’t speak to angels, you can’t have the Book of Revelation.
- Second, that worshipping angels is clearly forbidden. Worship is owed to God alone.
- That “communicating with angels” and “worshipping angels” aren’t the same thing. Otherwise, you couldn’t permit the one and forbid the other.
This same parallel can be seen in Revelation 19:9-10. Getting revelation from an angel is good, trying to worship an angel is bad. Protestants often assume that every act of speaking to anyone in Heaven is worship, but that’s explicitly contrary to Scripture. John has spoken with this angel through Revelation, and it’s only when he falls down to worship that he is rebuked. So their mistake is to miss that crucial distinction.
So hopefully, this clarifies what Catholics mean: when we talk about praying to angels, we’re talking about communicating with them, honoring them, asking their prayers and intercession, but not worshiping them. But hopefully, this also shows the anti-Scriptural error of assuming that all discourse with heavenly beings is “worship.”
Update: A few of you, in the comments and on Facebook, have pointed out that the first of these angelic apparitions might actually be Jesus Christ Himself speaking to Abraham. That may well be. But for a Protestant to use that to get out of the logic of it being okay to angels, one would have to hold that:
(a) Every time a holy person is depicted praying to an angel, it’s Jesus Christ; AND
(b) The speakers themselves realized this.
In some cases, like the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, we know quite clearly that the angel isn’t Christ. So maybe no every apparent instance of praying to angels is really to an angel, but as long as the Bible has at least some instances in which this happens, and is presented favorably, the Catholic case holds.