I get some variation of the above question frequently from Protestants. This objection supposes that we have two options: go to the Saints, or go to God. From a Catholic perspective, this is a false choice. Of course we should go directly to God. As Hebrews 4:16 says, “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” From the Catholic perspective, the right question is therefore: do we go before the Throne of Grace alone, or in company with the Saints?
And it turns out, Scripture provides an easy answer to that question. The reason that Hebrews 4 gives for why we can approach the Throne of Grace with confidence is that we’re not alone: we’ve got a great High Priest, Jesus Christ, mediating for us (Hebrews 4:14-15). And Jesus encourages us to pray together, rather than in isolation: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
In fact, even when you “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6), you don’t cut yourself off from the Body of Christ. Right after calling us to lift up prayers in secret, Christ gives us this prayer to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
The Lord’s Prayer is not the “My Father,” but the “Our Father.” It’s a radical recognition that we are members of the Body of Christ: that we pray on our own behalf, and on behalf of others, and that they pray on our behalf, as well. Asking the Saints to pray for us, and joining with them in prayers to the Lord is simply a continuation of this Scriptural teaching.
But, the objector might say, isn’t it still a waste of time? After all, every moment that you spend asking for the prayers of the Saints is a moment that you could just be praying directly to God. Such an objection is frivolous and perhaps even evil. Consider three reasons:
- Such an objection would condemn St. Paul for asking for the prayers of others. St. Paul takes the time to write to the Ephesians to ask for their prayers (Eph. 6:18-20): “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” By the logic of our objectors, Paul should have spent that that praying directly to the Father. That’s an absurd result, so we know the objection is wrong.
- Mathematically, the objection makes no sense. If you take a few moments to ask others for their prayers, and each of you spent the next five minutes entreating our Lord, that’s more time spent in prayer to the Lord (ten minutes between the two of you) than if you were praying alone. And with the Saints in glory, they have eternity to lift up prayers on our behalf. So even if we accepted the utilitarian reasoning of this objection, it would still be wrong.
- This is “the Judas objection.” When Mary of Bethany anoints the feet of Jesus (John 12:3), it’s Judas Iscariot who objects: “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Scripture doesn’t look kindly upon this objection, and for good reason. It pits one good (anointing the feet of Jesus) against another (giving to the poor). It’s the devil’s way of trying to divide the Kingdom of God against itself: whenever you someone do one good thing, the temptation is to say, “why didn’t you instead do [some other good thing]?”
Meanwhile, Judas doesn’t raise have a problem stealing money (John 12:6). In pitting one good against another, he ignores the need to choose right from wrong. In other words, the right objection isn’t, “why did you do this one good thing, instead of the other?” but “why do you waste your time on frivolous or evil things, rather than good things?” In other words, don’t worry about how the time you spend invoking the prayers of the Saints could be spent praying directly to God. Worry about the way that the time you spend watching TV or complaining or gossiping or looking at pornography could have instead be spent praying to God.
P.P.S. Or check out David Bates’ blog. We’d both written posts on the topic this week without realizing that the other one had done so (he wrote his first, but I was first to publish… I think I’m the Edison to his Tesla in this situation).