Pray to Saints? Why Not Go Directly to God?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.S. I have a handwritten draft of this post that differs in some respects. So if you want a different take, check out the comments.
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).

10 Comments

  1. It is utterly amazing how dense I can be. I am now 62 years old, and have been praying the “Our Father” for as long as I can remember. Yet NEVER ONCE did I ever notice all those plural possessives in the prayer until you pointed them out to me just now. Thank you so much. A prayer already so rich in meaning for me now means so much more.

  2. In saying that it is not right to pray to, or for, the “saints”, there is also the implication that the “priesthood” found throughout the entire Bible has been done away with, or destroyed, and that priests are therefore not needed to intercede for the people of God. For what is the function of the priest found in the Bible, but to pray for and to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people of God?

    That the functions of the priests have not been abolished are very clear from scripture itself:

    James 5:14
    Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

    Apocalypse (Revelation) 1:6
    And hath made us a kingdom, and priests to God and his Father, to him be glory and empire for ever and ever. Amen.

    Apocalypse (Revelation) 5:10
    And hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.

    So, saints and priests are portrayed throughout the entire Bible as praying to God for one another. Where then is the controversy?

  3. Probably even more troublesome to Protestants than that we should ask the Saints for intercession, is the idea that we can intercede for those beloved dead whom we love.

    Although Protestants deny it, we do have one example of prayer for the dead in Scripture:

    2 Timothy 1:16-18King James Version (KJV)

    16 The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain:
    17 But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me.
    18 The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.

    1. And let’s not forget the Gospel account of Lazarus and his sister Martha who interceded for him after he had already died:

      “Martha therefore said to Jesus: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. [22] But now also I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. [23] Jesus saith to her: Thy brother shall rise again.”

      If this isn’t intercession for the dead, I don’t know what is??

  4. Here’s what I had in my notes that served as a springboard for this post. I think there are certain angles that I left unexplored in the above post, so you might like the below version better:

    – Different questions. For Protestants, this tends to be presented as whether we go directly to God, or whether we go through an intercessor. I would suggest that this is the wrong question. Undoubtedly, we can (and do) go boldly before the Throne in prayer.

    The better question, I think, is whether we go before the Throne alone or surrounded by a great cloud of Heavenly witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), including the Saints who are in Heaven (Heb. 11) and the angels (Rev. 8:3). Because the Catholic view of prayer, and indeed all of sanctification, is that it’s never just “me & Jesus” as if the Head could be cut off from His Body, or the first greatest commandment cut off from the second. Intercessory prayer recognizes this, without compromising the truth that we can and do go directly to God in prayer. In fact, we see both of those features in the model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. We pray “Our” Father, and we pray for “us,” so that we can’t fall into that “me & Jesus” trap.

    It may be that we need a new vocabulary: the older meaning of “prayer” is “request,” and our requests that the Saints and angels pray for us is certainly a “prayer,” understood this way. But for many modern believers, “prayer” has come to mean “worship,” and we clearly don’t pray to the Saints or angels that way.

    Even with that caveat, there is one final objection: that prayer to the Saints/angels is a waste of time. Every minute spent asking St. Monica to pray for something, I could be doing it myself. This objection is poorly founded for two reasons. First, it leads to the false “me & Jesus” spirituality described above. If it’s wrong to ask St. Monica to pray for something because it’s time away from prayer directly to God, then it’s equally wrong to ask my friend Monica to pray for something, for the exact same reason. In fact, given that my friend is less likely to actually pray for this thing, it’s a bigger waste of time. But if that’s the case, we must tell St. Paul that he was wrong to ask for prayers, since he could have spent that time going directly to God. But clearly, that conclusion is a false one, so there must be something wrong with the premises.

    Second, it forces a “Judas choice.” When St. Mary Magdala poured expensive nard on the feet of Christ , it was Judas who denounced this good thing for not being a different good thing. We see this all the time (___). But Judas’ objection is hypocritical, since he was stealing.

    That’s as far as I had gotten.

    1. – Different questions. For Protestants, this tends to be presented as whether we go directly to God, or whether we go through an intercessor….

      No. Protestants frequently go through intercessors. I have many Protestant friends that ask me for prayer and whom I ask for prayer.

      Their dilemma seems to be that they don’t recognize the New Dispensation given through Christ which is first seen on the Mount of Transfiguration.

      Matthew 17:3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.

      To put it more directly, they are afraid to communicate with the dead because they are stuck in the Old Testament where it is said:

      1 Sam 28:15 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.

      16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?

      They don’t accept the New Dispensation given to Christ which says that we walk amongst the spirits of just men made perfect:

      Hebrews 12:18-24King James Version (KJV)

      18 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,

      19 And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:

      20 (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:

      21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)

      22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,

      23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

      24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

  5. It seems that this question of asking intercession from others is like asking anything from others. That’s what humans do. “No man is an island”, so it is said, and this means that people from the beginning were created to work together and associate with each other just to survive. So, it is really part of the natural law that God created. It is not God and us, but as you indicated above with the ‘Our Father’ reference, it’s God, ourselves and EVERYONE else. This is probably what makes the sin of pride such a horrendous crime, because it doesn’t give due credit to others, including God, but is self focused and obnoxiously egotistical.

    That we need others to help us in life, both spiritually and physically( which includes interceding by prayer to God for us) is so demonstrated throughout the entire Bible that it would probably take thousands of pages just to give the examples. Almost everything Jesus did involved intercession in one way or another. The paralytic who was lowered through the roof by his friends is one example. The healing of so many others in the Gospels, due to the intercession of a family member is another. The Blessed Virgin at Cana, yet another example of intercession…etc…ad infinitum. As you indicate above, “it’s never just ‘me & Jesus’ as if the Head could be cut off from His Body, or the first greatest commandment cut off from the second”. Rather, the body of Christ, “The Church”, is a living, united and integrated body.

    And to ever think that it is JUST you and God…is to miss the whole point of what Jesus means when He uses the terminology and describes “The Kingdom of God”. The Kingdom is a functioning society of highly diverse persons (including angels) that have countless virtues and talents who are all working together for the whole, and under the leadership, guidance and love of the king, who is God.

    If it’s just ourselves and God….then we can forget about ‘preaching the Gospel to the whole world’, and, “whose sins you forgive will be forgiven”….as all those ‘others’ out there can just wait for a direct revelation from God to help them through their own prayers. Moreover, the ‘lost sheep’ can stay lost. They can do their own praying and help themselves. But that’s not what Our Lord teaches. Rather, He says “I am the Good Shepherd” and ‘ I leave the ninety-nine and search out for the one that is lost’. Then again, he commands us, his ‘body’, his ‘followers’ and his ‘disciples’ to “feed my sheep”… thereby indicating that we are all actively and intimately involved in the spiritual (and physical) sustenance of multitudes of others in His “Kingdom”.

    So, prayer for others is entirely natural. It is just like everything else that we do for others on a daily basis. It is all part of the ‘Kingdom’ which God has established for His angels and saints forever.

  6. Saints are human beings. At any one time thousands of people are praying to them. What tells you that they now have omni-hearing abilities ( humans do not) to hear and discern between these voluminous prayers.
    Jesus got his “humanity” from Mary. She is human start to finish.
    There is nothing to indicate that humans who have gone on to the after life have all of a sudden gained divine attributes and now to be able to hear like this. All these prayers.
    If you cannot definitely say they have such powers/abilities…a tremendous amout of time , very tremendous amount has been misappropriated.
    So then, I ask , why dont you go to the ONE who has the ability ?
    There is one mediator between God and man…Christ Jesus. I trust that meant ONE, who opened the access to the FATHER.

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