Roman Catholicism: Should We Pray to the Saints?

o should we pray to the saints? Many Protestants, mystified by the Catholic practice, have asked this question.

Roman Catholics and members of the Orthodox and Eastern churches make the claim that it is permissible for Christians to pray to the saints and especially to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Most Protestant Christians usually object to this on the grounds that this is an entirely unbiblical practice. Roman Catholic apologists usually retort that the practice of addressing the saints in prayer is founded on 'Sacred Tradition' and Church history. Of course, this latter view entails an implicit denial and rejection of the Reformation motto "sola Scriptura", ie. "Scripture alone" as the rule and basis for all belief and practice in the Church. Notwithstanding this point, several Roman Catholic apologists have attempted to argue that the Scriptures do indeed buttress the postion that saints can and should be addressed in prayer.

The main passage that is alluded to is Revelation 5:8, Certainly, if prayers to the saints was a common Christian practice then it would be found in a few places in the New Testament, yet it does not. The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic book filled with symbolic imagery and one must be careful how to interpret it. Revelation 5:8 does not say that these are saints in heaven offering up the prayers of other saints to God. Rev.5:8 (NIV) states,

"And when he [the Lamb-Christ] had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."

In this passage both the 4 living creatures and 24 elders bow before the Lamb and hold the bowls of incense. Where does it say they are saints? The 4 living creatures are presumably cherubim based on Ezekiel 1, but cherubim are not saints, they are heavenly beings. The 24 elders are not defined and have been a topic of various interpretations among scholars and theologians. They may represent the people of God through the ages, but we are not sure. However, one thing is certain, they are not the object of prayer. Throughout the book of Revelation, it is God and the Lamb (Jesus Christ) who are always the focal point of worship, honour and praise.

The book of Revelation again is filled with apocalyptic language and is highly symbolic. There are saints in heaven to be sure (Hebrews 12:22-24), but nowhere are we told that they hear our prayers and intercede for us. Hebrews 12:22-24 seeks to show that the Church exists on two levels, the heavenly and earthly level, the Church is both in heaven and earth. Those who seek to prove that saints can be addressed in prayer are clearly reading into the text of Rev.5:8 what is not there. Nowhere does it say that the 24 elders are saints, but rather that they offer up the prayers of the saints to God perhaps as representatives. Even angels perform the same duty of offering up the prayers of the saints (Revelation 8:3-4), but that does not mean they are redeemed saints. ALL who are in Christ Jesus are "saints" (1 Corinthians 1:2), they do not need to go through a process of canonization as Rome has it today. Thus, the saints exist on 2 planes, heavenly (those who have died) and earthly (those who are still alive on earth).

nother point to be made here is the question of intercessory prayer. Do we not intercede for others? The argument usually proceeds along these lines according to Roman Catholic apologists to argue that the saints can also intercede on our behalf in heaven. It is clear that Christ is the only Mediator (1 Tim.2:5) However, Christians can pray and intercede for one another as Scripture clearly testifies. (1 Tim.2:1-4) Of course we should pray for one another. Nevertheless, one important distinction that is always over looked is that such interceding is never commanded or enjoined on the Christian to be done for the dead. It is only in the context of the living and the present. Look at all the passages cited in relation to intercession and it will become evident that this is indeed the case. Not once is the context dealing with intercessory prayer addressing the subject of praying for departed Christians or saints much less praying to them.

It is clearly necromancy, to consult the dead whether for occultic purposes or otherwise. Deuteronomy 18:10-15 is very clear on this. To invoke the dead is to consult with the dead, it is common sense. Roman Catholic apologists who attempt to cite the example of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration is extremely weak. Elijah for one had not died but was translated, Moses did indeed die. However, they appeared not because the disciples were having a seance (they had no clue what was going on!), they appeared with Jesus and they were discussing His death in Jerusalem,

"Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. "(Luke 9:30-31)

The appearance of Elijah and Moses represented Jesus' fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Jesus had said that God was the God of the living, not the dead, and to Him, all are alive. (Luke 20:37-38) The Transfiguration showed that God's servants are alive in His presence in glory. The Transfiguration was to show Christ' glory (see 2 Peter 1:17-18), not to teach us that we can pray to the saints. It is interesting however, that Elijah and Moses are never called "saints" per se in Roman Catholic teaching. You don't hear of St.Moses or prayers offered to him!

The Protestant charge that the saints cannot hear our prayers because they are not omnipresent and infinite like God is a valid one. How can Mary and the saints hear all the prayers around the world. Only God can do this because He is omniscient and omnipresent. Are the saints as finite beings omnipresent, omniscient? This critique has not been adequately explained by those who hold to the view that saints can be invoked in prayer.

Another passage that is sometimes offered by Roman Catholic apologists is the following Scripture,

"Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!" (Psalm 103:20-21)

Also the following passage,

"Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!" (Psalm 148:1-2)

The Transfiguration showed that God's servants are alive in His presence in glory. The Transfiguration was to show Christ' glory (see 2 Peter 1:17-18), not to teach us that we can pray to the saints. It is interesting however, that Elijah and Moses are never called "saints" per se in Roman Catholic teaching. You don't hear of St.Moses or prayers offered to him!

The commands given here are imperatives. The Psalms are poetic in their literary genre and they call on the angels to worship God and sometimes they call on inanimate objects to do the same. These are not prayers to angels, but commands for them to worship God with all creation. Another significant passage that is not usually mentioned for reasons that will be obvious is the remainder of Psalm 148:3-4,

"Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies."

Here, the psalmist calls on the sun, moon, the stars and the heavens to praise God. Does this mean by the same logic that the sun, moon and stars pray for us? Are these heavenly bodies saints? The words are the same in Psalm 148:1-2 as they are in 148:3-4. Roman Catholic apologists are clearly being selective in the passages they want to cite and not cite.

It is also a known fact that Roman Catholics not only invoke the saints in prayer including Mary, but also the angels, particularly their guardian angels. Two key Scriptural passages demonstrate that both these practices are in error.

In the story of the visit of the apostle Peter to the Roman centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:23-48) we read that when Cornelius met Peter he "fell at his feet in reverence." (Acts 10:25) Notice Peter's response, "But Peter made him get up. 'Stand up,' he said, 'I am only a man myself.'"(Acts 10:26) If the Pope is the successor of Peter as Roman Catholicism alleges, does he like Peter forbid people to bow before him in reverence? Does he remind them that he is "only a man"? It is clear that Peter realized that God alone was the object of worship and reverence.

In the case of angels, it is significant that in the book of Revelation, as John was being given his apocalyptic tour of heaven and future events that we read the following in Revelation 19:10,

"At this I fell at his [the angel's] feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!"

It is clear that angel worship here is strongly discouraged. Even the apostle Paul warned of those who practiced "the worship of angels"(Colossians 2:18)

None of the passages examined above support the Roman Catholic teaching of addressing the saints in prayer. In fact as in the case of Acts 10:23-48 and Revelation 19:10, no saint or angel should ever be the recipient of reverence or worship. To do so would be to commit idolatry and violate the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) What they do consistently teach is that God alone is the recipient of all glory, honour and power. He is the object of our worship. Of course, various theological terms have been employed like "veneration" and "adoration" in Catholicism to argue that saints and angels can be venerated but only God can be adored and worshipped. However, at the end of the day it becomes a game of linguistic gymnastics and semantics. Prayers and invocations are ingredients of worship found strewn throughout the Bible. When these same features appear with the saints as their objects, then how can one argue that this is not worship? The result is that technical terms like "veneration" and "adoration" are in the final analysis indistinguishable from each other.

The Scriptures are clear. God and God alone is the object of our prayers, invocations and worship. It is this important point the Reformers reminded us about and appealed for us to return to. This article is a loving appeal to return to the Scriptures as the basis of our belief and practice. In short, this is a labour of love for the cause of Christ. We must speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) To God alone be the glory!

(This article comes from Tony Costa Christian Apologetics and we give full credit to Tony).