Wednesday, April 27, 2016
THE INTERCESSION OF THE SAINTS
This article could be considered another part to a previous article called THE WORSHIP OF SAINTS.
If I were to sum up what I'm going to talk about here as a question that it might possibly answer, that question might be, "why do Catholics pray to saints?"
In the Catholic Tradition, the word saint pertains most commonly to anyone who is in Heaven. This can refer to a person who has died and is in Heaven or to an angel. This person does not have to be canonized as a saint to be a saint as the term literally pertains to any person, known or unknown, who is in Heaven. The word can be used in a couple of other ways, but is most often used in this way so, for the sake of clarity, this is the usage I am referring to in this article when you see the word "saint." We believe that these people make up an arm of the Catholic Church called The Church Triumphant. We who remain here in our mortality, who are still running the race, if you will, are known as The Church Militant. But it is all one Church and so, together with The Church Suffering (which I will cover elsewhere) the three groups make up what is called The Communion of Saints. A single Church.
As such, we believe that we have recourse to ask the saints for intercessory prayers in much the same way that we ask one another for prayers of intercession. When we ask for the intercession of a saint or of anyone else, we are asking them to pray to God on our behalf for a particular intention.
This teaching is a Tradition of the Catholic Church. If you'd like to understand more about how Tradition, Scripture and Magisterial authority are regarded in the Catholic Church, I suggest you read this article.
A number of objections to this practice have been repeatedly brought to my attention over the years. I will use a few of them now to further explain the practice and why the objections do not discourage me from participating in it.
"We aren't supposed to talk to the dead."
There are two ways I most often tend to answer this objection.
The first is that Catholics don't believe that the saints are dead. We believe that they are living members of the body of Christ. Therefore, we aren't talking to the dead. We are talking to the living.
The second is something that has always jumped out at me as the most obvious sign that talking to the saints can't be sinful: Christ himself is depicted conversing with Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke. The event is witnessed by Peter, James and John. If it is always sinful to speak to those who have died before you, then how can it be said that Jesus never sinned and yet also conversed with those who had died before Him in three out of the four Gospels? If we try to say that only Jesus was allowed to do this and nobody else is, then you run into more problems since, if we are to believe that Jesus was a Jew who obeyed Jewish law, then it comes to bear that conversing with the saints is not a sin. Furthermore, if we are meant to live according to Christ's example, why would this particular thing be a sin for Christians when Christ Himself, in the flesh, set that example?
Now, I'm aware of all of the other statements that are made, both directly and symbolically, in those passages, but you can't ignore the fact that God chose to make those statements using the occasion of Jesus Christ, a man, talking to other men who had already died.
"Jesus Christ is sole mediator."
This is true, but it doesn't stop Christians from asking other Christians to pray for them. Since Catholics believe that the saints are living Christians, we don't see much difference between asking for their prayers and asking for the prayers of those who are mortally among us in the Church Militant, other than that the saints, being more perfectly united to the will of God are obviously going to pray more effectively.
If asking for intercessory prayers negated the concept that Christ is our sole mediator, then asking your friends to pray for you here on earth would also be forbidden. But, strangely enough, we are told to pray for one another in the Bible. In fact, in 1Timothy 2:1-6, we are urged to offer intercessory prayers for all people and we are also told that Jesus is our sole mediator. Both of those things are said one right after the other. The two concepts cannot contradict one another.
"The saints aren't aware of our circumstances or our prayers. (they can't hear us.)"
Catholic Tradition doesn't agree with this statement and, since I believe that the New Testament is a product of Catholic Tradition and that the Old Testament is meant to be read through the lens of the New, I read the Bible in light of that cultural context. As such, the Bible actually does contain several contradictions to the objection.
For example, in Luke 15:7, Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who have no need of repentance. Shortly thereafter he reiterates in Luke 15:10, "I tell you there is rejoicing among the angels over one sinner who repents."
Both statements from Jesus imply that the angels and saints are aware of our affairs.
Yes, I know that the point of the passage is to show that sinners need Jesus more than those who have never strayed, but it doesn't mean that the content of the statement is not true. Especially when it is supported by two millenia of unbroken Christian Tradition concerning the subject.
Again, after a litany of martyrdoms and near martyrdoms in Hebrews 11:29-40, the very next sentence in Hebrews 12:1 refers to all of them as a great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.
Combine these passages with the Christian cultural context that Catholics believe produced them and you get a pretty clear picture of why we believe we have a reasonable claim to the belief that the angels and the saints are aware of our supplications.
"There's no way to know if the saints are praying for you."
Here are two places in which a Catholic would see the objection refuted scripturally when read in light of Catholic exegesis.
Revelation 5:8: "And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;"
The 24 elders represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, the four living creatures are a reference to the imagery of the four angels who drove the Lord's chariot in Ezekiel 10:8-15 and was later associated with the four Gospel writers by the early Church Fathers. They are depicted falling down before the Lamb (Jesus), each holding a harp, representing liturgical worship, and bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints and martyrs, who intercede for the faithful on earth.
Revelation 8:3-4: "And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God."
Here we have a pretty strait forward depiction of an angel presenting the prayers of the saints to God. In the Catholic interpretation, this verse kind of speaks for itself as a correlation with our belief that the angels and the saints are both aware of our prayers and pray for us.
At the very least I hope this has provided some clarification concerning the Catholic teaching concerning the intercessory prayers of the saints.