The Lone Ranger Vs. The Communion of Saints
A couple of days before I was to be joined in Holy Matrimony to Julie, I encountered a Protestant lady, who had turned away from the Catholic Church of her upbringing. After listening to her story, I shared mine, in brief, which caused her to raise a few points that caused me to do the whole “sideways cat head” kind of look. The first point was that Catholicism was not Biblical (lol), then that praying to Mary and the Saints, praying to statues, was inherently against Christianity, and that praying to the Saints was also not Biblical. She said things like the term “Pope” was not Biblical, and basically did the whole stance of, “If it’s not in the Bible, I will not believe it”. I humbly shared a few verses with her, which caused her to become intrigued, especially concerning the Communion of Saints. I had to run, so we exchanged emails, and she emailed me asking me for the Scriptures which prove that seeking the intercession of the Saints is Biblical. I wished to share the main body of my response with you all and hope you all enjoy.
We had been discussing the Saints and why the Catholic Church believes it is important to seek their intercession. I wish to give a broad overview for you. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in my research of this topic, and I wish to share my findings with you (Thank you for the opportunity to solidify my faith). Keep in mind with this, that the Scriptures are one unit, which builds off of each other to create a grand picture. I am going to share with you the Church’s view, not my own personal interpretation of Scripture, but what has been the case for 2000 years.
To begin, who are the Saints? The Saints are those men and women who the Church has officially recognized as worthy of imitation because of their heroic virtue and holiness, like Saint Paul, who says, “Imitate me, for I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). The Big “S” Saints are united with the small “s” saints, which is us who are part of the Church on the earth. They are our big brothers and sisters in the faith who give us an example to live by.
From the Biblical perspective, it is quite clear that those who have died and are saved are truly alive, and aware of earthly affairs. They also love us, and so it makes sense that they would want to make intercession for us. Though Jesus is the one mediator between God and Man (1 Tim 2:5), the Scriptures do not condemn turning to our brothers and sisters for prayer. Furthermore, it is also very clear that the prayers of some people are more efficacious than others. The Sacred Scripture does not formally condemn seeking the intercession of the saints, both those in Heaven nor those on the earth (1 Tim 2:1-4).
Saint James tells us that, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:16-18)
Many of the Saints of the Old Testament, as the Church refers to them, had incredible strength in their prayer, for example Elijah, Moses, and Abraham. Their prayers were able to convince God to spare entire cities from decimation. With this in mind, it makes sense that, for example, the Mother of Jesus Christ, who the angel Gabriel declared was “Full of grace”, would be very effective in her prayer. Likewise, the Saints also have a share in this grace.
Does this mean that the Catholic Church says to pray to Saints only? No. The Catholic Church lives to bring honour and worship to God, as she shows by offering worship to God in the form of the Mass at every hour of the day across the globe. That, along with the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours(a collection of Psalms and prayers), consecrates every section of the day to God, and is prayed by the entire church 24/7. These are not rituals that worship Saints. In fact the Church condemns worship of Saints. Honouring the Saints is referred to as “Dulia” in the Latin, which is the honour due to a great figure, like a King or Queen. “Latria”, which is the Latin term for the worship due to God alone, is the highest form of honour and worhsip and cannot be given to anyone else besides God alone. He alone is God.
Praying to, is different than praying with. In the case of the Church’s attitude, any time the faithful turn to a Saint, it should simply be to ask their intercession. Anything even remotely appearing to deify these earthly creatures is condemned.
Now that it is clear that God can will for these righteous men and women to offer intercession for us, where do we find this fact in the Scriptures that they do this?
Hebrews 12:1 speaks of a “great cloud of witnesses”, who spur us on to victory. This is an allusion to the Saints who have gone before us. In the Book of Revelation, as we spoke of before, John shows that the Saints and Angels offer supplication for us in Heaven before God saying, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’ (Rev 6:9-10). The Angels in Revelation, present the prayers of the saints before God “Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. (Rev. 8-3-4; See also Rev. 5:8 and 8:3-4).
The Saints are alive and well and can intervene in earthly affairs. In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus was transfigured before the Apostles Peter, James, and John, Moses and Elijah came to Jesus and spoke with Him (Matt 17:1-3). In the Old Testament, Samuel appeared to Saul and prophesied his impending death (1 Sam 28:12; 14-15). Jesus says “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living;” (Mark 12:26-27). The Saints are alive. These should not be misunderstood as ghosts or anything like that, they are the Saints who reside in Heaven being given the grace by God, to appear to someone, to speak on His behalf. A true apparition NEVER points to anything or anyone else besides Jesus Christ.
So not only can the Saints hear and pray for us, but they can appear, if God so wills it. Scripture even declares this.
The Canon of Scripture was not officially compiled until 1441 at the Ecumenical Council of Florence, however Pope Damasus in 366-384 defined the books that the Catholics have in the Canon of Scripture today. These were then reaffirmed in by the Decree “De Canonicis Scripturis” at the Council of Trent on April 8th, 1546 by Pope Pius IV who formally confirmed all of its decrees in 1564 A.D. This was reaffirmed after the Protestant reformers had removed the deuterocanonical books because they believed they were not found in the Hebrew and Aramaic (later we find this is not the case). Before the canon of Scripture was compiled, the early church relied on the teachings of the Apostles, and what had been passed on by oral tradition. Therefore, I think it also to be crucial to ask the question, “What did the early Christian church believe about the intercession of the Saints”?
“In this way is [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of the angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their safe keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer].” St. Clement of Alexandria (Miscellanies 7:12 – c A.D. 250)
“You say, in your pamphlet, that so long as we are alive we can pray for one another; but once we die, the prayer of no person for another can be heard, and all the more because the martyrs, though they cry for the avenging of their blood, [Apoc. vi, 10], have never been able to obtain their request. If Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, when they ought still to be anxious for themselves, how much more must they do so when once they have won their crowns, overcome, and triumphed?” St. Jerome (Against Vigilantius 6 – A.D. 406)
There are many quotes like this, which support the notion of seeking the intercession of the Saints, before the Bible was the Bible. The Early Church truly felt it important to seek their prayers. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that this notion was somehow done away with. However, it is truly to the detriment of believers.
In conclusion, the Church has, and always will teach that the intercession of the Saints is a great good. They lived holy, and virtuous lives and have power to intercede for us. The Scriptures reveals these things to us. Why would the wish to finish all that they did on earth end at the moment of death? Would they not desire to lead even more souls to Jesus Christ? Therefore, it is important to ask for their prayers, as we would each other. If the Early Church Fathers believed it was good to ask their intercession, I think it should be something we should consider. It is a tactic of the enemy to divide the church, and turn us all into lone rangers. I conclude with a quote from CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, in which a senior devil, Screwtape, speaks to a junior devil.
“One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.”
In the Immaculata,
The One Minute Apologist – Dave Armstrong
The Catholic Verses – Dave Armstrong
Why is that in Tradition – Patrick Madrid
Catholic and Christian – Alan Schreck
The Father’s Know Best – Jimmy Akin
The Sacred Scriptures – The Catholic Church