Recently at a family gathering — where most of the family members were Lutheran — a question came up as to why Catholics prayed to Blessed Mother Mary and to saints. According to them, the only one we should be praying to is God — the rest equates to praying to a false idol. I tried to explain my many years of Catholic education. Can you clarify this at all? (Wausaukee)
The Catholic Church is a family. As a family, we have brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. For example, we call men and women in the religious life “brother” or “sister.” And we call priests “father” and, traditionally, leaders of women’s religious orders are called “mother.” Beyond earthly titles, these words speak towards the family which is the church.
This family extends beyond this world to Mary and the saints. They are also our brothers and sisters in heaven. And Mary is our spiritual mother. Most importantly, Jesus is our brother and Savior with God our Father.
Mary and the saints are our spiritual brothers and sisters. We admire them for their example of faithfulness. We endeavor to follow their example. And we ask for their prayers as we strive to travel the same journey toward eternal life.
But how is this possible? When we are united with Jesus through the Sacrament of Baptism, becoming part of his body, the church, we share everything with him. This means that his mother Mary is our mother also. And since everyone in heaven is a saint, those who have died in friendship with God are our brothers and sisters. Joined by our fellow Christians here on earth, we comprise the family of the church.
As a family of faith, we ask Mary and the saints to pray for us — just like we pray for one another here on earth. And since the saints are very close to God, indeed seeing him face to face, their prayers are powerful. So, too, are the prayers of our spiritual Mother Mary, whose entire purpose is to bring us closer to her son, Jesus.
Now, we do not really pray “to” the saints. We might say this, but it is really not an accurate way of speaking and can lead to confusion. Clearly, we pray to God alone.
Perhaps a better of way of saying this is that we ask the saints to pray for us. Just like others ask us for our prayers, we ask the saints to pray for us. Some might object that asking the saints to pray for us is really a form of praying to the dead. But this is not true, since the saints are alive in heaven with God. Others might say that asking Mary and the saints to pray for us, or having a particular devotion to a saint takes away from the honor due to Jesus Christ alone as our Savior. The church is a family. And as part of this family, we ask our spiritual mother, Mary, and our brothers and sisters the saints to pray for us and to help us by their prayers along the Christian way.
Fr. Girotti is vicar for canonical services for the Diocese of Green Bay.