The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 8, 2001 Issue
Foundations of Faith

Do we waste our time praying to the saints?

Asking saints for help doesn't deflect worship from God

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Do we pray to Mary? Or the saints? Why aren't we praying directly to God?

Wes Kupsky, a reader from Chilton, is concerned that prayer directed to Mary makes her into a type of divine being.

"What bothers me the most," Kupsky writes, "is the fact that every prayer directed at Mary is a prayer not being directed to GOD the Father. Every minute of a worship service directed at Mary, is a minute of worship taken directly from GOD. Was not the backbone of Jesus' ministry that everything is to be directed to the Father? Did not Jesus direct us to pray to GOD and only GOD the Father?"

Part of the difficulty in understanding what Catholics do when we "pray to the saints" is understanding what "pray to" means. In our modern understanding of the phrase, we immediately associate it with the word "prayer," which is an act of worship. And worship, for Catholics as well as other Christians, is directed only to God.

However, when we are talking about saints, we understand "pray to" as related to the word "pray." The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "pray" as "entreat" and "implore" and tells us the word comes from English, French, Latin, German and even Sanskrit words meaning "to ask."

When we pray to Mary or the saints, we are asking for their help. Maybe using the phrase "pray with" instead of "pray to" would make things more understandable.

When you are sick, or something monumental takes place in your life, don't you ask other people to pray for you? Why? Doesn't God listen to your prayers? Isn't that enough?

We ask others to pray for us because we believe that shared prayer is an act of worship. That is why we gather together for liturgy, as well as for other forms of communal prayer: we believe God calls us to community. We are the people of God and, as a people, we join together to offer praise to God.

In fact, we are directed to pray together, to join with Christ in praising God. Scripture tells us Jesus said that "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20).

So, by joining our prayers together, we join our worship together and we witness our faith.

Since we believe in the Resurrection and in eternal life, we do not believe that our witness to God ends upon death. Rather, as regards the saints, we believe that upon their deaths, they entered into the face-to-face, intimate contact with God that is the fulfillment of human life. They are "with God" in the fullest sense. And, once in that divine presence, why would they stop giving witness to God's glory?

"The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom ..." the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. ... Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world" (CCC. no. 2683).

Also, when we ask the saints to intercede for us, we are not forgetting about God or Christ. Rather, we are focusing directly upon them. All prayer between Christians -- whether living or dead -- has meaning only in Christ. When we acknowledge those who have lived their lives as the Master lived his, we are only giving praise to that Master. We are giving glory to God through those who gave glory to Christ with their lives.

The Second Vatican Council tells us, "Exactly as Christian communion between people on their earthly pilgrimage brings us closer to Christ, so our community with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace and the life of the People of God itself. ... Every authentic witness of love, indeed, offered by us to those who are in heaven tends to and terminates in Christ 'the crown of all the saints' and through him in God who is wonderful in his saints and glorified in them (2Th 1:1)" (Lumen Gemtium, no. 50).

Finally, we must make clear that Catholics offer devotion to the saints, but worship God alone. As Fr. Ronald Stanley, OP, a chaplain at Rutgers University, says, "No, Catholics do not pray to saints in the same way that they pray to God. Only God is offered prayers of adoration and worship. Saints are not to be adored, because no matter how holy they may be, they are mere human beings. But, yes, Catholics do pray to saints in the sense of offering them honor, and asking them to join us in praying to God."

(Sources: Catechism of the Catholic Church; the Catholic Center at Rutgers web site; Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary; Lumen Gentium.)

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