As frustrating as it, reading some of the responses from Catholics trying to counter the misinformation is far worse. The RCC has done a poor job of catechizing her faithful for the past fifty or so years and it shows.
One common attack on the Church is that we pray to Mary and the Saints. Because we pray to them and adorn our sacred places with statues of them we are idolaters and therefore not real Christians. I saw this attack online recently, to which I just rolled my eyes. This again, sigh. Then I read the responses from Catholics and could only shake my head in disbelief. The basic response was, “We don’t pray to Mary or the Saints. We pray to God alone. We only ask Mary and the Saints to intercede for us.”
How exactly do we ask Mary and the Saints to pray for us? Oh yes, through our prayers to them.
Yes, Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints. Where the difference in understanding comes is what we believe prayer to be.
The highest form of worship for a Catholic is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where the unbloodied sacrifice of Jesus on the cross at Calvary is made present to us. It is a sacrifice of thanksgiving. One of the first things Martin Luther did in founding his church was to remove this sacrifice turning it into nothing more than a service for the instruction of the faithful. Without valid orders, non-Catholic ministers cannot offer a sacrifice so all non-Catholic services are just that, services, regardless of how much they resemble a Catholic Mass.
To non-Catholics, the highest form of worship is prayer. If prayer is worship then only God deserves our prayers. With this perspective it is easy to see why they believe Catholics to be idolaters. But to Catholics, prayer is something very different. Prayer is communication. First and foremost it is communication with God. Through God it is also of way of communicating with those are with God.
There are four basic types of prayer.
• Prayers of Blessing and Adoration. We praise God for his great glory. We praise God because he alone is worthy of all praise and adoration. The word ‘bless’ from the Latin ‘bene decire’ means to speak well of.
• Prayers of Petition. Asking God for what we need, including forgiveness.
• Prayers of Intercession. Asking God for what others need.
• Prayers of Thanksgiving. We give God thanks for the many gifts he has given to us and for the things he has done.
Prayers can be mental or verbal. They can be formal or informal. Prayer can be one directional or a dialog. They are our conversations with our creator. All prayers are answered by God in accordance to his Holy Will.
So, if prayer is between us and God what about praying to Mary and the Saints?
To understand this you have to first understand the Catholic understanding of death. Death is not an end, it is a doorway. It is the passing from this life into the next. Souls are immortal. Death does not destroy them. When someone dies they do not disappear. They change zip codes. The ultimate resting place for all of us is either heaven or hell. Most of us destined for heaven will spend time in purgatory first.
We are all one family through God. Our family on earth is referred to as the Church Militant. We are still fighting the good fight. Those in purgatory are called the Church Suffering. They are being purified or purged of their earthly attachments so they can enjoy an eternity in heaven with God and the Church Triumphant, our family who are in heaven with God.
If I were facing a particularly difficult trial I could ask any of my family in the Church Militant to pray for me. This is asking for intercessory prayer. The Church Militant are not the only ones who can pray for me. The Church Triumphant can do so as well. Their intercession is very powerful and effective because they are in heaven with God. They love us perfectly and they wish for nothing more than for us to be with them in heaven.
So how can we ask the Church Triumphant to intercede for us? We pray to them of course. This prayer is not worship. It is communication. Can the Saints hear our prayers to them? Yes, if God permits it. All prayers go through God. He is much like the old time telephone operators. “How can I direct your call?” “I’d like to ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for me because I need…” If our prayers are in line with God’s will and for our good he will allow the Saint prayed to to hear our prayer.
But why? Why can’t I just pray to God? Scripture tells us that there is only one intercessor and that is Jesus. How can Mary of the Saints intercede for us when Jesus is the only intercessor to God? Any parent with more than one child knows how this type of intercession works. The first child asks for something he wants. He then gets his brothers and sisters to also petition mom and dad to get him that thing. The combined coercion results in the first child getting what he asked for.
Jesus is the only intercessor to God, the Father. He is our greatest advocate. Mary and the Saints intercede for us by interceding to Jesus. They are in heaven with Jesus. They have his ear. What do you think will have more pull – someone asking Jesus for something or his Mother asking him something on someone’s behalf? Jesus would refuse his mother nothing and his mother would never ask him for anything that is not in accord with God’s will. God would not allow Mary to hear a prayer that is not in accord with his will.
In the end, what it all comes down to is that true prayer is always offered in love. Love is never wasted with God. Love only grows the more it is shared. Love is multiplied like the loaves and the fishes every time we pray for each other. This is not limited to just the Church Militant. The love we share through prayer binds us together with our family who is in heaven. Praying to Mary, the Saints, and even the angels is not an idolatress action but one that multiplies the love of God’s family.