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Roman Catholic doctrine: Praying to the saints


Vatican City, Rome, Italy

When it comes to praying to the saints, the Roman Catholic Church knows it is walking a fine line, because of the repeated admonitions throughout the Bible against contacting the dead.

Leviticus 20:6 explicitly warns that God will oppose any person who consults mediums (those who consult the dead) or familiar spirits (literally the souls of dead family members). Similar warnings are found in Leviticus 19:31, and Deuteronomy 18:10-11.

So how does the Catholic Church get around these warnings?

Well, first it states that people are not actually praying to dead saints, they are simply asking these saints to pray for them.

Suggesting that asking the dead to pray for you is different from prayer is just a matter of semantics. In fact, they are praying to the saints, even when asking.

To support their position of praying to the saints, Catholic theologians point to passages in the Book of Revelation that picture people in heaven praising, worshiping and even petitioning God (Revelation 4:10, 5:8, 6:9-11).

They theorize that Mary, the mother of Jesus, can personally ask Christ on a person’s behalf. Other saints who have been glorified by the Catholic Church also have access to God.

But in practice, many Catholics have gone well past this and are not just asking for the saints to pray for them, but are personally asking the saints and Mary for help.

As examples of this, the following are some excerpts of prayers to Mary found on the MaryPages:

From ‘Mary help of those in need’

Holy Mary, help those in need. Give strength to the weak. Comfort the sorrowful. Pray for God’s people.

From ‘Sub Tuum Praesidum’

We fly to thy patronage, O holy mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers.

From the ‘Memorare’

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O virgin of virgins, my mother.

By not condemning these type of prayers, the Roman Catholic Church is essentially condoning them.

In the Biblical record, there is only one instance of a dead person being successfully consulted and that involved King Solomon using a witch to contact the prophet, Samuel. It was obvious, Samuel did not want to be interrupted and actually ended up cursing King Saul (1 Samuel 28:7–19).

And in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, who both died and went to heaven, we read that when the rich man petitioned Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family, Abraham answered no, because they already have Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:19-31).

There is no doubt that the dead are fully aware, but there is not a single instance in scripture of people praying to the dead, in fact, there is only condemnation for such activity.

Neither is there any instance of the dead praying for people on earth?

If fact, the Bible states the complete opposite:

  • It says there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5);
  • Jesus is already interceding on our behalf. In other words, nobody has to ask Him (Hebrews 7:25) ;
  • The Holy Spirit will also step in and pray through us, when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26-27); and
  • Because of Christ’s work, we already have full access to the throne room of God (Hebrews 4:16).

The roots of praying to the saint

Since there is no Biblical basis for praying to Mary and the saints, where did these ideas come from?

John Calvin (1509-1564), joined Martin Luther in his break away from the Roman Catholic Church and the start of the protestant reformation.

Before his conversion around 1533, Calvin had studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood and was working as a chaplain.

He was well versed in Roman Catholic theology and in his book, A Treatise on Relics, Calvin explained where the prayers for the dead came from. He says that it has pagan roots and adds that the glorified saints of the Catholic Church were the replacement of pagan demigods, writing:

Hero-worship is innate to human nature, and it is founded on some of our noblest feelings, — gratitude, love, and admiration, — but which, like all other feelings, when uncontrolled by principle and reason, may easily degenerate into the wildest exaggerations, and lead to most dangerous consequences. It was by such an exaggeration of these noble feelings that [Roman] Paganism filled the Olympus with gods and demigods, — elevating to this rank men who have often deserved the gratitude of their fellow-creatures, by some signal services rendered to the community, or their admiration, by having performed some deeds which required a more than usual degree of mental and physical powers.

The same cause obtained for the Christian martyrs the gratitude and admiration of their fellow-Christians, and finally converted them into a kind of demigods. This was more particularly the case when the church began to be corrupted by her compromise with Paganism [during the fourth and fifth-centuries], which having been baptized without being converted, rapidly introduced into the Christian church, not only many of its rites and ceremonies, but even its polytheism, with this difference, that the divinities of Greece and Rome were replaced by Christian saints, many of whom received the offices of their Pagan predecessors.

The church in the beginning tolerated these abuses, as a temporary evil, but was afterwards unable to remove them; and they became so strong, particularly during the prevailing ignorance of the middle ages, that the church ended up legalizing, through her decrees, that at which she did nothing but wink at first.

Calvin then adds in a footnote that many of the saints took on attributes once associated with these demigods:

Thus St. Anthony of Padua restores, like Mercury, stolen property; St. Hubert, like Diana, is the patron of sportsmen; St. Cosmas, like Esculapius, that of physicians, etc. In fact, almost every profession and trade, as well as every place, have their especial patron saint, who, like the tutelary divinity of the Pagans, receives particular hours from his or her protégés.

READ: Is prayer to saints / Mary biblical? AND When did Praying to Saints Start?

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