Catholic Devotion To The Saints
Q & A
Catholic devotion to the Saints is sometimes misunderstood by other Christians. Below is a list of common questions or objections and a Catholic response to each:
Q: Aren’t you worshiping the Saints when you pray to them?
A: Certainly not. Prayer does not automatically imply worship; it can simply mean to entreat someone by asking a favor of them. The Church has delineated three categories that distinguish the way one prays to the Saints, to Mary or to God. Dulia is a Greek word signifying honor; it describes the type of homage due to the Saints on account of their profound holiness. Hyper-dulia describes the preeminent honor paid to the Mother of God due to the exalted status God Himself has granted her. Latria, which signifies worship, is the supreme homage given to God alone. None but God are worthy of worship or latria.
Q: Does it detract from the honor due to God to honor the Saints?
A: When we admire a magnificent painting, does this detract from the honor due to the artist? To the contrary, to admire a piece of artwork is a compliment to the artist whose skill brought it about. God is the one who makes Saints and raises them to the heights of holiness for which they are revered (as they would be the first to tell you), and so to honor the Saints is automatically to honor God, the Author of their sanctity. As Scripture attests, “we are God’s handiwork.” (Eph 2:10)
Q: Since Scripture says that Christ is the One Mediator, is it a violation to ask the Saints to intercede for us? (Cf. 1 Tim 2:5)
A: If asking the Saints to intercede for us were contrary to Christ’s unique mediatorship, then it would likewise be wrong to ask a relative or friend on earth to pray for us. It would even be wrong to pray for others ourselves, placing ourselves as intercessors between God and them! Clearly, this is not the case. Intercessory prayer has been a pivotal feature of the charity Christians have exercised toward one another since the foundation of the Church. It is commanded by Scripture (1 Tim 2:1-4), and both Protestant and Catholic Christians continue to practice it today. Of course, it is absolutely true that only Christ, fully divine and fully human, can bridge the gulf between God and humanity. It is precisely because this unique mediation of Christ overflows so abundantly that we Christians can pray for one another in the first place. It is through Christ that we have access in the Spirit to the Father, and so all Christian intercessory prayer is a participation in the one mediatorship of Christ.
Q: Are the Saints in Heaven oblivious to the affairs of earth?
A: Scripture certainly paints a very different picture. Luke 15:7 and Rev 19:1-4 are just two examples of the Saints’ awareness of and concern for earthly affairs. This is a necessary implication of the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy.” (1 Cor 12:26) This solidarity with one’s brothers and sisters in the Lord is the effect of charity, and in Heaven charity is intensified and perfected, so that the Saints’ concern for us is even greater than our concern for one another.
Q: Shouldn’t we just go directly to God? Why do we need a go-between?
A: Without doubt, we can and should pray directly to God—to all three Persons of the Trinity. Holiness consists precisely in having a deep intimacy with God, and the Mystics testify to the familiar conversation that the Lord delights in sharing with His friends. (See the great booklet by St. Alphonsus, How to Converse Continually and Familiarly with God.) We seek the intercession of the holy ones not as a substitute for our direct prayer to God but as a supplement to it. There is strength in numbers, as illustrated for example when the early Church prayed together for St. Peter’s release from prison. (Acts 12; cf. also Matt 18:19.) There is also power in the prayer of persons who are particularly close to God, as St. James writes (5:16). The Saints, having been purified of all their sins and confirmed in their virtues, and beholding now the face-to-face vision of the Divine Essence, are incredibly close to God and so exercise an enormous influence, according to God’s good pleasure. Finally, it is well to remember the story of Job, whose friends incurred God’s wrath and could only obtain God’s favor by beseeching Job to pray on their behalf. (Job 42:8-10)