Why are prayers said to saints?

Catholic prayers aren't just said on behalf of the saints, but are petitioned through the saints, a practice begun early in the second century: "But not the high priest alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels... as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep" (Origen, Prayer 11, A.D. 233). Prayer for the saints is based on Ephesians 6:18, "And pray in the Spirit on all occassions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." According to Mark 12:26-27, it may be surmised that since God is the God of the living and not the dead that -- like the descendants of Abraham who believed -- so the past saints of Christ continue living. These living saints surround us as a "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1), whose prayers fill the golden bowls of the elders in heaven (Revelation 5:8) and are presented as offerings to God (Revelation 8:3-4). Although 1 Timothy 2:5 declares that Christ is the only mediator between God and man, 1 Timothy 2:1 also encourages that requests, prayers, and intercession be made for everyone. This then affords the opportunity to enlist the aid of the heavenly saints to intercede on our behalf. Further support for this comes from James 5:16, which says to "pray for each other" and that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Hebrews 12:22-23 says that on Mount Zion are the spirits of righteous men made perfect. It would seem to stand to reason, then, that we should be able to pray directly to these spirits and petition their prayers on our behalf.

Most would understand these passages to mean that prayers of the living believers are to be said for the saints who are currently alive on earth, however, the Catholic Church teaches that the saints in heaven are interceding on behalf of those on earth. Still, 1 John 2:1 says, "we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins..." Jesus is the one intercessor between God and man, as attested to in Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25. It is important to clarify two major points regarding Catholic veneration of the saints by answering these further questions:

  1. Are the saints on earth or in heaven?
  2. By definition, Catholic saints have either been martyred or have died in service to the Church and later canonized into sainthood by the Church. Therefore, according to the Catholic Church, the saints who are referred to in such passages as Ephesians 6:18, Hebrews 12:1, and Revelation 5:8 are in heaven before God. To date, there are over 10,000 canonized Catholic saints.

  3. Do Catholics worship the saints?
  4. Historically, Catholics have been known and accused to worship the saints. Originally, this word simply meant showing respect or honor, which is why it has been substituted for more modern and relevant English words, such as honor, veneration, or homage. To distinguish between the worship of God and the worship of saints, Roman Catholic theology adapted the Greek words dulia, "service" and latria, "service to" to indicate veneration of those who serve God (the saints) and worship due only to God, respectively (to also mean "adore" and "adoration," respectively). In support of this, it may be pointed out that certain biblical words in the original Hebrew and Greek were also translated into the English "worship," though they were designated as the worship or veneration of righteous people (such as the Hebrew shakah, used in Genesis 37:7-9, 49:2-27, and Exodus 18:7). According to Matthew 10:41, "anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward," Catholics maintain the saints in heaven are due honor and reverence by those in the Church on earth.

So, Catholics do pray to the saints in heaven but claim they don't worship them as idols (although shrines dedicated to saints are a common custom). Most non-Catholic believers who petition the prayers of others on their behalf look no further than those whom they know in their own church. James 5:13-16 says to pray for one another and have the elders of the church pray for healing of sickness. The writer of Hebrews requested prayers on behalf of himself from those whom he was addressing (Hebrews 13:18-19). Epaphras, a servant of Jesus in Colosse, often wrestled in prayer for the members of his church (Colossians 4:12). Likewise, Paul often requested prayers on his behalf through those whom he was addressing (Romans 15:30-32, 2 Corinthians 1:11, Ephesians 6:19-20), as well as praying for them himself (Romans 10:1, Philippians 1:4, Colossians 1:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12). In 1 Timothy 2:1, Paul urged that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone. This is to say that believers should pray for others and petition others to pray for them. The saints, according to most non-Catholics, are alive on earth. Psalm 85:8 considers the saints to be God's people and Psalm 148:14 counts the saints as those close to God's heart. Daniel chapter 7, prophesying about the end times, considers the saints to be God's people on earth. These saints existed before Christianity and Christian saints were also seen as being alive on earth according to all of the New Testament epistles. Ephesians 6:18 says, "And pray in the Spirit on all occassions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." This makes certain two points of interest -- that we should pray for the saints in the Spirit, not to the saints in their own spirits.

        "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26-27)

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Reference sources: Catholic Answers (http://www.catholic.com/library/Saint_Worship.asp); Catholic Online - Saints and Angels (http://www.catholic.org/saints/); New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/); Patron Saints Index (http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/indexsnt.htm).