Dotty wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • If the Catholics believe that the Saints and Mary are face-to-face before God, and they ask them to intercede for them in prayer because they are more righteous than others, what did they do to become more righteous than any other person who has lived or is now living?

The Scriptures say that we are to pray for one another and to confess our sins to one another.

  • Are these people living?
    The elders of the Church would be alive.

  • Who does the priest confess his sins to?
  • Wasn't Jesus the only one free of sin and didn't He die for all sin?
  • Doesn't He want us to turn to Him and have a relationship with Him?
  • Isn't He Our Heavenly Father?
  • Doesn't He sit at the right hand of God?
  • Why do Catholics have to confess their sin before a human, yet they pray to a Saint or Mary?
  • If anyone is going to say a prayer to someone, who is more righteous than anyone else but Jesus?

If anyone is going to confess their sin and ask for forgiveness, Jesus would be the first one to go to, to receive forgiveness anytime and anyplace. Jesus is the intercessor for us.

  • So why aren't Catholics allowed to pray directly to Jesus?

I would appreciate your comments.

Dotty

  { Can you answer some questions on righteousness, confessing sins to a priest, and praying to Saints? }

John replied:

Hi, Dotty —

Thank you for your questions. I'll do my best to answer them for you, however, let me start by saying that your questions seem to be based on certain suppositions about Catholic doctrine which are distorted. Having said that let me take them one at a time.

You said:

  • If the Catholics believe that the Saints and Mary are face-to-face before God, and they ask them to intercede for them in prayer because they are more righteous than others, what did they do to become more righteous than any other person who has lived or is now living?

St. Paul writes to Timothy that he desires all believers everywhere to lift their hands and pray. This is in the same passage where he refers to Jesus as the one mediator. So if anyone can pray, it is because of Christ's sacrifice and through Christ that they pray. So all Christians can approach the throne room of Grace by virtue of being "in Christ", that is, Jesus being the Head, and the Church (the rest of us) being the body.

  • Now this begs the question, does one cease to be in the Body when one is face-to-face
    with God?

I think that you would agree, that Christians who are in Heaven, be they Mary, St. Paul, or anyone else for that matter, are still members in good standing of the Body of Christ, the Church.

The book of Hebrews makes it clear that the New Covenant has torn down the dividing wall between the living and Heaven. Read Hebrews 11; it goes through a litany of Old Testament saints. Then Hebrews 12:1, referring back to these same Saints, says, "Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses ..." Later in the Chapter, a comparison of worship between the Old and New Covenant continues, and we see the following:

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:22-24

So we see that when we worship and pray, we do not do so in a vacuum, but we do so as the Mystical Body of Christ. That includes those who are on Earth and those who are in Heaven; both are alive in Christ.

Now, this verse also answers your question about the righteousness of those in the presence of God. Look at verse 23, "the spirits of just men made perfect."

Their righteousness, like ours, is that of Christ. Christ makes us perfect by Grace. Salvation, after all, is a complete work of Christ's grace from beginning to end, which requires our free will response. So, all the Saints in Heaven did was to receive and respond to grace through faith. Remember, Isaiah tells us that our own righteousness is like filthy rags!

Let's clear something else up. Our prayers to the Saints in Heaven are in the form of requests that they pray for us. We do this as we would ask any living member of the Church to pray for us.
Also, because they are in the presence of God, not hindered by earthly desires, and having been perfected by Grace, they can truly pray according to the Father's will. Thus, we believe that their prayers are more effective. After all, didn't James write that the "prayer of the righteousness avails much"? Again, I cannot over-emphasize the fact that their righteousness is not of their own doing but comes by the grace and virtue of being in Christ. So we do not ask for their intercession instead of Jesus, we do so because they are part of the Body which cannot be separated from the Head, Christ Himself.

You said:

  • Are these people living?
    The elders of the Church would be alive.

I think I've answered that. We ask for their prayers because we are told to pray for one another, and yes, they are alive in Christ. Further, Revelation speaks of the elders of the Church being in Heaven as well. Secondarily, when the Scriptures refer to the elders, it is the Greek word presbyter. This was later abbreviated to the English word, priest.

You said:

  • Who does the priest confess his sins to?

Any other priest, and that includes the Pope, who also confesses his sins to some other priest. However, this requires me to explain a little bit about the New Testament Priesthood.

The Old Testament Priest went before God and represented the people. In the New Testament, we, the believers, are all priests, in a sense, and we represent Christ to the world, and united to Christ, we go before the Father on their behalf. There is also, however, a Ministerial Priesthood which Christ instituted in which the priest represents Christ to the Church. This does not make these priests holier than others.  However, by the power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Christ works through the priest to administer the forgiveness of sins. We rely on the Grace and Mercy of God with full confidence in the Word of God which says in 1 John 1:9: if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Normally, that would take place through the ministry of the Ordained Priesthood. After all, Jesus was speaking only to His twelve Apostles in John:

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

(John 20:21-23)

You said:

  • Wasn't Jesus the only one free of sin and didn't He die for all sin?

Jesus is the only one sinless in both His Divine and Human Nature(s), of Himself.

Important Note: We do believe that Mary was preserved from sin, but this was not of her own doing, but rather a unique act of Grace based on what Jesus would do later on the Cross.

You said:

  • Doesn't He want us to turn to Him and have a relationship with Him?
    Isn't He Our Heavenly Father?

Of course, but, none of that precludes the function of members of His Body. Christ established a Church, and one cannot separate the Church from Christ, or Christ from the Church. None of what we believe or do is an alternative to Jesus.

You said:

  • Why do Catholics have to confess their sin before a human, yet they pray to a Saint or Mary?

I believe I've answered that already.

You said:
If anyone is going to confess their sin and ask for forgiveness, Jesus would be the first one to go to, to receive forgiveness anytime and anyplace. Jesus is the intercessor for us.

  • So why aren't Catholics allowed to pray directly to Jesus?

  • What! Where did you ever get the idea that Catholics aren't allowed to pray directly to Jesus?

Clearly you have been given wrong information. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior!! Without His shed Blood, I'd be on the way to Hell.

  • He created me to be in fellowship with Him, so why on earth wouldn't I pray to Him?
  • Why would the Church, which He founded, ever forbid me to do so?
  • Does your asking your pastor or friend to pray for you preclude you from praying directly to Jesus?

Further, nowhere is a Catholic bound to pray to the Saints, or that we must ask them through prayer. Nowhere in Catholic teaching is it said that we must do so in our personal prayer life. Some Catholics do, others don't. I know Catholics that pray the Rosary, and others, like myself, that would more often pray in tongues like our Pentecostal and Charismatic brethren.

I would very much like to continue to dialogue with you, if for no other reason than to dispel any misconceptions about Catholicism that you may well have gotten, from:

  • Catholics who either don't know their faith, or
  • from anti-Catholic Protestant Christians who promote all kinds of distortions about Catholic Teaching.

Look, the Catholic Church teaches and always has taught, that we are:

"saved by Grace through faith and that not of ourselves, not by works lest any man should boast."

(Ephesians 2:8-9)

We don't earn our salvation. Mary and the Saints are part of the Church and as such, they can and do intercede for us, as I hope you will for me from now on. All that the Church and Her members do in Christ's name, and according to His will, is done in the Power of the Holy Spirit working through the members of His Body. The Blood of Christ was sufficient payment for all sin! When we come to Christ, He not only declares us righteous, but He makes us so. We are fully confident, that:

  • "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
  • knowing that in  "Him we move and have our being."
    (Acts 17:28)

As I said before, I'd like to continue to stay in touch in a spirit of Christian Fellowship.
The questions that you ask are not always easy to answer in a short paragraph.

For now, I hope this helped.

Under His Mercy and in His Love,

John DiMascio

Eric replied:

Hi, Dotty —

Thanks for your note.

I have a few points to add to my brother John's excellent response.

You said:
If the Catholics believe that the Saints and Mary are face-to-face before God, and they ask them to intercede for them in prayer because they are more righteous than others, what did they do to become more righteous than any other person who has lived or is now living?

They aren't necessarily more righteous than any other person who has lived, but they are more righteous than the living, because they have been made perfect (cf. Hebrews 12:23, as John pointed out.) Nothing unclean can enter Heaven, (Revelation 21:27) and so those that are in Heaven have been made clean, and are freed from the sinful nature and all the imperfections to which we, on earth, are all subjected.

Moreover, the Saints that Catholics customarily pray to are saints that are known for their exceptional holiness and righteousness even on earth. What they did to demonstrate their righteousness varies, but it came from being open to and cooperating with God's grace.

You said:
Wasn't Jesus the only one free of sin and didn't He die for all sin?

He did merit our forgiveness, but He also specified how it was to be administered. In John 20:21, Jesus said to the Eleven,

"Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Here He gave them the authority to forgive sins, and to hold sins unforgiven, in His Name. Obviously, in order to do this, they need to hear what the sins are. Hence Confession.

You said:
Doesn't He want us to turn to Him and have a relationship with Him?
Isn't He Our Heavenly Father?
Doesn't He sit at the right hand of God?

Absolutely. There is no doubt about that. A relationship with God is essential.

  • But does this contradict the fact that God has called us to confess our sins to one another, specifically, those with the Apostolic authority to forgive sins?

You said:
Why do Catholics have to confess their sin before a human, yet they pray to a Saint or Mary?

One thing that is worth pointing out is that the Catholic Church teaches that only mortal sins, that is, sins that totally rupture our relationship with God and sever us from his saving grace, have to be confessed in the Sacrament of Confession.

This highlights another reason for the Sacrament: Sin does not affect us alone, it affects the whole community. You can read many times in the Old Testament how God punished whole clans, or even the whole nation of Israel, for the sins of just one person. In the Mystical Body of Christ, what happens to one member affects all members (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26, Romans 12:5). This is what we mean by the Communion of Saints.

This means that your sin is not a private matter just between you and God, but it affects the whole community, as well. It is not "me and Jesus". Consequently, you need to seek forgiveness, especially for a serious sin, from the community as well as from God. It's not a matter of
either-or; it's a matter of both-and. It's not confessing to the priest instead of God, it is confessing to both God and the priest.

The priest is the ambassador of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20), and the ambassador of the Church.

I'd like to throw in my own personal experience, though. I have experienced great grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Not only does it provide an authoritative assurance that we are forgiven, but God has given me grace through it to overcome my habitual sins. Without it, I find myself wallowing in the same sins over and over, unable to break the cycle of guilt and despair, but with it, I am set free. Thanks be to God!

You said:

  • If anyone is going to say a prayer to someone, who is more righteous than anyone else but Jesus?

If anyone is going to confess their sin and ask for forgiveness, Jesus would be the first one to go to, to receive forgiveness anytime and anyplace. Jesus is the intercessor for us.

We *should* pray to Jesus, and we *should* confess our sins to Jesus and ask for forgiveness (that's essentially what we are doing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation anyway). Again, it's not a matter of either-or —

Do I pray to a saint, or do I pray to Jesus?
Do I confess to Jesus, or do I confess to a priest?

but of both-and

We pray to Jesus, and we ask others (living here or in Heaven) to pray for us.
We confess to Jesus, and we confess to the priest.

Christianity is a communal religion, and we don't stand alone. We rely on our brothers and sisters for their help. After all, praying for one another is essentially an act of love.

You said:
So why aren't Catholics allowed to pray directly to Jesus?

To underscore what John said, it's a serious misunderstanding of the Catholic teaching to say that Catholics are not allowed to pray directly to Jesus. This has never been so.

Hope this helps you understand the Catholic position a bit better.

Yours in Christ,

Eric

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