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Ashley Patterson wrote:

Hi, guys—

I'm 16 and thinking of converting to Catholicism, however there are a few things I haven't yet worked out. I was raised Baptist and was always taught to pray directly to God.

  • The thought of the intercession of the saints and Mary confuses me, because I don't really see their usefulness when I can pray directly to God.

  • Also, there is a passage in the Bible that condemns talking to the dead, and I was wondering if that would fall under this category.

I would really appreciate your help!

Thank you for your time.


  { Can you explain to a Baptist, thinking about converting, the value of praying to Mary & the saints? }

Eric replied:

Hi Ashley,

Thanks for your question.

As I am sure you know, a Catholic Christian can, and indeed very much should, pray directly to God. Virtually the whole liturgy is directed toward the Holy Trinity. Christ came to reconcile us to the Father, so that we could become friends of God like Abraham; and sons and daughters of God in an intimate relationship with God our Father and Christ our brother.

  • Now you asked, why should we ask the intercession of the saints when we can pray
    directly to God?

I am glad, by the way, that you understand it accurately as requesting the saints to pray for us; we don't believe in them as if they were 'demigods' of any sort. Well, the answer is simple:

"14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, ... 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

James 5:14-16

In other words, since not every believer possesses the same degree of righteousness and not every believer has faith in equal measure, the prayers of a more righteous believer with a greater degree of faith are more effective than our own prayers and which believers are more righteous, and have more faith, than those who see the Lord face to face?

Considered another way, even Baptists ask their fellow church members to pray for them.
Paul asked others to pray for him. Read:

It is no different with Catholics. We ask our fellow church members to pray for us as well, only
we also consider those who are now with the Lord. A good illustration of our belief in this matter is a section of the Confiteor we pray during the liturgy:

"... and I ask blessed Mary ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you,
my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God."

We are simply asking the Saints in Heaven to do the same thing we ask of the saints on earth (i.e. holy ones) to pray for us. (cf. CCC 823 of the Catechism)

II. The Church is Holy

823 "The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as 'alone holy,' loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 39; cf. Ephesians 5:25-26) The Church, then, is the holy People of God, (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 12) and her members are called saints. (Acts 9:13; 1 Corinthians 6:1; 16:1)

We believe that through faith, we are all one:

  • believers in Heaven
  • believers on Earth, and
  • believers undergoing final purification

— bound together in what we call the Communion of Saints. Let's turn to Revelation 4 - 5.

Here we see an image of the Heavenly Liturgy: the worship going on in Heaven right now, which we enter into ourselves when we celebrate the divine and sacred Liturgy, patterned after Revelation 5. Here we have the awesome Seraphim always praising and worshipping the enthroned Father and the Lamb. The Lamb Himself is looking as if he had been slain — which means that in the Holy Liturgy of the Eucharist, we are making present the one sacrifice of Calvary, that is, the flesh of the sacrificed Paschal Lamb. The fact that this is the sacrifice is clear since there is an altar (cf. Revelation 6:9), under which are the martyrs — this is why it is a Catholic and Orthodox custom to put the bones of martyrs under our earthly altars, as a pattern of the Heavenly Altar.

Clearly, in the mystical imagery of Revelation, the Lamb's sacrifice is an eternal reality, not a past event. But let's go on. There are the seven torches of fire, the seven spirits of God; these are represented by candles in the Holy Liturgy. Finally, there are the twenty four elders — the Twelve Patriarchs and the Twelve Apostles.

  • And what are these elders, who symbolize all the Saints in glory, doing?

They are carrying golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the Saints.
The Elders are offering the prayers of all the holy ones to the One seated on the throne.
Clearly then, the Saints in glory are involved in our prayer: it is not merely a private matter between us and God, for God's Bride, the Church, is also involved!

In Hebrews, Paul gives us another awe-inspiring image of the Holy Liturgy ("acceptable worship, [done] with reverence and awe" — 12:28):

"You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22|In context: Hebrews 12:22-28)

— that is, the Church, the city set on a mountain (Hebrews 11:10, Matthew 5:14) — "and to innumerable angels in festal gathering" — gathered with the earthly church as we celebrate and worship — "and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven," — that is, the Saints who have gone before — "and to a judge who is Lord of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect" — the saints in glory again — "and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel." That is, the Blood of the Covenant, the Eucharist.

Note the parallel with Revelation 5: the twenty four elders (the Patriarchs and the Apostles), the Seraphim and other angels, the Great White Throne of the Father, the altar of God (Revelation 6:9) where the "Lamb looking as if it had been slain" is being worshipped. The slain Lamb and the altar are, of course, the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which transcends all time and which we enter into through the Eucharist. For Revelation 5 is nothing less than what I have identified the imagery in Hebrews as, that is, the Holy Liturgy in Heaven, and when we celebrate the Holy Liturgy on earth, we are mystically present at that very same heavenly worship — with the saints, with again the "myriads of angels" (Revelation 5:11), with the Father, and, most of all, partaking from the altar of God the flesh and blood of the slain Passover Lamb. For, as it says just beyond this in Hebrews, "we have an altar of which those serving the tabernacle have no right to eat" (Hebrews 13:10), that is to say, we eat from this altar in Heaven when we celebrate the Eucharist. "Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast," for children "share in flesh and blood" (Hebrews 2:14). My point being, both here in Hebrews and in Revelation, we see that the holy ones in glory are present with us in our worship.

But they are not only present with us during the Holy Liturgy. Earlier, in Chapter 11, Paul offers models of faith from the Old Testament Saints, especially noting how they were made righteous by their faith working in obedience. In Hebrews 11:10, we see that the Saints looked forward to the city built by God, that is, the "city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14).

This city is the Church of Christ, built on Mount Zion: it cannot be hidden, that is to say, it is not invisible, but is rather a visible city. Like Christ himself, who has both a divine and a human nature, His Body has both a divine and unseen nature, and a human and incarnate nature.

Thus the Church is not merely the collection of all faithful believers in Christ, it is a city, with government and visible bonds of unity. Paul makes an amazing statement after going through the list of faithful Old Testament Saints in Hebrews. He says of them in Hebrews 11:39:

"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."

Hebrews 11:39

Only together with us would they be made perfect and only together with God's New Covenant People of God can we be made perfect! Our sanctification (literally "sanctification", — our being made saints) depends on one another! In Hebrews 12:1, he says,

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . ."

(Hebrews 12:1)

Wait a minute.
<What witnesses?>

The Old Testament Saints.
<Surrounded by a cloud of them?>

Yes! — the Holy Saints of God are present with us even now, not only present, but surrounding us, encouraging us as it were in our race which has been set before us and, I dare say, assisting us — for what other reason do they surround us?

The early Fathers certainly believed in the Communion of Saints, as it is called in the Apostle's Creed:

"You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard; and this is especially clear since the martyrs, though they cry for vengeance for their own blood, have never been able to obtain their request. But if the Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?"

St. Jerome, Against Vigilantius (406 A.D.)

This also explains the difference between asking the Saints for their prayers, and necromancy: talking to the dead.

  1. First of all, necromancy has more of the sense of fortune-telling than merely addressing the dead; in other words, what God forbids in necromancy is seeking a (verbal) response from the dead, not addressing requests for prayer to them.

  2. Second of all, since according to Revelation 5 it is the role of the saints in Heaven to carry our prayers to God anyway, and since Hebrews 12:1 says that the saints are a cloud of witnesses that surround us and says that they are present with us in our liturgical worship, there is no reason to doubt that it is a big deal to believe that they can hear our requests.

  3. Third, the Saints are not dead— they are alive in Christ. Christ said, Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12). Christ by his death destroyed death and the power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15) in order that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). No, the saints are not dead. He is not the God of the dead but of the living! (Mark 12:27)

  4. Fourth, we have Scriptural proof that the Saints who have gone before intercede for us in the presence of God. In Jeremiah 15:1, written long after Moses and Samuel were dead, the Lord says,

"Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people."

Jeremiah 15:1

The implication is that Moses and Samuel (whose lives did not overlap, by the way, so this must refer to an after-death act) can intercede before God.

There is another, more direct example of a saint interceding in Heaven:

"Thus he armed every one of them, not so much with confidence of shields and spears, as with comfortable and good words: and beside that, he told them a dream worthy to be believed, as if it had been so indeed, which did not a little rejoice them. And this was his vision: That Onias, who had been high priest, a virtuous and a good man, reverend in conversation, gentle in condition, well spoken also, and exercised from a child in all points of virtue, holding up his hands prayed for the whole body of the Jews. This done, in like manner there appeared a man with gray hairs, and exceeding glorious, who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty. Then Onias answered, saying, This is a lover of the brethren, who prayeth much for the people, and for the holy city, to wit, Jeremia[h] the prophet of God. Whereupon Jeremia[h] holding forth his right hand gave to Judas a sword of gold, and in giving it spake thus, Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with the which thou shalt wound the adversaries."

2 Maccabees 15:11-16KJV

This book doesn't appear in Protestant Bibles, but it was accepted in the Early Church, and is accepted by Catholics and Orthodox.

If it makes you feel any more comfortable, you can think of it as I did, when I was first struggling with the idea.

We know that the Saints (at least in general) are with Christ and see him face to face; we believe they can pray to him for us; we know from James that their prayer is effective.

The only remaining issue is how to get our requests to them. There is nothing wrong, if we so wish, in praying to Christ, to convey our prayer requests to the Saints so that they can pray to him:

"Jesus, please ask St. Paul to pray for me that I may understand the Scripture he wrote."

From there you can simply abbreviate it, and ask Jesus to consider any prayer of yours in the form:

"St. So-and-So, pray for me" as "Jesus, please ask St. So-and-So to pray for me."

Certainly, there can be no wickedness in that approach.

I hope this helps you to understand the Biblical nature of the intercession of the Saints!

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

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