I have a question for the traditional Roman Catholics who are faithful GetReligion readers (and you know who you are).
As you probably know, I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy from evangelical Protestantism and, from time to time, I am struck by the subtle differences in how our ancient churches describe things. Thus, I tend to flinch when I hit mainstream media references, such as the following, about Catholics praying “to” the saints.
This is from Tracy Wilkinson’s Los Angeles Times report from Rome about the speedy progress of Pope John Paul II toward sainthood:
Today, on the second anniversary of his death, John Paul will take a significant step closer to sainthood. Church officials will announce the conclusion of a detailed investigation of the Polish prelate’s life, and the Vatican will begin evaluating the case of a French nun who said she was miraculously healed after praying to John Paul.
The nun, Marie Simon-Pierre, is expected to be among thousands of pilgrims who will attend elaborate ceremonies today, including a solemn Mass at St. Peter’s to mark John Paul’s passing. She says her Parkinson’s disease, the same illness that afflicted John Paul, disappeared two months after he died.
If a church committee agrees that the cure was a miracle attributed to intercession before God by John Paul, then the late pope is eligible to be beatified, the step preceding sainthood.
Here is my question: Does the simple phrase “after praying to John Paul” do justice to the Catholic teachings about prayer and the Communion of the Saints? Note the second reference in the story that seems close to the mark, the phrase that says the cure was “a miracle attributed to intercession before God by John Paul.”
Perhaps the phrase “praying to” the saints is so common that is accepted among Catholics, even though I have had Catholic priests and scholars tell me that it would be more accurate to say the persons offering the prayers are asking the saints to “pray with” them. All prayers are, of course, offered to God and Catholics believe in praying directly to God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — as much as other Christians. Here is a familiar wording in the Trisagion Prayers (this link is to an Eastern Catholic parish in communion with Rome):
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
As always on this site, please note that the big question in this post is not doctrinal (so don’t click that “comment” button just yet). It’s journalistic.
I am asking if there is a better way for reporters to address this issue in public media, in part because the “pray to” wording may confuse many readers. Yes, I am also aware that many Catholics are either confused about the teachings of their own church on this matter. Here is a key reference in the church’s official catechism:
A cloud of witnesses
2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,41 especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things.”42 Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.
Thus, near the end of Wilkinson’s piece, we hear from the nun who appears to have been healed:
“My healing was the work of God through the intercession of John Paul,” she said at the news conference in the French city of Aix-en-Provence.
She spoke in a clear, if emotional, voice, and appeared to walk with ease.
So did the nun pray to John Paul for healing, or did she, in her prayers, ask John Paul to join her in her prayers to God for her own healing? It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Is it too subtle for public media?