Prayer to the Saints

A reader wrote:

I visited your web site and read your piece on Mary (I am an evangelical) I saw nothing that I disagree with. Surely Mary, as the bearer of Christ, was uniquely blessed. That we do not acknowledge that enough, I can allow.

But, what does that have to do with praying to her to, as a chief among many deceased intercessors? We are all priests (Hebrews). We needn’t an intercessor beyond Jesus. Our humility is in the fact that the author of all that is and the incarnate savior of mankind see fit to commune with us directly (Revelation). We are to bow as a miniscule benefactor before an omnipotent and loving Father, not take our place beneath a hierarchy of intercessory beings, a la the Greek demigods.

I know a lot of great Christian men and women. But, no matter how great or how small in human terms, or how dead or alive, they are my brothers and sisters, not my media to God.

I have read your book, “By What Authority?” and I believe there is something of substance to consider in the evolution of the authority in The Church and in scripture. I have several Catholic friends, including some former Protestants. We should primarily raise our common loyalty to Jesus Christ. “Catholic-bashing,” of the largely anachronistic sort chronicled by, for example, Karl Keating, is misguided and harmful. But, I feel it is important to stress the magnanimity of God, who wants to commune directly with all of us as sons and daughters. Other than Jesus, no intercessory beings or procedures are necessary.

Well, to begin with, my article has nothing to do with prayer to the saints. It was about veneration of the saints (in this case, Mary).

However, I should note that you’ve just contradicted yourself. If we are all priests, then Mary is a priest too. That is, a go-between. We are all priests because we all share in Christ’s intercessory priesthood. We are called to do and be like Christ–including act as intercessors. If we need no intercessor beyond Christ, then why all the New Testament exhortations to us to pray for one another and intercede for one another? Mary is simply the supreme example of what we are *all* called to do: share in Christ’s priesthood. She is an icon of the Church.

I do not quarrel with the statement that God sees fit to reveal himself to us. But he does it *through* his Body, the Church (this is the point of Ephesians). The saints are not demigods (except in the Lewisian sense). They do “participate in the divine nature” as do we, according to 2 Peter 1:4. They are sacramental: windows through which the light of God comes to us, not walls blocking it out.

You say (employing the classic Protestant “Either/Or” approach to the question that the members of the Body of Christ are “my brothers and sisters, not my media to God.” In reality, however, they are both. You did not become Christian and you do not remain Christian without the constant mediation of grace to you through his Body, the Church. This is Ephesians again. All Catholic teaching points out is that the Church in heaven is not somehow forbidden from exercising the gifts they were taught to use in this life “for the building up of the Church” just as we on earth still do. Nor are we forbidden from honoring them, just as we honor our parents, or a friend, or a baseball star (if people still honor baseball players.)

Finally, as to stressing the magnanimity of God, I would argue that Evangelicalism isn’t stressing it enough. It tends to treat honor like zero sum game. Honor paid a saint is honor subtract from God, who jealously wants all the credit for all good done and sits and fumes on his throne whenever something good is said about Mary or a saint. God is no more threatened by honor due his saints than he is by love given our parents or our spouse. To love your neighbor is to love God. To honor your neighbor (including your neighbor the saint) is to honor God (since honor is a species of love). Similarly, to ask for your Christian neighbor (whether living or dead) to pray for you is to obey God who commands us to ask prayer of one another and to pray for one another. It is the dignity of

the human person to pray for his neighbor. It is not an insult to God. In the words of Irenaeus, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.”