. . . in Heaven, for Intercessory Purposes
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All verses are from RSV.
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The argument is a rather simple one, based on a combination of different factors. The nutshell (mostly) implicitly biblical argument for asking saints to pray for us is as follows:
1) We ask others to pray for us.
2) Those who die in Christ are still alive and part of the Body of Christ too.
3) Saints in heaven are aware of earthly events.
4) We see them praying for us in at least one instance in the Bible.
5) The prayer of a righteous man avails much.
6) Saints are perfected in holiness and sanctity.
7) Therefore their prayers would have much power.
8) Ergo, we can ask them to intercede to God for us.
My papers fleshing out the biblical data on all this can be found on my Saints, Purgatory, and Penance web page. The argument for asking angels to pray can be constructed in similar fashion:
1) We ask others to pray for us.
2) Angels are messengers from God who are part of His purposes and who care very much about the fate of human beings.
3) Angels are aware of earthly events to an extraordinary degree, being super-intelligent beings.
4) We see them offering the “prayers of the saints” to God in at least one instance in the Bible.
5) The Bible says that the prayer of a righteous man avails much. How much more so, the prayers of angels, who are unfallen creatures.
6) Angels (excepting the fallen angels of demons) always have been perfected in holiness and sanctity.
7) Therefore their prayers would have much power.
8) Ergo, we can ask them to intercede to God for us.
Presently, I’ll be doing something a little different, as suggested by recent insightful comments from several Catholic commenters on my blog. Here is the briefest version of the argument:
1) Men talk to angels.
2) What’s the difference if they are in heaven or on earth when this happens?
3) Scripture even gives examples of conversation with dead men (Transfiguration, Saul talking to the dead Samuel, etc.)
4) Angels are extremely intelligent and can deduce our thoughts and follow our actions, and they intensely care about us and are able to help us.
5) Therefore we can ask angels to pray.
[Note: the “angel of the LORD” is, on several occasions, but not always, equated in context with God Himself. Keep in mind, then, that in those instances it may be God Who is being addressed, not a created angel, which is a different scenario than what the present argument is addressing.]
Genesis 19:1-2 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the earth, and said, “My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the street.”
Numbers 22:34-35 Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that thou didst stand in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in thy sight, I will go back again.” And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.
Psalm 103:20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word! (cf. 148:2)
Zechariah 1:9, 13-14, 19 Then I said, `What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, `I will show you what they are.’ . . . And the LORD answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. So the angel who talked with me said to me . . . And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these?” And he answered me, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.”
Zechariah 2:1-3 And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand! Then I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its breadth and what is its length.” And behold, the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him,
Zechariah 4:1, 4-5 And the angel who talked with me came again, and waked me, like a man that is wakened out of his sleep. And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” (cf. 5:5,10; 6:4-5)
Luke 1:18-19 And Zechari’ah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.
Luke 1:30, 34, 38 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. . . . And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” . . . And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Revelation 10:8-9 Then the voice which I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.”
Men Making Requests or Petitions of Angels (That Are Granted)
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Genesis 19:15, 18-21 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.”. . . And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me, and I die. Behold, yonder city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there — is it not a little one? — and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken.
Genesis 32:24-29 And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
Genesis 48:14-16 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon the head of E’phraim, who was the younger, and his left hand upon the head of Manas’seh, crossing his hands, for Manas’seh was the first-born. And he blessed Joseph, and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has led me all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and in them let my name be perpetuated, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
Zechariah 1:12 Then the angel of the LORD said, `O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?’
Tobit 12:12a, 15 And so, when you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; . . . I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.”
Revelation 1:4 . . . Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.
Angels Communicating to Men From Heaven
(Thus Implying That the Reverse is Also Possible)
Genesis 21:17-18 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.”
Men Seeing Angels in Heaven
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Genesis 28:12-13 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants;
John 1:51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Revelation 5:11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,
Revelation 7:11 And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
Revelation 8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
Revelation 10:1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.
Revelation 12:7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought,
Revelation 14:17 And another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.
Revelation 15:1 Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and wonderful, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.
Revelation 18:1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor.
Revelation 20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. (cf. also Paul’s experience of being caught up to the “third heaven”: 2 Cor 12:1-4)
Protection of Angels / Guardian Angels
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Psalm 34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Psalm 91:9-12 Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
Daniel 6:22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.”
Tobit 12:12b-13 . . . when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you. When you did not hesitate to rise and leave your dinner in order to go and lay out the dead, your good deed was not hidden from me, but I was with you.
Matthew 18:10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Luke 4:10 for it is written, `He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ (cf. also Matthew 26:53)
One Dead Man Petitions Another (Abraham), and is Twice Refused
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Luke 16:19-31 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz’arus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz’arus in his bosom. And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz’arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz’arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”
Saul Petitions the Prophet Samuel After the Latter’s Death and is Refused
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1 Samuel 28:15-16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress; for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy?
Dead Saints Pray For Those on Earth
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Jeremiah 15:1 Then the LORD said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!
[Moses and Samuel were renowned among both Jews and Christians for their powerful intercession (Ex 32:11-12; 1 Sam 7:9; Ps 99:6; Jer 15:1) ]
2 Maccabees 15:11-16 He [Judas Maccabeus] armed each of them not so much with confidence in shields and spears as with the inspiration of brave words, and he cheered them all by relating a dream, a sort of vision, which was worthy of belief. What he saw was this: Onias, who had been high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God.” Jeremiah stretched out his right hand and gave to Judas a golden sword, and as he gave it he addressed him thus: “Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries.”
Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; (cf. Tobit 12:12,15; Rev 8:3-4)
Revelation 6:9-10 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”
[these are what is called “imprecatory prayers”; cf. Ps 35, 59, 69, 79, 109, 139; Jer 11:18 ff.; 15:15 ff.; 18:19 ff.; 20:11 ff; Zech 1:12]
Dead Saints Appear on Earth Again and Talk to Men
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1 Samuel 28:7-20 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at Endor.” So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments, and went, he and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit, and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the wizards from the land. Why then are you laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?” But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” The king said to her, “Have no fear; what do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up; and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress; for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD, and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Am’alek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.” Then Saul fell at once full length upon the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel; and there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.
[the current consensus among commentators is that this is Samuel the prophet, after his death, not a demon impersonator as a result of the occultic practices of the medium (see, e.g., New Bible Commentary, p. 301; Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 292). This was also the view of the ancient rabbis, St. Justin Martyr, Origen, and St. Augustine, among others. Samuel was in Sheol or Hades, which explains his being “brought up” and saying that Saul would “be with” him when he dies. Samuel’s true prophecy of the Israeli defeat and Saul’s death (28:19) mitigates against an impersonating demon, as does the medium’s stunned reaction (28:12-13). Samuel speaks prophetically just as he did while on the earth.]
Sirach 46:19-20 Before the time of his eternal sleep, Samuel called men to witness before the Lord and his anointed: “I have not taken any one’s property, not so much as a pair of shoes.” And no man accused him. Even after he had fallen asleep he prophesied and revealed to the king his death, and lifted up his voice out of the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people.
Matthew 17:1-4 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli’jah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli’jah.” (cf. Mk 9:2-5; Lk 9:29-33)
Matthew 27:50-53 And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Revelation 11:3-12 And I will grant my two witnesses power to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth. And if any one would harm them, fire pours out from their mouth and consumes their foes; if any one would harm them, thus he is doomed to be killed. They have power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit will make war upon them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three days and a half men from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up hither!” And in the sight of their foes they went up to heaven in a cloud.
[The actions of the two witnesses echo those of Moses before Pharaoh and Elijah; especially the turning of water into blood, and the plagues (cf. Mal 4:4-6; Matt 17:11, Transfiguration accounts). As for the stopping of the rain, cf. Elijah: James 5:16-18. Elijah also went up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Ki 2:1,11). Many Church fathers thought they were Enoch and Elijah, because Enoch, like Elijah, never died (Gen 5:24; Sir 44:16; 49:14; Heb 11:5) ]
In summary, then, what have we learned about biblical data for the notion of asking angels and dead saints to pray for us and intercede before God for us? Plenty:
1) Men talk to angels (16 scriptural examples given)
2) Men make requests or petitions to angels and their wishes are granted (Gen 19, 32, 48).
3) Angels pray to God on behalf of men; they intercede for us (four examples given).
4) Angels even participate in giving grace (Rev 1:4; cf. Tob 12:12,15).
5) Angels talk to human beings from heaven (Gen 21:17-18).
6) Men see angels in heaven (11 examples given).
7) Angels protect and guard men (seven examples).
It is obvious that angels are aware of earthly events, and care about us. All of the data above leads to the deductive conclusion that it is perfectly permissible to ask an angel to pray for us. Three explicit examples occur in Holy Scripture of this very thing. It matters not where the angel is when it hears (#1) and grants the prayer request or intercedes before God, because, in fact, angels are not in space anyway. Our relation to them is the same wherever they “are.”
Therefore, since Scripture shows that they can be asked by human beings for their help, and fulfillments of these requests are even granted (#2), and grace given through angels (#4), the doctrine is proven, as they are extremely intelligent and are not confined to space. We know that angels intercede for us (four examples: #3). Therefore, since they are acutely aware of us, and in fact, we all have guardian angels (#7), we can ask them to do so. If the objection is to angels not being in front of us to talk to, we reply that in one instance, an angel talked to a person on earth from heaven (#5) and that men have often seen angels in heaven (#6). Thus, in all respects, the doctrine is proven from Holy Scripture.
The data regarding dead saints is harmonious with the above, and reinforces and expands it:
1) A dead man petitions or “prays” to another dead man (Abraham: Luke 16).
2) Abraham refuses his requests twice, thus showing that dead men can play a part, in conjunction with God, even in turning down (or by implication, also fulfilling) prayer requests.
3) Saul petitions or “prays” to the dead prophet Samuel and his request is declined (1 Sam 28:15-16). But there is no indication that he is forbidden to even make the request. Saul prayed to a dead person, not just an impersonating demon!
4) It’s strongly implied that Moses and Samuel continue to intercede for us long after their deaths (Jer 15:1).
5) Onias and Jeremiah pray for the Jews long after their deaths (2 Mac 15:11-16). Even for those who reject this book as part of Scripture (on inadequate grounds), it nevertheless shows that Jews held this belief.
6) Many other dead saints intercede and pray for us (Rev 5:8, 6:9-10).
7) The prophet Samuel appeared on earth again to prophesy to King Saul of his impending death (1 Sam 28:7-20; Sir 46:19-20).
8) Moses and Elijah appear on earth and talk to Jesus within earshot of the disciples (Matt 17:1-4).
9) “Many” dead saints rose and walked around Jerusalem after the crucifixion (Matt 27:50-53).
10) The “two witnesses” (Rev 11:3-12) come back to earth, die, and are raised yet again and taken to heaven in a whirlwind. Most commentators have thought (based on analogies and cross-reference) that these “witnesses” were either Moses and Elijah or Enoch and Elijah.
Thus we can ask dead men to pray for us, according to much evidence from Holy Scripture, because we know that dead saints can hear and answer or decline our prayers, in the power of God (Abraham and Samuel: #1, 2, 3). We know that dead saints are praying for us (Moses, Samuel, Onias, Jeremiah, many others: #4, 5, 6). We also know the crucial premise that these saints are aware of earthly affairs, because of the abundance of examples and the fact that they are described as praying for us in the first place (one can’t pray intelligently with no knowledge of what to pray for).
Hence, we see many examples of the “barrier” between heaven and earth and (earthly) life and death being no problem for God (Samuel, Moses, Elijah, possibly Enoch, and “many” dead saints buried in Jerusalem all appear again on the earth and communicate with men (#3,7,8,9,10).
Therefore, since they hear and answer prayer requests, pray for us, are perfectly aware of affairs on earth, and in fact, have come back to earth, thus eliminating a supposed barrier between heaven and earth, we can ask them to pray for us and intercede before God on our behalf, because the prayer of a righteous person like Elijah and these other saints, is very powerful and “availeth much” (James 5:16-17, utilizing the glorious old KJV lingo there). We would be very spiritually foolish not to do so, and not to access such power and sanctity, in light of such an abundance of biblical example and sanction.