Marian Contemplations IX: Mary’s Ability to Hear Our Prayers (Part 2)

Marian Contemplations IX: Mary’s Ability to Hear Our Prayers (Part 2) July 30, 2016

Mosaic depiction of Mary holding an Arabic text, Convent of Our Lady, Greek Orthodox Church, Sednaya, Syria. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mosaic depiction of Mary holding an Arabic text, Convent of Our Lady, Greek Orthodox Church, Sednaya, Syria. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This is the second post in a series of texts exploring how Mary and the saints can hear our prayers. To read the first post, click here.

Scripture provides us a basis by which we can believe that the dead in Christ, the saints, are able to hear us by  showing us that even before the incarnation, there was a way for the dead to know what happened on earth (and even to have a way to dialogue with those still among the living).[1] Now, because of Christ, we really should no longer be talking of them as if they are among the dead. They have found eternal life. Christ has freed them so that they can enjoy heavenly glory. Those who appear to have died should not be said to be dead, but to be recognized as living in Christ. “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him” (Lk 20:38 RSV). With Christ, they are active in service to God (rendering praise and glory to God), capable of helping those who seek their aid. For some, this is enough. This hope in what Christ has done to liberate us suffices, because it leaves us aware that the saints are alive and capable of great things because they now partake in heavenly glory. As to how this is done, some speculate that, because God likes us to work for and help each other, he directly relates the prayers to the saints himself, while others think the grace which has been given to them has granted them abilities to hear the prayers directly without further intervention from God.

For many, either of these answers suffices, because both of them are rooted in the simple belief of the goodness of God and how God desires and allows us to participate in that goodness. But for those of us who have a faith seeking understanding, we can believe these answers reflect the truth while still seeking to understand better our relationship with Mary and the saints.

When addressing how Mary and the saints are able to interact with us and hear our prayer, we must keep in mind that there really is a distinction between what we know of Mary and what we know of the rest of the saints. While all of the saints, including Mary, can be said to have experienced earthly death, we know that Mary has also been assumed into heaven, that is, her body has been taken by Christ so that in and with it, Mary can and did receive her eternal glory. Mary has already participated, in anticipation to the rest of us, the resurrection of the dead. But what is clear for Mary is not so clear with the rest of the saints. Have they also a participation in the resurrection, and do they help us, like Mary, with a glorified body, or do they come to us in an unresurrected form? If the latter, they can still be given grace to hear our prayer and help us, but it would be of an inferior form than we find coming from Mary. Even if some, or all, of the saints can be said to somehow come to us in a glorified form (perhaps they come to our aid in their eternal existence which comes after the eschaton), we should nonetheless say that Mary’s glory is greater than theirs because of her status as Theotokos, and so her ability to hear us and help us is going to be greater than any other saint.

When addressing the question at hand, we must consider some simple things, and develop from them our speculative answers. Those in heaven are glorified; their spirit is now perfect. The spiritual senses which were lost to humanity because of sin have returned to them, not in their original integrity but in a greater fashion due to the grace of theosis. The spirit, unlike the body, is not bound to mere physical matter and empirical laws. The spirit is not bound by physical place. Though our spirit is meant to be united to a physical body, the body is only a part of the greater spiritual person, and what the spirit is capable of attaining beyond matter, the saints are able to attain and realize for themselves. The spirit is not bound by place: it is centered upon, but not imprisoned by the body, so that the spirit, now free to sense and encounter the world with its spiritual senses is able to see and hear in a way which transcends the limits of mere material senses. The material senses are good, and provide an important dimension to our being, but they were meant to be complemented and united with our spirit and its spiritual senses. Saints, because they have been perfected by grace, will find themselves to have their spirit properly in control of a body (when they have one) instead of being limited by it as a consequence of the fall. As a spirit knows no sense of place or time in the same way as a physical body does, so the spirit can hear and see others beyond the temporal limitations of a fallen body. And in this fashion a holy soul, or even a soul separated from the body and so not limited by its weaknesses, can sense other spiritual entities like itself, as St. Thomas Aquinas explained:

Souls apart from the body know other separated souls; as we see in the case of the rich man in hell, who saw Lazarus and Abraham (Luke xvi.23). Therefore, separated souls see the devils and angels.[2]

This is not to say all souls can see with the same clarity within the spiritual realm, but it does show us that even great sinners, when they die, partake of spiritual senses that they previously were unaware of and so are able to perceive the spiritual realm which they otherwise had once ignored. The quality and character and use of the spiritual senses will differ from the sinner than the saint, so that the saint will find their ability far exceeds those who are still tainted by sin.[3].

More to come.


[1] Whether or not such activity was morally acceptable, because it appears most in pre-Christian times the means were sinful, we, now in the time of Christ, find ourselves sharing the body of Christ with the saints, and so find ourselves connected to them and given a different, indeed, honorable means which the pre-Christian might not have possessed.

[2] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Bros. edition, 1947), I-LXXXIX.2. Moreover, St. Thomas then pointed out distance is not an issue here: “It is written (Luke xvi.23) that Dives, lifting up his eyes on when he was in torment, saw Abraham afar off. Therefore local distance does not impede knowledge in the separated soul.” Summa Theologica I-LXXXIX.6

[3] Marsilio Ficino, the Renaissance philosopher-priest who translated the Platonic corpus into Latin and interpreted it for the West pointed out it is the nature of the mind (the rational spirit) to embrace other such spirits in a way which bodies do not: “But one mind does contain another mind and is equally contained by it. My mind thinks about yours, yours about mine. So our minds, in thinking mutually about each other, grasp each other in turn; and in doing so they understand, and in understanding, enfold. And more importantly, a single mind embraces all minds when it thinks about the nature of all minds, “Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology. Volume 2. trans. Michael J. B. Allen and John Warden (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002),  335.


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