Is it okay for Christians to pray to saints?

all-saintsAs a Protestant, I am sure you are expecting me to answer no, and insist that prayer should be directed to God alone. And you’re right, that is my position. What may surprise you though, is that I concede that the official Catholic position is much the same. How is this? Read on.

The official Catholic position is that Catholics do not pray TO saints, but rather that Catholics merely ask saints to pray FOR them. In defence of this practice, Catholics often cite the visions found in the book of Revelation, of martyred saints offering prayers to God in heaven. Could Catholics be reading too much into these passages? I strongly suspect so, but I’m not going argue it here. What I am going to focus on instead is that, be that as it may, the practice of many diverges from official Roman Catholic teaching anyway. Unofficial though it may be, many do in fact pray directly to saints, asking them for help – instead of asking the saints to intercede with God for help – in ways that contradict both Protestant and Catholic teaching.

Take this prayer for example:

Dear Saint Joseph, you were yourself once faced with the responsibility of providing the necessities of life for Jesus and Mary. Look down with fatherly compassion upon me in my anxiety with my present inability to support my family. Please help me find gainful employment very soon, so that this great burden of concern will be lifted from my heart and that I am soon able to provide for those whom God has entrusted to my care. Help me guard against discouragement, so that I may emerge from this trial spiritually enriched and with even greater blessings from God. Amen.

Notice that Joseph is being imploring for his help, not God, and that there is no request for God to intercede, only Joseph. Indeed God seems somewhat secondary here, as someone who lays burdens on us, and blesses us in some mysterious way, but who isn’t particularly unapproachable or helpful in any practical sense. This sort of prayer is not uncommon.

I would suggest that, whether Protestant or Catholic, we’d be wise to reflect critically on the acceptability of such prayers to God. If we place any authority in the prophets and apostles then we’d be wise to follow their lead and make God the focus of our prayers always, regardless of what intercessory role we see for saints.

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