Well, I don’t. When I pray, I pray to the Father through the mediation of Jesus Christ with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. That being said, sometimes, when I find myself facing particularly troubling challenges, I ask others to pray with me. I confide to a Christian brother or sister, for example, that my great-aunt is very ill, or my friend’s child is getting into trouble at school, or my dear friend does not know the Lord and then, after confiding in them, I ask them to pray for me. Sometimes I do this with friends that I know here and sometimes I do this with the great saints of the church who have gone before in the Faith.
What many Protestants disdainfully refer to as “praying to the saints” is really asking the saints to pray for us to the Father. No one has a problem asking dear sister Winifred, “that saint of the Lord” to pray for them when they are struggling. That is until she dies, and then asking that same “saint of the Lord” to pray for us somehow becomes taboo. It was fine to ask her (or any other saintly parishioner) to pray for us as long as they were on the earth, but once they shuffle off this mortal coil and ascend into the heavenlies either we should cease asking or they will cease answering. Does this make sense?
Now, those who raise this objection are usually well-intentioned and sincere. There concerns come in large part from two passages of Holy Scripture. The first is Deuteronomy 18:10-12 where Moses reminds the people,
“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD…”
This is indeed an abomination, but rather refers to conjuring spirits in a séance along the lines of the Witch of Endor in I Samuel 28. Later we will discuss how different conjuring spirits in a séance is than the picture of heaven presented bySt. John.
The second primary scripture used against the intercession of the saints is I Timothy 2:5 which states, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus…” Indeed, this passage is unquestionably true, but there are limitless individuals who may go before Jesus on our behalf and ask Him to pray for us to the Father. Again, if this passage were applied as some would suggest, asking the prayer warriors in your congregation to pray for you would be pointless.
Up until now I have refuted negative arguments, rejecting the reasons “why not.” Now let us turn our attentions to the reasons why this is a positive aspect of our faith. In reciting the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds we affirm that we believe in the “Communion of the Saints.” The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1) Our Lord’s own parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (St.Luke 16:19-31) shows us that those who are in Sheol can ask for help on behalf of their loved ones after their deaths. In the Revelation of St.John, the Beloved Disciple recounts his vision of Heaven. At one point he describes, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (5:8) Later, the Apostle vividly depicts that “the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” (8:4) Thus, these two passages from the most incredible vision of Heaven inform us that our prayers do rise up before the saints in Heaven as incense which are then brought before the Lord. Finally, St. James tells us that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (5:16b) Why would we limit the assistance we receive in prayer to those who are with us. We can, of course, assume that those who are in Heaven are righteous, so why would we not ask them to pray for us?
Back to the original question: why do I (now correcting the language) ask the saints to pray with me? Primarily, I do so because I can. The Communion of Saints is a gift from God and the union of the Church Triumphant (those in Heaven) and the Church Militant (those of Earth) is a mystery of God that allows those of us still here on Earth to benefit from the sanctity of life and the prayers of those who have gone before. I ask the saints who have gone before to pray for me because their prayers were successful on Earth, how much more effective are they when uttered the very throne of God Himself. Finally, I ask the saints to intercede on my behalf because I can use all the help I can possibly get!