After class, a student asked me, “Sir, why do we need to pray to saints or angels if we could just pray directly to God. Isn’t it written in the Bible that Christ is our only mediator between God and man?”
Being a former Protestant who denounced Catholics for praying to the saints, I completely understood where my evangelical student was coming from. Back then, I even told my mom to burn the statues of the saints!
Now that I have grown deeper in my faith as a Catholic, I’d like to offer three points for us to consider:
Isn’t Christ the ONLY mediator?
In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul told his young disciple: “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:5-6).”
Yes, ultimately Jesus is the one mediator of our salvation. It is through his death that we are saved. No other human being – even a saint – can claim that.
HOWEVER, Christ’s being one mediator did not prohibit us from “mediating – or interceding – for one another.” In fact, St. Paul urges us to do just the opposite! Look at what he told Timothy just two verses earlier in his letter:
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone… this is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior…” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
The Greek word for “intercession” is “enteuxeis” which means to “go between or petition for one another.” Therefore, since Christ is our one mediator, he is calling us to participate in his mediation through our prayers and intercessions.
The argument “why don’t you just go directly to God” then loses its meaning. In fact, Christians – Catholic or not – always ask for mediation when they say, “Please pray for me.” Should we then ask, “Why do you ask your friends and your pastors to pray for you if you could just go directly to God?”
Can the saints and angels answer our prayers?
While many Evangelicals misunderstand our prayer to saints as acts of worshipping them, no one would accuse me of worshipping my relatives by asking for their prayers. And this is what Catholics really do when we invoke the saints.
Notice that we never directed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels or the saints phrases like “we adore you” or “we worship you.” It has always been “Pray for us” or “Intercede for us.” We don’t pray to saints expecting them to give us the answer to our prayers. Ultimately, it is God who grants our petitions. Rather, we ask them to pray with us and for us.
As St. James said in his letter, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). If we believe that the prayers of the sinners here on earth can help us, how much more the prayers of those who are already in Heaven?”
Can the saints and angels in heaven hear us?
As I explained these things to my student, his eyes lit up. And just as I expected it, he asked me the clincher question – do the saints in heaven really pray for us?
When I was still a Protestant, my pastor told me that the so-called “saints” are dead and they will never hear our prayers nor know what we do. However, soon I realized that it’s not what the Bible was teaching. It shows us that the saints and angels in heaven are alive and interceding for us.
In Luke 9:28-36, Jesus talked to Moses and Elijah during His transfiguration. Did Jesus, a faithful Jewish, violate teaching against talking to the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-13)? No. Moses and Elijah are alive in heaven. In Luke 16:19-21, we also see Christ teaching the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Upon his death, the angels brought Lazarus to the side of “Father Abraham” and he comforted the poor man, knowing very well how much he suffered on earth. We also know that all the heavens are aware and rejoice when one sinner repents and goes back to Christ (Luke 15:7)!
What’s even more striking is this: in the bible, we see the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God in the form of bowls of incense (Revelations 5:8; Psalm 141:2). Look at how detailed the description of their intercession is:
Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.Revelations 8:3-5, NKJV – a Protestant translation
We have friends in heaven
I would never forget that conversation I had with my student. I do hope and pray that he’ll realize how much God has blessed us with so much help from heaven.
As Christians, we have been blessed to have a Mother who intercedes for us (John 2:3), angels who accompany us (Hebrew 1:14; Matthew 18:10), and a great cloud of witnesses – saints – who urge us to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus more faithfully (Hebrews 11-12:2).
Just as we give honor to the artist when we praise his works, we give so much honor to God when we praise His creation – especially his saints, our friends from Heaven, His gifts for us.
May we have a close relationship with our angel and the saints that we too may worship God with them once we reach the glory of Heaven.