The Communion of Saints

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is No. 14 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.

O, the saints that have gone before. What a “cloud of witnesses” 1 we have in so many of the men and women the Catholic Church has determined are worthy of canonization as saints. Followers of Christ who have sacrificed and suffered for his name, pouring out their lives unto death because they saw “him who is invisible.” 2

But though we would do well to emulate them, we err if we idolize them and ascribe to them powers that only belong to God. In conferring on saints the roles of patron and intercessor, the Catholic Church in effect sets them up in place of God.

Jesus taught us to pray to the Father.3 He invited us to pray to himself.4 In the book of Romans, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.5 But nowhere in Scripture do we read that we can implore the dead in Christ to intercede on our behalf. If we are praying to saints for favors, even if the favors are actually granted by God, are we not crediting them with the power to obtain them? That’s what the Church says in her Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (No. 50), “It is supremely fitting, therefore, that we love those friends and coheirs of Jesus Christ, who are also our brothers and extraordinary benefactors, that we render due thanks to God for them…and ‘suppliantly invoke them and have recourse to their prayers, their power and help in obtaining benefits from God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Redeemer and Saviour.’” (italics mine)

When we, the living, pray to God for someone and he gives or does what we asked him for, would we dare to ascribe to ourselves “power” in gaining that benefit? Don’t we instead simply recognize that it is God’s love for us and them that motivated him to bless us this way?

Shrine to St. Anthony

Shrine to St. Anthony

But the Catholic Church considers the dead saints to have this power by virtue of their glorified status and based on Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2683): “When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.” This includes even ordinary Catholics like deceased family members, as is stated in the same paragraph, “The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer”(italics mine). So some Catholics pray to their own mothers and fathers.

This is so similar to ancestor worship in some Eastern religions. I acknowledge that Catholics will reject the comparison, insisting that these saints are intercessors only. But if they are praying to them, ascribing spiritual powers to them, assigning feast days for them, building shrines to them and kneeling before images of them…as I previously wrote regarding their practices surrounding the cult of Mary, what element is missing without which it does not connote worship?

In addition to the lack of Scriptural support for praying to saints and the effectual idolization of patron saints for everything from actresses to zoos, God specifically prohibits and condemns trying to “inquire of the dead.”6 The Hebrew word translated here “inquire” and in some translations “consult” implies to request or ask.

In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews we have what some call the “Hall of Faith.” It’s a “Who’s Who” of men and women who lived and died “by faith.” Some named, others not, but all held up as examples to follow…a “cloud of witnesses” surrounding us, to whom we can look for inspiration and guidance. Not to contact for guidance or help, but to serve as a template or an ideal as we learn by their example what it means to live by faith.

The Catholic Church’s teachings about dead saints and the resulting practices centered on them, detract from the praise and glory and worship due God alone. I don’t deny the genuine love for God that many Catholics display. So why are they willing to take what belongs to him and give it to another?

1 Hebrews 12:1
2 Hebrews 11:27
3 Matthew 6:9
4 John 14:14
5 Romans 8:26-27
6 Deuteronomy 18:11