Thursday 31 October 2019

What does it mean to ask for the prayers of the Saints?

The feast of All Saints reminds us that we are part of the Communion of Saints. The Communion of saints expresses the profound communion that exists between the Church on earth, the Church in Purgatory and the Church in Heaven. In the feast of All Saints we celebrate the Church Triumphant-the Church in Heaven and we are encouraged and spurred on by the witness of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. 

An important dimension to the Communion of Saints is the intercession of the saints. This is something that is frequently misunderstood by many Christians, especially our brothers and sisters who belong to the traditions of the protestant reformation. Put simply, asking the saints to pray for us is no different than asking a brother or sister on earth to pray for us - except, that in the case of the saints, they enjoy a more perfect communion with God. In this sense the prayer and intercession of the saint in heaven is of a more perfect nature than those on earth. The Catechism explains:

Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.[1]

Asking the saints to pray for us is not conjuring up the spirits of our ancestors. It certainly should not be understood as communing with the dead in some esoteric way, not least because the are saints are not dead – they are alive in Christ. For God is a God of the living not of the dead![2] Another common objection to asking for the saints intercession refers to multitude of people asking for the saints intercession at any one time. For example, how can St Anthony hear my prayers, and the millions of the others who might be praying to him at any one time? Principally this objection is  a misunderstanding of the very nature of heaven and what it means to be close to God. It is important to remember that God and heaven exists outside of our understanding of time and space. The saints in heaven, participate in the very life of God himself, and in so far as they participate in God’s divine life (and exist outside the constraints of time) they see, hear and perceive existence as God does, they share his vision – the beatific vision.  The saints hear our prayers because God can hear our prayers. It is God’s grace and power, so far beyond our own understanding, that has come to perfection in the saints that enables the saints to intercede for us. The Queen of all saints of course, is Mary the Mother of God. The closeness and intimacy that she had with Jesus in her earthly life is brought to complete fruition now that share her Son’s glory in heaven. She remains close to her divine Son and as members of her Son’s mystical body, we can and should seek her maternal intercession.

To ask for the intercession of the saints, is a good and holy thing to do. We have seen time and time again that God’s MO, his Modus Operandi is to call people to relationship with him. Throughout salvation history God’s call has been to a people (plural), not simply a person (singular). Asking for the intercession of the saints is entirely consistent with the way that God works in the world. When we ask for the saints to pray for us we are forging bonds of holiness with our heavenly brothers and sisters and we are strengthening the familial bonds that bind us together as God’s holy people. The Communion of Saints is profound reminder to us of our connectedness in Christ and teaches us that is never simply me and Jesus, but we and Jesus. This is why we pray to Our Father in heaven, as opposed to simply my Father. Our personal faith and our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is lived, always in the context of our relationship with other believers – for the Communion of Saints is the people of God.

[1] CCC 956
[2] C.f Mk 12:27 Lk 20:38

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