A non-Catholic (actually, a quite anti-Catholic) fellow recently asked me in an e-mail, “Do you pray to dead people?” Below is my response:
Do I pray to dead people?
I worship God alone and pray directly to him frequently. I also ask for living saints in heaven to pray for me to the Lord, just as I ask living believers on earth to pray for me.
An aspect of the Catholic faith that many Protestants don’t understand – or at least, I didn’t understand when I was Protestant – is the idea that the righteous departed (i.e., the saints in heaven) pray for us.
Where do we get this idea that the saints in heaven are even aware of our prayers? Consider this passage from scripture:
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8).
Scholars commonly understand that the “twenty-four elders” mentioned are men, most likely the twelve apostles and the twelve sons of Jacob who headed the tribes of Israel. Note what these men do: they take the “prayers of the saints” (i.e., the saints on earth) in the form of incense to the Lamb (i.e., Christ). We see here scriptural support for the Catholic understanding that saints in heaven not only hear the prayers of Christians on earth, they deliver our petitions to Christ’s throne on our behalf.
Other passages in the Old Testament also show how the saints in heaven pray for us. For example, God is asked to hear the prayers offered by the dead:
O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, hear now the prayer of the dead of Israel and of the sons of those who sinned before thee, who did not heed the voice of the Lord their God, so that calamities have clung to us (Baruch 3:4).
In the book of 2 Maccabees 15, a vision is recounted involving two of Israel’s righteous dead – the departed high priest Onias and the deceased prophet Jeremiah – praying on behalf of the Jews on the earth:
Onias was stretching out his hands and praying for the whole Jewish community (2 Maccabees 15:12).
And Onias spoke, saying, “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God” (2 Maccabees 15:14).
The saints in heaven are indeed interceding for us. How comforting to know that we have friends in high places!