Every day people post prayer intentions on a board outside my church’s perpetual adoration chapel in hopes that adorers will take those needs to prayer. And every Sunday Catholics pray for the Church, their communities and the world.
Christians pray for others–and it makes sense that they’d continue to pray in heaven.
As we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, it’s worth considering who the saints are and why we ask them to intercede for us.
The Catechism defines a saint as, “the ‘holy one’ who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life.” That’s what we’re all aiming at.
A holy person who has died becomes a saint with a capital ‘S’ when the Church canonizes or beatifies them after common repute and conclusive arguments prove they’ve exercised heroic virtue during their lives.
One of the biggest objections to asking for a saint’s intercession (We don’t pray to them but rather we ask them to pray with us.) is the scripture passage stating that Christ is the one mediator between God and humanity. (I Tim. 2:5)
However, those who are with the Lord are in a good position to offer Him our petitions:
“Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. … [T]hey do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquire on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus. … So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” (CCC 956)
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, we can pray two ways. First, to God alone “because all our prayers ought to be direct to obtaining grace and glory which God alone gives.” But secondly, “we pray to the holy angels and to men not that God may learn our petition through them, but that by their prayers and merits our prayers may be efficacious.”
Scripture contains many references to the effectiveness of intercession on earth and in heaven. Rev. 5:8 and 8:3-4 describe the prayers of the saints as like incense before God. Job 42:8 speaks of the intercession of Job and Gen. 20:7 and 17 to that of Abraham. Also, Phil. 1:3-4 and Rom. 15:30 emphasize the importance of intercession.
During their lives the saints like St. Cyprian encouraged us to give our petitions to Christians in heaven:
“Let us be mutually mindful of each other, let us ever pray for each other, and if one of us shall, by the speediness of the Divine vouchsafement, depart hence first, let our love continue in the presence of the Lord, let not prayer for our brethren and sisters cease in the presence of the mercy of the Father.”
Maybe when we post our petitions at church we should also ask as some powerful Christians in a better location to pray, as St. John Chrysostom encourages:
“When thou perceivest that God is chastening thee, fly not to His enemies … but to His friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to Him, and who have great power.”