Saturday, October 20, 2007

Prayer, the Saints, and RCIA

Inquirers in RCIA sometimes have questions about the role of saints in Catholic prayer. The first thing to note is that Catholics do not pray to the saints in the sense that they (the saints) have any power of their own. We ask them to pray with us to God, just as I can ask people in my family or community to pray with me to God. We do assume that they can hear us because they are with God, and lived very good holy lives. We feel their prayers joined to ours will be powerful. However, we do not think that it is necessary or essential to pray to saints. The one mediator (intercessor) is Jesus who is the bridge between God and us. Jesus is really the essential conduit. However, we do venerate the saints, which is not to say that we give them adoration and honor due to God alone. It means that we honor them as people who cooperated with God’s grace in this life and are among the great cloud of witnesses in heaven as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,
especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share
in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the
transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They
contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they
have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master,
they were "put in charge of many things."42 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.

The saints are fully human and they give us an example and the hope that we too can succeed if we persevere in doing God’s will. Again, the Catechism says:

956 The intercession of the saints. "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 acquired on
earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ
Jesus. . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly
helped." (1Tim 2:1-5)

Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death
and I shall help you then more effectively than during my
life. (St. Dominic on his deathbed to his brothers)

I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth. (St Theresa of Lisieux)

Note the pattern of prayer when the Church remembers saints:

“Father, you endowed Anthony Claret with the strength of love and patience to preach the Gospel to many nations. By the help of his prayers may we work generously for your kingdom and gain our brothers and sisters for Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” (Liturgy of Hours, Oct 24)

Notice that the prayer is addressed to the Father. The example of the saint (in this case, Anthony Claret) is mentioned and the prayer is summarized through Jesus who is the intercessor. Again, the Catechism has this to say about the prayer of intercession:

2634 Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray
as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of
all men, especially sinners.112 He is "able for all time to save those
who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make
intercession for them."113 The Holy Spirit "himself intercedes for
us . . . and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."(Romans 8:26-27)

2635 Since Abraham, intercession - asking on behalf of another
- has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy. In the age
of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ's, as an
expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays
looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,"
even to the point of praying for those who do him harm..(Phil 2:4)
2636 The first Christian communities lived this form of fellowship
intensely.116 Thus the Apostle Paul gives them a share in his
ministry of preaching the Gospel117 but also intercedes for them.(Phil 1:3-4)
The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries: "for all
men, for kings and all who are in high positions," for persecutors,
for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.( 2Tim: 2:1)

So, to summarize:
1. Intercessory prayer (praying for the needs of another) is a basic form of prayer.
2. Our belief in the communion of saints means that we remain in community (communion) with those people who have gone before us and are now in heaven.
3. When we remember the saints in our prayers we do not pray for them (that would be pointless) and we do not pray to them (that honor is due to God alone). Rather we remember their example and dare to hope that their prayers might help us on our own journey. Note that occasionally Mary will be addressed in a manner than is different from all other saints. This reflects her unique relationship with Jesus but still does not change the basic pattern of our prayer.

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