Intercessory Prayer with Mary and the Saints

In 1 Tim 2:5, St. Paul tells us that "...there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus..." Why, then, do Catholics pray to Mary and the saints and ask them to mediate to God on our behalf? Let's get a few things straightened out right away.
  • Catholics do not pray to the saints. The word "to" is very misleading and implies that the prayer stops there. Catholics ask Mary and the saints to pray with us and for us as we pray to God.
  • The Blessed Mother (Mary) and the saints are not Divine. We look to them for inspiration as we try to live holy lives: "Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" (Heb 13:7).

Now lets get to the problem at hand. (much of this explanation is taken from Fr. Mario Romero's Unabridged Christianity) A "mediator" is a person who serves as a go-between or an intermediary between two parties. In 1 Tim 2:5, St. Paul teaches that Jesus is the one mediator between God and the human race. Catholics have no problem accepting this scriptural truth. Here's a visualization of 1 Tim 2:5:

If you read the four verses preceding 1 Tim 2:5, you will see that Paul instructs Christians to pray to Jesus on behalf of each other. "...I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone... This is good and pleasing to God our savior..." (1 Tim 2:1-4). Here's a visualization of 1 Tim 2:1-4:

In this diagram, "Christian B" approaches Jesus in prayer on behalf of "Christian A" and petitions Him to grant the physical and spiritual needs of "Christian A." By praying in this fashion, "Christian B" is serving as a go-between (mediator/intercessor in prayer) to Jesus on behalf of "Christian A." And we know that this type of prayer "is good and pleasing to God our savior" (1 Tim 2:3).

Note that in 1 Tim 2:1-5 St. Paul describes two types of mediation. We'll call them primary mediation and secondary mediation (you can call them whatever you want). Primary mediation is Jesus' mediation because it is the ultimate mediation between humanity and God. Secondary mediation is "our" mediation because it is subordinate to and totally dependent on Jesus' primary mediation.

When St. Paul tells us to pray to Jesus on behalf of each other, he is asking us to take the role of secondary mediators in prayer. Obviously, our secondary mediation is totally dependent on the primary mediation of Christ. Here's a visualization of the two types of mediation that Paul talks about in 1 Tim 2:1-5:

On many occasions, Paul asked the Christians of his time to pray to God on his behalf (Rom 15:30-32; 2 Cor 1:10 are a few) He also prayed to God on behalf of his fellow Christians (Col 1:4, 9-10; Rom 10:1; 2 Tim 1:3) Is there any reason to believe that upon entering heaven, Paul's charity and desire for other's salvation would end and his prayers would cease? The Bible calls all Christians to mutual charity. Aren't the commandments of the Lord eternal, established in heaven and on earth?

When a Christian minister preaches a sermon, he is mediating the Word of God to his congregation. The preacher is acting as a "go-between" between the words in the Bible and the audible message that the preacher feels called to communicate to his church members. Is there anything wrong with this? NO! The preacher is only acting as a secondary mediator of God's word. Jesus is still the primary mediator.

When a Christian minister conducts a healing service, he is acting as "go-between" in that God is using him as an instrument to communicate His healing power. God could easily heal these people directly, but, sometimes, he chooses to mediate His healing through His human ministers. Is there anything wrong with this? NO! Once again, the preacher is a secondary mediator of God's healing power. Here is a visualization of Mary's position as a secondary mediator in prayer to her Son, Jesus:

Remember, Catholics do not pray to the saints. The word "to" is very misleading and implies that the prayer stops there. Catholics ask Mary and the saints to pray with us and for us as we pray to God. The rosary is not a prayer "to" Mary. It is a prayer to Jesus through Mary (who we read in Rev 12:1-5 is looking upon the face of her Son Jesus in heaven. You don't get much closer than that!).

Also remember that Mary and the saints are not Divine. We look to them for inspiration as we try to live holy lives: "Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" (Heb 13:7).

In the Book of Revelation, we read about the saints in heaven offering worship to God:

"Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel." (Rev 8:3-4)

"When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones." (Rev 5:8)

Is it so unconceivable that while the saints in heaven are worshipping God that they could also offer prayers (as they did often on earth) for their fellow Christians who are still struggling to be faithful to Jesus? It would seem logical. In Eph 6:18-20 St. Paul instructs all Christians to pray for one another. Since God's laws are binding not only on earth but in heaven, the heavenly saints must also carry out this Biblical command.

Can Mary and the saints hear us? Of course they can! Jesus says in Luke 20:38 "...[H]e is not the God of dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." St. Paul tells the Romans that he is "convinced that neither death nor life ... will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says about the inhabitants of heaven: "...there will be rejoicing in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). The heavenly inhabitants are very much aware of and are in communion ("common union") with the lives of fellow Christians on earth.

Can someone pray directly to God? Of course! Catholics and Protestants offer prayers to God and also ask their fellow Christians to pray with them and for them. The big difference is that Catholics don't restrict the term "Christian" to mean "only Christians living on earth." Catholic convert Tim Staples says:

"...Christians do not cease being members of Christ's body at death. I was taught as a Protestant that there is some sort of separation between Christians that occurs at death. 'We cannot pray to them or for them because they are with Jesus,' I was assured. Why does 'being with Jesus' mean they are separated from us? There is no Scripture that says this.

A Christian is even more radically joined to God, and therefore more radically joined to the other members of the body of Christ, when he goes home to heaven. He is freed from the constraints of sin; his faith has given way to perfect knowledge, and he is perfectly enabled to love and pray for other members of the Body of Christ

Most importantly, since in heaven he has been perfected in righteousness by the blood of Christ, his prayers are very powerful, much more so than they ever could have been while he was here on earth. When this fact is seen in light of James 5:16 'The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects' the Catholic doctrine of asking the saints for their intercession in undeniably the biblical teaching.

...[T]he souls in heaven are not dead; they are alive (Luke 10:38) and they are intimately concerned with our spiritual welfare (Heb 12:1). Scripture confirms this again and again. On the mount of transfiguration in Luke 9:30-31, Moses and Elijah appear with Christ, and are involved with our salvation. Revelation 8:5 depicts the angels doing the same. Hebrews 12:22-24 tells us that when we 'come unto Mount Sion' in prayer, we do not just come to God, but also to 'the spirits of just men made perfect.' These are all members of our 'family in heaven' (Eph 3:15)...

I came to see that Mary's role as a heavenly 'prayer warrior' is completely biblical."

Spiritual contact with our loves ones doesn't not stop at death. In Revelation, we read about the martyrs in heaven (the saints) who cry out to God to avenge their deaths. (Rev 6:9-10) If the saints can ask God for some negative action (in this case to repay the people responsible for their deaths), isn't it also possible that they could ask God to take some positive action? It would seem that they'd rather ask God for a positive action than a negative action.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke, we can read about what kind of interaction a soul can have after the death of a person's body. "...send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames..." (Luke 16:19-31). Lazarus and the rich man, after the death of their bodies, were certainly not "sleeping." The "dead" rich man intercedes (unsuccessfully in this case) to Abraham in heaven on behalf of his five unfaithful brothers still living on earth. In Luke 9:28-36, Jesus is transfigured in between two very active "dead" saints - Moses and the prophet Elijah. Refer to Heb 11-12:1 and notice how the "dead" saints in heaven are able to witness the faith journey of earth-dwelling Christians and "cheer us on" to victory. (Other examples of the "dead" interceding can be found in 2 Macc 15:7-16 and Tobit 12:11-12).

Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid writes:

"Many Protestants delight in being asked for intercessory prayer, and they actively encourage it in others, especially in those they consider 'prayer warriors," righteous Christians renowned for the efficacy of their prayers. ('The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful') (James 5:16). Christians in heaven are perfected in righteousness. Should their prayers be discounted? To ignore their role as 'prayer warriors' makes no scriptural sense."

What Did the Early Christians Believe?

  • Clement of Alexandria

"In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]" (Miscellanies 7:12 [A.D. 208]).

  • Origen

"But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep" (Prayer 11 [A.D. 233]).

  • Cyprian of Carthage

"Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence the first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father's mercy" (Letters 56[60]:5 [A.D. 253]).

Praying to the Saints - A great Question & Answer on praying to the saints.

Can the saints hear our prayers? - Biblical assurance that they can hear us

The Rosary - what is it, how did it originate, and how do you pray it?