Why ask for intercession by the saints, instead of directly going to God the Father, Christ or the Holy Spirit?
This is a very good question. After all, didn’t Jesus come to bridge the gap that existed between humans and God since the fall?
Really it’s not a question of either/or, it’s a question of why not both.
We should definitely be praying to God, in fact I pray to God every day, often addressing each of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. I also pray to the saints, to ask them for their intercession on my behalf.
The Church teaches us that the saints in heaven hear our petitions and make intercession to God for us, so why not ask them to pray for us? (I wrote an article about the Communion of Saints check it out for more detail)
The usual objection to asking the saints for their intercessions is found in the first letter of Saint Timothy,
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
1 Timothy 2:5
This is cited as a “gotcha” proof text against Catholicism all the time, but it doesn’t have the bite that most Protestant apologists believe it does.
One reason is because Catholics agree with it. Yes Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, for several reasons, but Christ’s position as mediator doesn’t preclude us from praying for each other.
But first let’s take some time to appreciate Christ’s unique attributes as mediator, just because I think it’s a very interesting title.
- Jesus is the only God-man, He is the only person to have both a human and divine nature. As both man and God, He is able to bridge the gap between man and God – gap created by original sin and widened by our own personal sins – in a way no other person ever could
- Jesus says in the last supper that He is instituting a new covenant in His blood. Every covenant in salvation history had the essential elements of a mediator, a sacrifice and a meal. This includes Adam, Abraham, Moses and now Jesus mediates this new covenant, sacrifices Himself and gives us His flesh as the meal to seal it.
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.
So there is no doubt that Jesus is the mediator of this new covenant, a covenant sealed in His Most Precious Blood, and as mediator of this covenant He bridges the great chasm that was created by original sin. But let’s back up a few verses and read that verse from St Timothy in its full context,
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior…I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;
1 Timothy 2:1-3,8
If Jesus is the only mediator between God and man, then why would St Paul instruct us to pray for one another? Wouldn’t that be the spiritual equivalent of stepping on Jesus’ toes?
If St Paul meant for the aforementioned passage to say that Jesus, and only Jesus, can intercede on our behalf before God, then he wouldn’t have instructed us to pray for one another.
Also in his letter to the Colossians, he says he’s been praying for them non-stop,
And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding
So How Does This Apply To The Saints?
As you probably already know, 99% of Christians would agree that praying for one another is the Christian thing to do, and an important part of living out our faith. So why ask saints to pray for you?
Because the Saints in heaven are not dead, they are fully alive. In fact, they are more alive in heaven than they ever were on earth because they are now partaking of the Divine Life, and are sustained by Life itself.
Just as you can ask a someone that’s on earth to pray for you, you can also ask the Saints to join their prayers with yours.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Since Christ bridged that chasm that existed between us and God, we can stand before Him in a way not possible under the Old Covenant. We can bring our prayers directly to our high priest, and we should every day, but we can also ask other (both alive on earth and alive in heaven) to pray with us and for us.
That’s why it should be either/or, when it comes to prayer with the saints and Jesus. It should be both.