Why Do Catholics Ask Mary and the Saints to Pray for Us?


A saint is one who is holy. In most languages, the two terms are synonymous (sanctusin Latin,santoin Spanish, etc.). The New Testament refers to all living Christians as saints. That is so because the Spirit sanctifies every Christian at baptism in Christ’s blood, becoming sanctified after yielding his body to righteousness, by abstaining from unchastity and sin, fulfilling God’s call to be holy and blameless.

So every Christian is a saint, due to his relationship with Christ, yet typically we apply it to those who have died and who are now united to Christ in heaven, since after dying in the Lord, their relationship is now deeper, more intimate, and fully spiritual.

A Christian’s prayer has great power. Prayer is powerful because Jesus joins himself to the prayer of those of faith and holiness: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). The righteous man’s prayer should gain power—not lose it—as he becomes fully united with Christ in heaven. Likewise, if our prayer is united to the saints’ in heaven, it should be even more powerful, as they are more united to Christ.

Praying to the saints reflects our belief in the resurrection of the dead, that those who die in Christ are really alive in him, as they “have washed their robes . . . in the blood of the Lamb [and stand] before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Rev. 7:9-17). All who die in Christ offer prayers to the Father, just as the martyrs and elders do.

Christ taught that saints “are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead . . . [and] are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36); so we treat Mary and saints in heaven as we do angels (Rev. 22:8-9), not as we do God.

Christ also exemplifies prayer to the saints when he conversed—prayed in the broad sense—with Old Testament saints awaiting redemption: Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:30-31). He taught that saints are living, not dead (Matt. 22:32). He also taught us the parable of a rich man beseeching Abraham to intercede for his brothers, which would make little sense if saints couldn’t intercede for others (Luke 16:19-31).

Like angels, saints serve as God’s emissaries, looking over their fellow human beings as they had before they went to heaven. They intercede for others as parents, friends, pastors, and prayer partners had before dying. Like the angels, the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1-2) continue their Christian prayer in heaven.

So, it is fitting to call on them, as on the angels—and among the saints, Mary is the most favored.

So, prayer to angels and saints is based in Scripture. We can and should pray to Mary, invoking her by name, as did Gabriel (Luke 1:30), joining all nations and all generations in blessing her (Luke 1:48). She is mother of the Church and our spiritual mother. As a spiritual mother, Mary prayerfully intercedes for her children, as she did for the couple and their guests at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-12, CCC 2618).

We picture Mary as constantly pleading to God and to our Lord for us children, whom she sees as her own. So, as we approach Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant—with its Mercy Seat—we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Devotion to Mary was also common among Christians in those early years of the Church. They saw her as their mother (Rev. 12:17) and relied on her maternal protection. The prayer sub tuum praesidium—we fly to thy patronage—was found on a third-century Christian papyrus in Egypt, showing us that Marian devotion began very early. It expresses deep confidence in her. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 390) also encouraged us to pray, “imploring the Virgin Mary to bring her assistance.” Similarly, Severus of Antioch (d. 538) entreated, “We implore her who is the birthgiver of God and pray her to intercede for us, she who is honored by all the saints.”

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Fr. John Waiss's brand-new book Bible Mary: The Mother of Jesus in the Word of God

Jun 4th 2024 Fr. John Waiss

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