Category Archives: communion of saints

Are All Christians Saints?

In Colossians 1:1-2, St. Paul says:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

The question is: why do Catholics only refer to canonized “saints” in heaven as “saints” when St. Paul seems to refer to all Christians as “saints”?

Revelation 5:8 adds:

And when [the Lamb, Jesus Christ] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints…

Here, we have “the twenty-four elders,” representing the people of God from both Old and New Covenants (12 Patriarchs + 12 apostles = “24 elders”) receiving and communicating “the prayers of the saints” ascending from earth as incense. So again, we have Christians this side of the veil referred to as “saints.”

Some Catholics will argue the term “saints” is being used in the sense of an aspiration. St. Paul wills the Colossians to be saints so he refers to them here in accordance with their ultimate calling rather than their present state. I have never found that line of reasoning to be compelling. It doesn’t seem to work for either text, especially Rev. 5:8.

But even more importantly, that doesn’t seem to jibe with Church teaching.

So what gives?

The Catholic Answer

When both Col. 1 and Rev. 5 refer to “the saints,” it seems clear they are referring to Christians who are presently “walking[ing] through the valley of the shadow of death” as the Psalmist says. At least, in some sense. But I find many among the non-Catholics I converse with regularly to be surprised when I tell them the Catholic Church acknolwedges that all of the baptized can be referred to as “saints.” CCC 1475 says:

In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.”

In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.

CCC 946-948 makes it even more clear that all of God’s faithful can be referred to as “saints.”

After confessing “the holy catholic Church,” the Apostles’ Creed adds “the communion of saints.” In a certain sense this article is a further explanation of the preceding: “What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?” The communion of saints is the Church…

(948) The term “communion of saints” therefore has two closely linked meanings: communion in holy things (sancta)” and “among holy persons (sancti).”

Sancti,” by the way, means “saints,” or “holy ones.”

The Catechism then continues:

Sancta sanctis! (“God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people”) is proclaimed by the celebrant in most Eastern liturgies during the elevation of the holy Gifts before the distribution of communion. The faithful (sancti) are fed by Christ’s holy body and blood (sancta) to grow in communion of the Holy Spirit (koinonia) and to communicate it to the world.

So now the question becomes: “Then why do Catholics refer to canonized ‘saints’ as ‘saints,’ but not one another this side of the veil? This seems to be a contradiction.”

The Clarity of Scripture

I find St. Paul himself to be the best place to go for the answer to this question. In Col. 1:1-2, as I said above, St. Paul definitively refers to all of the faithful at Colossae as “saints.” And I should note here that the Greek word for “saints” (hagioi) is comparable to “sancti” in Latin. It simply means, “sanctified, set apart, or holy.” It means “saints.”

From a Catholic perspective, we would say of course St. Paul would refer to these Christians, and by allusion, all Christians, in this way because “being set apart and made holy” is precisely what baptism accomplishes in the life of every Christian. We “have been baptized into Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:3) who is the source of all holiness.

But here’s the rub.

The Catholic Church also acknowledges what Col. 1:12 says,:

Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

The Greek word for “share” in this text is merida, which means “to partake in part or a portion.” According to St. Paul, “the saints” on earth partake in part in what “the saints” in heaven possess in fullness. Thus, it is fitting that the Catholic Church reserves the title of “saint” to those she has declared to be in heaven. They alone (“the saints” in heaven) possess sainthood, if you will, in its fullness.

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Do the “Dead Know Nothing?”

The toughest texts to deal with concerning the natural immortality of the soul are found in the Old Testament. These are the go-to verses for Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others who deny it. One way you can go about explaining things to them is to go to the manifold and obvious texts in the New Testament that clearly teach the human soul to be immortal. These would include Jesus’ teaching about the afterlife in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 (there Jesus indicates there is an immediate or “particular” judgment and either reward or punishment at the point of death), the various texts that teach of the eternity of Hell (Matt. 25:41; 46; Rev. 14:9-11; Rev. 20:10-15, etc.), etc.

These and more texts we could use from the New Testament are crucial to the discussion, but not necessarily compelling, I have found, unless one can also deal with those “go-to” texts from the Old Testament. We will examine three of them here:

Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower, and withers; he flees like a shadow, and continues not… For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease… But man dies, and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?… Oh, that thou wouldst hide me in Sheol, that thou wouldst conceal me until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again?… His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not. He feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself (Job 14).

“His sons come to honor, and he does not know it?” To many, this text is clear: there is no consciousness after death. Further, the author compares the death of a man to a tree getting cut down. He says the tree has the advantage! The tree continues to live, whereas a man will not. Seems like an open and shut case. But not so fast! If we examine the context here we see quite a different story. Job is speaking of death being the final end to this life. He is not denying that there is an afterlife. There are three points to consider in order to clear up this apparent difficulty:

1.  Job compares man to a tree, which continues to blossom again; or “return” to this life. Man does not. He is not denying an afterlife. Job obviously believes man will be resurrected. He says as much in Job 19:25: “For I know that my redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God.” Job simply declares what all Christians believe: a man that dies will not return to this life.

2. In verses 13-14, as Fr. William Most has said, in his book, Apologetics Today, “[Job] indulges a fanciful wish, saying he would like to hide, without dying in Sheol, the underworld, until God’s wrath has passed.” This is an understandable wish in the midst of terrible suffering. It is in this context that he says, in verse 14, “If a man dies shall he live again?” Job knows that you cannot go to Sheol and return to this life. We know this is what he is referring to because, as we have seen, in Job 19:25, Job explicitly teaches that there will be a resurrection of the body. So the dead will return, but not to this life.

3. What about the part that says the sons of the dead man “come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not?” Job is writing at a time, before the advent of Christ, when the dead did not experience the Beatific Vision. The “limbo of the fathers” as it is called was somewhat mysterious.

Again, Fr. Most says:

Job talks of the future life as he knew it, and as Jews thought of it. Job and his people thought of life [after death] as a drab survival—which is what it really was before the death of Christ. It was a dim limbo of the fathers, in which they had no means of knowing what transpired on earth, whether their children suffered or prospered [barring a special revelation given by God to the souls in Sheol for a special purpose as we see in the cases of Samuel (I Samuel 28:15), perhaps Rachel (Jeremiah 31:15), certainly Jeremiah and Onias (II Maccabees 15:11-15), and Moses and Elijah on the Mountain of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:30-31)]. By way of the beatific vision of God [the holy soul of the departed] can know what goes on on earth. But without that vision he cannot. And that vision was not to be had in the days of Job, not until Jesus died.

It is interesting to note, as Fr. Most also points out, this text from Job 14 is far from disproving a belief in the afterlife; it actually demonstrates it to be true:

So, Job says that the dead man feels only his pain. The fact that he feels pain shows his continued existence. So there is an afterlife.

The “limbo of the fathers” was a shadowy sort of existence that we just do not know everything about. And neither did Job. This “pain” in the afterlife of which he speaks may well be a reference to the separation of body and soul at death and the longing for the resurrection. This makes sense when we again consider Job 19:25. Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God.” It would certainly make sense that Job would communicate a sense of “pain” in that the righteous dead are awaiting that which will finally complete them as human persons. Most important however is the fact that Job indicates “feeling” after death.

Psalm 6:3-6:

My soul is sorely troubled. But thou, O Lord—how long? Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of thy steadfast love. In death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise?

“’In death there is no remembrance of thee?’ How can it get any clearer than that?” says the Adventist. Fr. Most, quoting Scripture scholar Mitchell Joseph Dahood, S.J., responds:

The psalmist suffers not because of the inability to remember Yahweh in Sheol [Hell], but from being unable to share in the praise of Yahweh which characterizes Israel’s worship.

Psalm 6 is a Psalm of David written “to the choirmaster” in order for it to be sung in the context of the liturgical worship of the People of God. This is the worship of God that David loved so much. In Sheol there would be no Tabernacle, no Temple, no choir and no grand communal worship. There would be no “remembrance” of God in the liturgy. No “praise” of God in the assembly. This was the desire of David’s heart all of his life as we see here in Psalm 27:4:

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

David does not want to be deprived of the glorious praise of God. Fr. Most continues:

Isaiah 38:18 also has similar language: “For Sheol will not thank you [nor] death praise you.” The verb for praise, hallel, in Hebrew is precisely the same verb used in I Chr. 16:4 and II Chr. 5:13 and 31:2 for the liturgical praise of God. That of course would not take place in Hell [sheol].

A good way to see vividly the difference between the after-life occasioned by the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ in the New Covenant verses the after-life in the Old Covenant is to note the different ways death is viewed in each Testament. David, in Psalm 6, does not want to die because in death existence was less appealing than life in this world. Not just for the damned—of course that would be true—but for the just. In the New Covenant, we see just the opposite. St. Paul says:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Phil 1:21-24).

Only an understanding of the immortality of the soul and the glory of the beatific vision awaiting the faithful after the resurrection of Christ can make sense of this text. If there is nothing—but nothing—in death, then St. Paul should be saying with David, “I don’t want to die!” St. Paul says plainly that death in friendship with Christ is “far better” than life in this present world.

Eccl. 9:10:

For there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

That sounds like we should join the local Seventh-day Adventist community, doesn’t it? What gives? As always, the key is context. Beginning at verse 5 of this chapter, we read:

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward; but the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and they have no more for ever any share in all that is done under the sun. Go, eat your bread with enjoyment… Enjoy life with the wife who you love… which he has given you under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. Again, I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift…

Notice how many times the inspired author said “under the sun?” Three times in these few short verses! The inspired author does not say the dead have no existence at all. The context reveals that he was saying the dead have nothing to do with, and no knowledge of, what is happening “under the sun” as I’ve said before. But, in the end, the writer of Ecclesiastes knows that justice is coming in the next life. So certain is he of this that he can say in the final two verses of the book (Eccl. 12:13-14):

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

The writer of Ecclesiastes is focusing upon what happens “under the sun” until the very end when he tells us that the after-life is the place where everything will finally make sense. He does not attempt to give us an in-depth teaching of the nature of the after-life. He simply assures his readers that ultimate justice awaits in God’s good time.

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Does Praying to Saints Equal Worshipping the Saints?

For many of our Protestant friends, the idea of ”praying to saints” is tantamount to adoring them as God. In his book, Answers to Catholic Claims – A Discussion of Biblical Authority, James White writes:

Prayer, it is asserted [in Scripture], is an act of worship, and we are to worship God alone.”

If this is true then Catholics are committing the sin of idolatry every time they pray to a saint. But is this true?

The Catholic Response

When Catholics say they are “praying” to God and “praying” to saints they are talking about qualitatively different things as different as a monkey is from a man. The Protestant generally only has one species in mind when he thinks of prayer—prayer to God that necessarily includes adoration. But one need only pick up a dictionary to discover there are in truth different definitions and therefore different usages of the same word, “prayer,” in English.

Prayer:

The act or practice of praying.
1.An earnest request; entreaty; supplication
2.(a) humble entreaty addressed to God, to a god, etc.: (b) a request made to God, etc.; as, her prayer for his safe return; (c) any set formula for praying, as to God.

Prayer is not, by definition, necessarily equal to the adoration that is due God alone. Prayer can certainly involve an act of adoration when it is directed to God, but the term does not necessarily denote adoration. It can simply mean “a request.”

In Old English we did not have so much of a difficulty here. One could say to another, “Pray tell…” or, “I pray thee my lord…” without raising an eyebrow. In fact, the King James Bible gives us many examples of the term “prayer” being used analogous to the way Catholics use it when we “pray” to saints. With a touch of Old English, when Bathsheba makes a request of King Solomon in I Kings 2:20, the KJV has her say: “I pray thee, say me not nay.” There was never a question here of whether the King James Bible was presenting Bathsheba as adoring her son as God, or praying to him in a way that is forbidden. It was not. Nor are Catholics when they pray to saints. Catholics certainly honor the saints when they pray to them. In other words, they do not talk to them like they would talk to the boys at the local bar and grill. They show great respect and reverence for them. But they do not adore them as they adore God alone. And they also petition them for their prayers because Scripture makes very clear that Christians need each other as members of the body of Christ (see I Cor. 12:12-27).

Defining the Difference

The Catholic Church has gone to great lengths to define the essential difference between prayer to God and prayer to saints. You may have noticed that I have been using the English word “adoration” to refer to that honor Catholics give to God alone. I do so because in Catholic tradition when using the English language, “worship” has often been used of honor given to the saints. “Adoration” is the term that has come to be used for God alone. “Worship” and “adoration” are English translations of terms the Church uses in her definitive teaching to define the difference between the honor that is given God and the honor proffered to the saints.

The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, in AD 787, referred to this “adoration” given to God alone as latreia (Greek) or latria (Latin). This comes from a Greek root that we find in Scripture in multiple places and in different words. In Gal. 5:20, for example, we find St. Paul condemning “idolatry”— Gr.-idolatreia. This term literally means “idol-adoration” (or, popularly, “idol-worship”). Another example is found in Hebrews 9:6 where the inspired author refers to the ministry of priests in the Old Testament as offering their “ritual duties” to God (Gr.—latreias).

The Council Fathers used latria in this sense of “adoration” that ought only to be given to God. When the Council considered praying to saints, they taught that this prayer should include the honor that is owed them in justice, but never adoration. They chose to use douleia (Greek) or dulia (Latin) in order to make this distinction clear. Hence, we have an entirely different kind of prayer offered to the saints than to God. In the Council’s Doctrinal Definition, the fathers declared:

The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full adoration {latria} in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honored and life-giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred cult objects. Further, people are drawn to honor these images with the offering of incense and lights, as was piously established by ancient custom. Indeed, the honor paid to an image traverses it, reaching the model, and he who venerates the image, venerates the person represented in that image.

Biblical Examples

The Bible teaches us we should honor great members of the Body of Christ for three essential reasons. First, out of respect for their office or position. One example of such honor is found in I Thess. 5:12-13:

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

Secondly, Christians are called to honor other members of the Body of Christ for what God has done through them, or more precisely, for their cooperation with God’s grace in allowing him to work through them. St. Paul tells us as much in I Tim. 5:17. Notice, he exhorts us to give “double honor” to those elders in the Church who “rule well” the household of faith:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

And we should note at this point that there is no reason to believe this honor somehow ceases at death. Revelation 5:8 reveals that we have “elders” in heaven who continue their ministry to other members of the body of Christ who would be owed honor as well.

The third reason Christians honor men and women of faith is perhaps the most important—for their holiness. True greatness in the body of Christ comes through obedience to the word of God. In Matt. 5:19-20, Jesus himself speaks of “greater” and “lesser” members of the kingdom rooted in their level of obedience to God’s commandments:

Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This is a foundational principle as to why we honor the saints in heaven more so than we honor members of the body of Christ on earth. The saints in heaven are free from all sin and are truly the greatest in the kingdom; therefore, they deserve the greatest of honor.

Catholic belief that those who are truly great in the kingdom of God should be honored as such fits very well with the famous and prophetic words from our Lady herself, who prophesied in Luke 1:46-49:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

According to Revelation 21:10-14, we see God himself honors the twelve apostles by inscribing their names in the foundation of the eternal city in heaven:

And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

These texts and others we could examine are profound examples of the old axiom: grace builds upon nature. Indeed, it is deep within the race to want to honor great men and women of courage and accomplishment. One cannot visit a single city in the world that does not proudly exhibit statues and plaques honoring heroes of old. Not only is there nothing in Scripture to suggest Christians should somehow suppress this good and natural impulse, but the texts we have seen above suggest this ought to be done in a Christian context as well.

The Example Among Examples

In Gen. 33:3, Jacob “bows himself to the ground seven times” before his elder brother Esau as a sign of respect toward his elder brother. In I Kings 1:16, Bathsheba “bowed and did obeisance” before her King and husband, David, venerating the office of the king of Israel. In I Kings 2:19, King Solomon “bows to” his mother, Bathsheba, venerating the office of Queen Mother, the second highest authority in the Kingdom of David.

In the New Testament, Jesus is so insistent upon the proper honor being given among his people that he has some stern words for those who fail to get it right in this life:

Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie–behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you.

But perhaps the greatest biblical example of the veneration of the saints comes from Psalm 45 where the first 9 verses are well-known as Messianic in nature, prophesying in some detail concerning Christ the King:

My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king… In your majesty ride forth victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right… Your divine throne endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows; your robes are all fragrant… From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor.

There is no question concerning the prophetic nature and value of this passage when we consider the inspired author of Hebrews, in Hebrews 1:8-9, quoted verses 6-7 as referring to Christ, his divinity, and his kingship. Yet, there is more to this ancient Psalm about which not as many people are aware. When we examine the rest of Psalm 45:9-17, immediately following the above text, there is another prophecy that speaks of Mary:

At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house; and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; the people of Tyre will sue your favor with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions, her escort, in her train. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.

Set in the context of a royal wedding, on the literal level, this Psalm referred to the King of Israel, probably Solomon, receiving a new bride. But on the spiritual level it refers to Christ the King in relation to the Church and Mary as spouse of the Holy Spirit. Verses 16-17 in particular speak in terms that can quite easily be seen as fulfilled in the life of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ the King, and spouse of the Holy Spirit:

Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.

Not one of Solomon’s wives fits the description of being remembered in every generation. And while his mother, Bathsheba, may be remembered by many, she is hardly praised in every generation nor would she be able to fulfill a prophecy that appears to go beyond being a Queen of a small state in the Middle East. This Queen and Mother is depicted as “making… princes in all the earth.” Old Covenant Israel never covered the globe. The New Israel, the Church, certainly does. Who better fits the fulfillment of this prophecy than Mary? Every Christian—indeed most of the world beyond Christendom—knows the name of the Mother of God, Mary.

We should also consider that Psalm 45:17 may well be the text of Scripture we hear echoed in the words of Mary herself in Luke 1:48-49. The parallel is worth noting:

Psalm 45:17: “I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.”

Luke 1:48: “For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

At any rate, this great prophecy of our Lady says that all generations would “praise her?” When was the last time you heard of a Baptist singing praises to Mary and celebrating the fact that she, as Queen Mother, should be honored for giving birth to all of the brothers of Jesus (that’s us Christians) who truly are “princes throughout the earth?”

Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.

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How Can Mary Hear Thousands Simultaneously?

In his 1999 book, Evangelical Answers – A Critique of Current Roman Catholic Apologists, Eric Svendsen claims the Catholic Church makes Mary into not just a god, but the God:

Suppose someone in the United States were to pray to Mary at a certain time during the day. Suppose further that, at exactly that same moment, someone in Europe begins also to pray to Mary… suppose at that same moment hundreds of thousands of devoted Catholics all over the world begin praying the rosary… In order for Mary to hear all those prayers at once she would have to be omniscient (“all-knowing”)—an attribute that is the property of God alone.

The simplest Catholic response would be to first reference Rev. 5:8:

And when [Christ, the lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints…

Catholics simply believe this text of Scripture. These twenty-four elders are human beings in heaven and they are depicted as “each one [having] vials of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (emphasis added). Each one of them was responding to multiple prayers from multiple people. What does that mean? It means these saints in heaven somehow have the power to do what Eric Svendsen claims to be “the property of God alone.” Obviously, it is not. We would do well to recall the words of Sacred Scripture at this juncture: “With God all things are possible” (cf. Luke 1:37). If we have faith, we will have no problem with believing God’s word over our own feeble and fallible intellects.

Moreover, we also see this same ministry being performed by the angels in Revelation 8:3-4:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Not only are the saints and angels depicted as hearing the prayers of multiple people at the same time, but these prayers are then taken to God and they affect change on the earth as symbolized by the “peals of thunder, loud noises, etc.” I once had a Protestant pastor I was debating say to me when I presented this text to him, “There is no evidence that these saints and angels hear and comprehend those prayers. They just take them to God.” Obviously, the language of “being given incense” representing the prayers of the saints is metaphorical. One cannot “grab a hold of prayers” without knowing what they are any more than one can grab a handful of incense. In order for these pure spirits in heaven to “take prayers” to God, they must be intellectually comprehended and then communicated.

And when you think about it, why wouldn’t they? If Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of God and “he always lives to make intercession for [us]” as Hebrews 7:25 says, would not the angels and saints want to do what Jesus does? I John 3:1-2 says if or when we get to heaven, “We will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Why would the saints in heaven see Jesus interceding for us on earth and just sit around and watch him without joining in on the prayer? They would want to do what Jesus does and Jesus would want them to do what he does as well. That’s what “following Jesus” is all about!

LET’S GET METAPHYSICAL

But we still haven’t answered Svendsen’s main objection. We need to demonstrate the reasonableness of Rev. 5:8. If infinite power is required for the saints and angels in heaven to hear multiple prayers simultaneously, it is true, only God would be up to the task. Even more, God could not communicate this power outside of the godhead because that would be tantamount to creating another infinite God, which is absurd. God alone is the one, true and infinite God by nature and there can be no other (cf. Is. 45:22).

So, would it require infinite power to hear the prayers of, let’s say, one billion people at the same time? The answer is no. One billion is a finite number. So it would not require infinite power. If we take a look at this universe of ours and consider that we are beings on one planet in one solar system amid billions of stars in one galaxy among billions of galaxies, we are a drop in the ocean next to the vastness of space. All the power a saint, like Mary, would need would be enough to hear just these little creatures on this one little blue dot called “earth.” We are not even in the ballpark of “infinite power” here.

I have to give Eric Svendsen credit because in response to my colleague, Patrick Madrid, who made this very same argument that I just made, Eric Svendsen makes a very insightful critique:

But Madrid’s suggestion creates so many consequent theological difficulties that it is difficult to believe he could be satisfied with it. One may as well argue that omniscience is not needed even by God himself since all things that can be known—no matter how many—are nevertheless limited to a finite number.

In spite of Madrid’s assertions to the contrary, one must indeed be omniscient or omnipresent (or both) before he can hear more than one prayer at a time.

When Svendsen says “omniscience is not needed even by God himself,” he betrays a lack of understanding of the Catholic and biblical position on this matter. Apart from a gift of grace, it would be impossible for created, human nature to be able to hear the prayers of millions at once and to be able to respond to them all. In fact, I argue it would be beyond unaided angelic power as well. God alone can do these things by nature and absolutely.

St. Thomas Aquinas answers this question succinctly when he says the ability to perform actions that transcend nature comes from a “created light of glory received into [the] created intellect.” It would require infinite power to “create the light” or the grace given to empower men and angels to act beyond their given natures. Only God can do that. But it does not require infinite power to passively receive that light. As long as what is received is not infinite by nature or does not require infinite power to comprehend or to be able to act upon, it would not be beyond men or angel’s ability to receive. Therefore, we can conclude this “created light” given by God to empower men and angels to be able hear millions of prayers and respond to them simultaneously is reasonable as well as biblical.

If you want much more information on this topic, check out my CD set called “Friends in High Places” available here.

Praying to Saints

In his book, Answers to Catholic Claims, A Discussion of Biblical Authority, Protestant Apologist James White claims praying to saints is contrary to Scripture:

The Bible strongly condemns communication with the dead. It does not matter if those who died were good or bad, saintly or evil, there is to be no communication between the living and the dead. The only communication with spirit beings that originates with man that is allowed in Scripture is that of prayer to God and He alone.

Biblical texts like Deut. 18:10-11 and Isaiah 19:3—each of which condemns necromancy—are employed to say “communication with the dead” is condemned absolutely.

Actually, what is being condemned in these texts from Deuteronomy and Isaiah is conjuring up the dead through wizards and mediums, not praying to saints. The Church has always condemned this that is commonly called necromancy. Mediums attempt to conjure up spirits and manipulate the spiritual realm at will. This is categorically different from Christians asking for the intercession of their brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not “conjure up” or manipulate anything or anyone. True prayer—whether to God or the angels and saints—changes the pray-er, not the pray-ee.

If one says recklessly as Mr. White said, “… there is to be no communication between the living and the dead,” where does this leave Jesus? He is clearly guilty according to Luke 9:29-31:

And as [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.

According to Deuteronomy 34:5, Moses was dead. And yet Jesus was communicating with him and Elijah about the most important event in human history—the redemption. Obviously, Jesus does not agree with Mr. White.

FIRST CONTACT

There is another point to White’s argument that requires a deeper level of response. Notice, he said, “The only communication with spirit beings that originates with man that is allowed in Scripture is that of prayer to God and He alone.” This point taken alone would not exclude communicating with the dead in any context. It would only exclude such communication if contact originates from the earth dweller.

In one sense, it seems Mr. White, as well as our Protestant friends he represents by his statement, is stuck in an Old Testament mindset. It is true that we do not see Old Covenant faithful initiating prayer to the dearly departed, but this is to be expected because the faithful dead before Christ and the beatific vision afforded by him would not have had the power to either hear or respond to those prayers. Moreover, the Old Covenant People of God did not have the developed understanding of the after-life that only came with the Revelation of Christ.

Jesus Christ introduces a radical development the Old Covenant saints could not have imagined when he clearly initiates the communication with the faithful departed unlike anything we saw in the Old Testament. I say “clearly” because even Protestant Apologist Eric Svendsen seems to see it, though I’m not sure how cognizant he was of the rammifications of this statement he made about the Transfiguration in his book, Evangelical Answers:

The transfiguration was an apocalyptic event choreographed directly by the Son of God to give the apostles a glimpse of his eschatological glory…

If Jesus “choreographed” it, then he initiated it. Some may say, “Well, he’s God, so he can do that.” Yes, he is. But he is also fully man and we are called to imitate him. If Jesus initiated communication with the dead, there is no reason to believe followers of Jesus cannot do the same. This is precisely what we mean as Catholics when we say we “pray to the saints.”

THE BIBLE SAYS SO

The New Testament presents to us very plain examples of the faithful on earth initiating communication with the saints in heaven. First, we have Hebrews 11-12. Chapter 11 gives us what I call the “hall of faith” wherein the lives of many of the Old Testament saints are recounted. Then, the inspired author encourages these to whom he referred earlier as a people who were being persecuted for their faith (10:32-35), to consider that they are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” encouraging them to “run the race” of faith set before them. Then, beginning in 12:18, he encourages these New Covenant faithful by reminding them that their covenant—the New Covenant—is far superior to the Old:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire … darkness … gloom … and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them…

But you have come to… the city of the living God… and to innumerable angels… and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven… and to… God… and to the spirits of just men made perfect… and to Jesus…

Notice, in the Old Covenant the faithful approached God alone and with trepidation. But in the New Covenant, the faithful have experienced a radical change for the better. “But you have come to … and to … and to … and to.” In the same way we can initiate prayer and in so doing “come to” God and Jesus, we can also “come to” the angels and “the spirits of just men made perfect.” Those would be the saints in heaven. In the fellowship of the saints, we have the aid and encouragement of the whole family of God.

The Book of Revelation gives us an even better description of this communication between heaven and earth:

The twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints … the elders fell down and worshipped (5:8-14).

These “elders” are offering the prayers of the faithful symbolized by incense filtering upward from the earth to heaven. And because they are seen receiving these prayers, we can reasonably conclude they were both directed to these saints in heaven and that they were initiated by the faithful living on earth. We also see this same phenomenon being performed by the angels in Revelation 8:3-4:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.

And these prayers offered to God through the mediation of the angels are answered as symbolized by “thunder” and “lightning” that are then cast upon the earth through those prayers:

Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

The bottom line is this: Both the faithful on earth and our brothers and sisters in heaven (and let’s not forget our “cousins,” the angels) are all acting just as Catholics would expect. Believers on earth are initiating prayers which the saints and angels in heaven are receiving. Is this the necromancy condemned in Deuteronomy and Isaiah? Absolutely not! This is New Testament Christianity.

One Mediator Between God and Men

A surface reading of I Timothy 2:5 would seem to eliminate the idea of Christians “mediating” graces to one another: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.” Protestants will argue, “If Jesus is our one mediator, then Christ alone mediates grace. In saying anyone else can, Catholics are usurping and thereby denying Christ’s singular role as mediator. That’s blasphemy!”

THE CATHOLIC RESPONSE:

Much to the surprise of many Protestants I have spoken to over the years, the Catholic Church actually acknowledges Christ to be our one and absolutely unique mediator who alone can reconcile us to the Father in a strict sense. In his classic, The Catholic Catechism, Fr. John Hardon explains:

… the Incarnation corresponds to mediation in the order of being, and the Redemption (remission of sin and conferral of grace) is mediation morally.

This kind of mediation is incommunicable. No one but the Savior unites in himself the divinity, which demands reconciliation, and the humanity, which needs to be reconciled.

Protestants generally agree with us on this point. However, Fr. Hardon goes on to say:

Nevertheless, lesser and subordinate mediators are not excluded. The question is what purpose they serve and in what sense do they mediate. They can help the cause of mediation in the only way that human beings (or creatures) can contribute to the work of salvation, namely, by their willing response to grace; either better disposing themselves or others for divine grace, or interceding with God to give his grace, or freely cooperating with grace when conferred.

The “lesser and subordinate mediators” is where the trouble starts. And yet, the context of I Timothy 2:5 demonstrates Fr. Hardon’s point. In the first two verses, St. Paul commands “supplications, prayers and intercessions to be made for all men…” Intercession is a synonym for mediation. Hebrews 7:24-25 refers to Jesus acting as our one mediator at the right hand of the Father and refers to him as intercessor:

But [Christ] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently, 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.

Christ is our one mediator/intercessor, yet, St. Paul commands all Christians to be intercessors/mediators. Then notice the first word in verse five: “For there is one God and one mediator…” And then in verse seven he says, “For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle.” What is an apostle if not a mediator? The very definition of apostle, according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, is “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” That’s an essential part of what a mediator is. In short, St. Paul says we are all called to be mediators because Christ is the one mediator and for this reason he was called to be a mediator of God’s love and grace to the world!

Is this a contradiction? Not at all! The fact that Jesus is our one mediator does not preclude him from communicating this power by way of participation. The Bible also declares: “But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher, (Gr. – didaskolos) and you are all brethren.” This text cannot be any clearer, yet James 3:1 and Ephesians 4:11 tell us we have many teachers (Gr. – didaskoloi) in the Church. The key is to understand that the many teachers and mediators in the body of Christ do not take away from Christ as the one teacher and mediator because they are, in a sense, Christ on this earth and they serve to establish his offices of teacher and mediator in him. As members of the body of Christ graced with a specific task by Christ they can say with St. Paul in Galatians 2:20, “It is not I, but Christ who [teaches] in me…”

And remember, we are not talking about necessity here. The Church is not claiming Christ couldn’t get the job done so he needed help. Of course not! He could do it all—and all by himself—if he wanted to. He could come down here right now and write this blog post much more effectively than I ever could. But he chooses not to do everything himself, strictly speaking. He delights in using his body to communicate his life and love to the world.

THE BODY BEAUTIFUL

Perhaps the most important image for the People of God in Scripture for understanding our topic, whether we are talking about the “mediation of all grace” with reference to the Mother of God, or the mediation of graces through the prayers and sufferings of other members of the Church, is given to us in I Corinthian 12, when St. Paul describes the Church as a body. CCC 753:

In Scripture, we find a host of interrelated images and figures through which Revelation speaks of the inexhaustible mystery of the Church. The images taken from the Old Testament are variations of a profound them: the People of God. In the New Testament, all these images find a new center because Christ has become the head of this people, which henceforth is his Body. Around this center are grouped images taken from the life of the shepherd or from cultivation of the land, from the art of building or from family life and marriage.

The Old Testament has beautiful images for the People of God. They are shown to be God’s bride (cf. Jer. 3:1-14); They are children of a God who is revealed to be their “father” (cf. Mal. 1:6), and more. But with the advent of Christ these analogies were brought to a whole new level unthinkable to the Old Testament mindset (cf. CCC 239-240).

God was revealed to be “like” a father in the Old Testament. In the New, he is revealed to be Father within the eternal relations of the godhead. Through our mystical union with Christ through baptism, we become sons and daughters of God whereby we can truly call God “Abba”—father (cf. Gal. 4:4-7). We become brothers and sisters of Christ and true sons of Mary (cf. Romans 8:14-17; John 19:27—Rev. 12:17). The concept of “bride” reaches new heights when we speak of the Church as the “bride” of Christ (cf. Eph. 5:24-32). But even more radically, “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5), whereby we are caught up into the very inner life of God as members of Christ’s body by grace (cf. Eph. 2:5-6), and by virtue of that fact we have been made to be “partakers of the divine nature” as II Peter 1:4 says.

It is this image of “the Body of Christ” that aids us in understanding how one member of the body can aid another in the communication of the divine life to one another without diminishing the role of “the head.” For example, if I pick up a pen here on my desk would we say “the head,” or “I,” would have had nothing to do with it? “Oh no, your hand did that, Tim, not you!”

So it is with Christ and his Body. Eph. 1:22-23 goes so far as to say the Church is, “The fullness of him who fills all in all.” Thus, the Church is Christ in this world. This does not take away from Christ’s unique mediation; it establishes that unique mediation. Different members of the Church mediate various graces in accordance with their respective gifts while the whole body functions to bring Christ to the world. Romans 12:4-6 says:

For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.

And this radical union with Christ and with the other members of the Body of Christ does not cease at death. Romans 8:35-38 tells us, among other things, “neither death nor life… shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ.” Thus, those alive on earth can still benefit from—they are still connected to—the other members of the Body of Christ in heaven.

Is Christ our one, true mediator? Absolutely! And it is this same Christ who has chosen to use his Body to mediate God’s grace to the world in and through him.