Hey, Father! Explain why Catholics ‘pray’ to saints?

How do I defend our teaching of asking the saints to intercede for us? How do I respond when I am asked, “Why don’t you just pray to God directly?”

– Anonymous in the diocese

To answer that question properly, we must first clarify what we are exactly doing when we ask for the intercession of Mary or a particular saint. When we say a saint prayer, whether it is the Hail Mary, a Saint Patrick prayer, or the St. Michael prayer etc., we are not actually “praying to” saints, even though that is the language we as Catholics even use.

We recognize that these saints, who are creations of God, have played an important part in God’s plan in this world. We, therefore, through prayer, are actually asking them to “pray for us” and intercede for us because they are saints, friends of God, and are literally in his company in heaven. God doesn’t need them to do this. He knows all things and can do all things and is perfectly able to hear and answer all prayers Himself. He does, however, invite His creation to be a part of His ongoing plan of salvation.

We recognize that no saint, not even Mary, has any power in and of themselves, but that everything they do is through the power of God. The saints and the Blessed Mother want us to remember this too. That is why they are always pointing us toward Jesus. The saints and Mary help us recognize Jesus and His call to us in our lives. The saints teach us by their example and by the way they followed Christ while they were on this earth. They intercede for us, offering their prayers for us as close friends of God, just in the same way if you ask a friend or family member to pray for you or loved one in need. When you ask someone to pray for you or a loved one, you are not worshiping them or thinking that they have the power themselves to change things themselves.

Every person in Heaven is a saint, and we are still connected to them through what is called the Communion of Saints (we must also strive to be a saints one day). To ask for prayers from the saints is to ask friends to help us stay focused on Jesus, His plan, and what He asks us to do.

We can of course always lift our prayers directly to God, but we should also remember that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit used angels, prophets, apostles, and disciplines as messengers and intercessors all throughout the scriptures to do His work and spread the Good news. God didn’t need to do this. He could have done it Himself, and yet He used others to help with His mission.

In the same way, we continue to recognize that the saints play an important role in God’s plan, so why not ask them to help us and encourage us on the way! So, continue to pray to God, but ask too for the saints to pray for you or a loved one. After all, the saints are our friends, and they desire us to be next to them in heaven worshipping God forever.

Father Marty Smith is pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Jerseyville and St. Patrick in Grafton and is an associate vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois