THE INTERCESSION OF SAINTS: A BIBLICAL TOUR

 

The Holy Catholic Church infallibly teaches that “the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their own prayers to God for men. It is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, and help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Who alone is our Redeemer and Saviour” (Council of Trent, Session XXV). Though this doctrine dates back to the earliest days of Christianity and is shared by more than three quarters of the Christians on earth, the non-Catholics are still inclined to think that scriptural evidences for the intercession of saints are entirely lacking. These heretics kept on accusing the Catholics of blasphemy and idolatry on the account of praying to and venerating the saints including the angels, which they thought to be contrary to the mediatorship of Christ. But, is there really any biblical foundation for this teaching?

First, it is to understand that the practice of saying prayers to saints or them praying for the living are of pre-Christian origin as evidenced by the Jewish belief in intercession, both in the form of the paternal blessings passed down from Abraham to his children, and in 2 Maccabees (15:11-16), where Judas Maccabaeus sees the dead prophet Onias and Jeremiah giving blessing to the Jewish army. The Old Testament further directs men to invoke those in heaven and ask them to pray with them as written in Psalm 103:20-21: “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!” The invocation to angels is also shown in the opening verses of Psalms 148:  “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!”

Thus, in the book of Revelation, St. John sees that “the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8), and the angels do the same thing: “[An] angel came and stood at the altar [in heaven] with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Revelation 8:3–4). Here, the saints and angels laid the prayers of the Christians on earth at the feet of God; that is, they are praying for them and acting as intercessory intermediaries. The propriety of invoking them logically follows from the plain fact of their intercession, which is indeed identical to the Catholic teaching. Again, the saints in heaven are truly offering to God the prayers of the saints on earth.

On the other hand, praying is not worshipping as what the non-Catholics thought it to be. To pray simply means to “ask,” “beseech” or “request.” The Holy Bible uses the word “pray” also in that same context. For instance, in Acts 8:34, it reads: “And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself, or some other man?” When the Eunuch prayed Philip, did he take away God’s glory? Also, in Genesis 32:9, the patriarch Jacob addressed the angel: “Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, wherefore is that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed them there.” When Jacob prayed to the angel, did he rob God of His glory? If he did, then why did the angel of God bless him instead? Now, is praying to saints wrong? Of course not. Praying to saints is absolutely not worhipping them. From the given definition, it is only asking them to pray to God on behalf of anyone who invokes them.

St. Paul even set an example of this practice by repeatedly requesting people to pray for him, exhorts people to pray for him, and even assumes people will be praying for him:

“I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (Romans 15:30).

“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers” (2 Corinthians 1:11).

“Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20).

“Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:19).

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; and pray for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:2-4).

“Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25).

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

“At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be granted to you” (Philemon 22).

BUT the principle of intercessory prayer is most clearly set forth by St. Paul in the following passage: “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, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). See? Praying for others is undoubtedly pleasing to God.

The same passage above also slaps the faces of the non-Catholics concerning their misconception on the mediatorship of Christ as written in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” Well, that is very true. Christ is absolutely the unique mediator between man and God because He is both God and man. But the fact that Jesus is the one Mediator between God and man does not prevent other people from acting as intercessors as what St. Paul said: “This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”

Pray directly to Jesus? Yes, that is absolutely indispensable to the Christian’s prayer life; but asking others to pray with one another is entirely appropriate and beneficial as Christ Himself commanded such: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).

Despite the biblical proof texts presented above, the non-Catholics would still try refute them by stating that the verses given are only intented for the living and not for the saints who were already dead and know nothing, citing Ecclesiastes 9:5. Well, that is a mere misinterpretation of the book of Ecclesiastes. In John 11:26, Jesus said that “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” He also added in Matthew 22:32 that God “is not the God of the dead but of the living for all live to Him”. Now if God is not God of the dead, and if the saints are no longer living, then is He no longer their God? When a Christian dies, will God cease to be his God? Think.

Thus, the Holy Church teaches that the saints in Heaven are not dead but truly alive and continue to be part of the one Body of Christ. The spirits of these just men are then able to witness everything that happened to the living as manifested in the 12th chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. In verse 1, it reads: “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Notice that the text starts with the word “therefore”, which is a reference to the 11th chapter of the same letter that lists the many Old Testament characters who died in faith, awaiting the promised Messiah. So it makes clear that the dead servants of God are very much conscious of what is happening among the living.

Moreover, the saints are not mere witnesses but one with the living in prayer in participation, by grace, to Christ’s mediation and redemptive work. In Hebrews 12:22-24, it reads: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” This is further attested by the Lazarusian Incident in Luke 16:27-31, in which Abraham and the rich man certainly have not forgotten about earthly life or the people left behind in there. Below are other biblical proof texts that saints are very much aware of what’s happening with the living:

“Then one of the elders [who represent the hierarchy of the people of God in heaven] addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:13-14).

“[A]nd they [the elders] sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth‘” (Revelation 5:9-10).

“Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ [this tells us these are the voices of humans], and he shall reign for ever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15).

“And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying, ‘We give thanks to thee, Lord God Almighty, who art and who wast, that thou hast taken thy great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but thy wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, for rewarding thy servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear thy name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth’” (Revelation 11:16-18).

“And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren [this indicates it is a human voice] has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’” (Revelation 12:10-12).

“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’ Once more they cried, ‘Hallelujah! The smokefrom her [she being a city on the earth] goes up for ever and ever’” (Revelation 19:1-8).

INDEED, the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ is organic and inseparable. Death has no power of this unity, just as death had no power over Christ Himself. Like what St. Paul said that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love, even death or life (cf. Romans 8:38).

However, the teaching that the saints can hear the prayers of the living and those in purgatory does not make them omniscient and omnipresent because they are not gods. Again, the SAINTS ARE NOT GODS but they have more knowledge than the living for they have seen God face-to-face. St. Paul is clear on this as written in 1 Corithians 13:9-12: “For [now] we know in part … but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” If the apostles, while on earth, were given by God the gift of tongues, how much more His servants who are already with Him in glory?

Undoubtedly, it is better to ask the saints in Heaven to pray for those on earth and in purgatory. Why? Because “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16b). The saints in heaven, having been perfectly sanctified, are even more righteous than those who are still living, and so their prayers should have corresponding power in its effects. As what St. James said: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a).

Finally, the saints in Heaven whom the Church is praying to are heroes of the true faith who, while on earth, lived the fullness of Christian life and values, and died as true friends of God. As St. Paul admonished the Christians in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Like St. Paul, the saints also imitated Christ while they live. Thus, the generations after them should follow their examples too. Their monuments and statues, consecrated for who touches them be made holy (cf. Exodus 30:29), serve as an eternal memorial and reminder how they love God above all by serving the Church, the Bride of Christ, even it cost their life.

PRAY FOR US, OH HOLY SAINTS OF GOD!

 

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