Monday, October 22, 2007

Prayers to the Saints: Part 2

James left a comment on my post about praying to the saints (consider that "Part 1") that I would like to address. He asks some good questions that deserve a response.
Exactly, how do saints in heaven hear our prayers? Are they omniscient and omnipresent? Can one popular saint, for example Padre Pio, hear millions of prayers at the same time? If so, he would be God.
I'm not exactly sure how the saints are able to hear all of our prayers, I just know that they can. It could be for a variety of reasons, and I go over a few of them here. But, ultimately, I think that how they are able to hear are prayers is not as important as the fact that they can.

I realize that, for someone who is questioning this doctrine, the "how" is very important. Often times, it's difficult for us to believe something if we don't fully understand it first. But, once understanding takes us as far as it can go, we must leave the rest up to faith. The Church teaches that we can pray to the saints, and has encouraged it since ancient times. That alone should suffice. If that weren't enough, the Bible shows that the saints in heaven are aware of our prayers, and praying to the saints is a perfectly logical thing to do, considering the syllogism that I provided in my previous post, and the absense of anything in Scripture that speaks against it.

As for whether or not saints become God once we attribute to them the ability to hear our prayers, I would say, first of all, that God is much more than his omniscience (his "all-knowing") and his omnipresence (his presence everywhere). Even if the saints did have these characteristics, perhaps b/c of their profound union with Christ, this would not then make them God. For example, they don't suddenly become the First Cause of all things and the Unmoved Mover just b/c they are aware of all of our prayers. Plus, I don't even think it's necessary that they know all things or be present in every place in order to hear our prayers. Really, all that seems to be required is that they be united to Christ, and in a place where prayers ascend like incense (cf. Psa 141:2; Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).

I can ask my friend in England where I live to pray for me as I prepare for an exam. I can ask you in America to do the same, through the internet. But someone in Sydney, Australia who does not know me, cannot hear my request or know I am preparing for an exam can only make a general prayer "for anyone sitting an exam" because they are not omnipresent or omniscient.
Well, I hope what I've said here helps a little. The earlier blog post I linked to may also help, since it provides a few explanations for how it could be that the saints are able to hear our prayers.

Your Biblical references (1 Cor 9 and Heb 1: 13, specifically refer to angels, not the saints in heaven.)
Yes, but angels are saints. All of the inhabitants of heaven, the angels and the souls of the righteous, are called saints. They are all spirits without a body standing before the Face of God. There's no reason to believe that the saints would not be just as able to hear our prayers as the angels are.

Pax Christi,


  1. Hi Nicholas,

    Thank you for your explanations to my question about praying to the saints. I found your answers very profound - but not convincing!

    You are rather liberal in equating saints with angels. Yes, angels are at our disposal and aid, but saints - that is, people once living on earth and now in heaven -do not move between heaven and earth like angels, except in exceptionsl cases such as at the transfiguration. (Remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus)

    You give many reasons for praying to saints. I offer just two reasons why I don't.

    1. Saints fall in and out of fashion. For example, St George the patron saint of England, has been dismissed by most serious scholars as a figment of the medieval imagination. St Philomena is currently under review - and there are many more in the same catagory. So how is it possible to pray to a saint sanctioned by the church in one era and dismissed in another?

    2. I remember hearing the story about a soldier who wanted to speak with President Lincoln. Of course, when he arrived at the White House he was told he couldn't just walk in and expect to speak with the president. He would have to make an appointment with his senator and congressman. He should speak to their secretaries, write a letter and make a request.
    He left the White House downhearted, clutching a handful of forms and request slips.
    A young boy saw him and asked what was wrong. When the soldier told the boy, he grabbed the soldier's hand and marched up to the White House gates which opened wide and the pair walked past security. The boy then opened the front door of the White House. He then took the soldier along a corridor and then another and no-one questioned or stopped them. Suddenly, they came to a large door and the soldier just knew that was the door to the Oval Office.
    The boy opened the door and there was Abraham Lincoln sitting at his desk. The president looked up, saw the soldier then the boy and said: "Robert, son, what can I do for you."
    The boy smiled at the president and said: "Dad, this soldier needs to speak with you."
    You see, the Son has direct access to the Father.
    I know Catholics who venerate saints, who confuse devotion with worship. They actually do pray TO a statue, touching it like a good luck charm.
    I remember standing in Westminster Cathedral, London, the seat of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. The tabernacle in which Catholics believe is Jesus Christ, body, soul and divinity was looking lonely in the sanctuary. But beside me near a large statue of St Andrew (I think it was him) a queue of Catholics was standing, waiting to touch the foot of this giant plaster statue, whispering a prayer and then bowing their heads, giving the plaster foot a final pat before leaving.
    Now, if you actually believe the tabernacle contains Jesus, body, soul and divinity, why on earth or in heaven, would you rub a plaster statue's big toe? You would be prostrate in front of the tabernacle.
    This is the problem with saintly devotion. It becomes a faith, a religion, a diversion in itself and deprives the masses of a deep, personal and loving relationship with Jesus, the one Mediator with the Father. If Jesus told us to go to Him, why not take Him at His word?



  2. Where has St George been "dismissed as a figment of the medieval imagination"?

    St George he was for England,
    St Denis was for France,
    De dum de dum de dum de dum,
    Honi soit qui mal y pense!


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