“How come you Catholics pray to dead people? The Bible clearly says in Leviticus 19:26 that being involved with séances and trying to communicate with the dead is strictly forbidden. And yet you Catholics constantly try to pray to the dead, especially with all those idolatrous statues of the saints. Prayer and worship is reserved for God alone, which means you Catholics are committing a vile sin. That’s why you’re not real Christians!”
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Wow, have you ever been confronted with these questions by a friend or co-worker or, most zealous of all, a family member who USED to be Catholic? How do you respond? Is it really true that we Catholics violate Scripture by trying to communicate with dead people?
Well, there are a couple of things we need to clarify. First, some people define prayer narrowly, as being ONLY worship of God. But prayer is really spiritual communication. Of course, a lot of prayer is indeed worshipping God. However, sometimes our prayer is merely spiritual conversation, when we ask the saints in Heaven to intercede on our behalf. We never worship saints. We only ask them to pray for us.
The other important point to understand is that when we Catholic pray to the saints, we are not communicating with the dead; Scripture clearly says that they are alive! When Jesus was confronted by the Sadducees about whether there really was a resurrection, Jesus said, “…have you not read…in the passage about the bush, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled” (Mark 12:26-27).
Jesus was very clear: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—who physically died centuries earlier—are actually alive in the presence of God. The same is true for all the faithful saints who have physically died. Their souls and spirits are quite alive and in the presence of God.
More proof that this is true in found in the letter to the Hebrews. Immediately following a list of many famous saints of long ago, the author writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The image here is an athletic stadium. Those of us on earth are fighting the good fight of faith, while the saints who went before us are in the stands, eating hot dogs and cheering us on.
Finally, we are commanded in the Bible to pray for one another, for example: Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; and James 5:16. I know for a fact the same folks who are quick to accuse Catholics of committing sin by praying to the saints, do not hesitate to ask their friends and family to pray for them. Some of the prayer chains in Fundamentalist congregations are quite impressive. If someone gets into a car accident at midnight, by 1 a.m. word has spread and literally hundreds of people are out of bed and on their knees fervently praying for the injured person.
We Catholics simply include the saints in Heaven—that great cloud of witnesses—in our prayer requests and our prayer chains. Who better to ask for intercessory prayer than those who are continually in the Lord’s presence?
We sometimes say the Penitential Rite at Mass, which concludes: “…I ask the Blessed Mary, ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”
Asking fellow believers to pray for us is quite biblical. Including the saints in Heaven in our requests also is biblical. So don’t ever shy away from asking the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, to intercede on behalf of you and your loved ones.
Oh, and one last thing, in case you’re not sure: Catholics definitely ARE real Christians.