Is Praying to the Saints Idolatry?

praying to the saints

This article describes why praying to the saints is not idolatry but, rather, an act of honoring them and asking them to pray for us. (For more on the communion of saints generally, please click here.)

Can we pray to saints who have died?  What’s the point when I can go directly to Jesus?  Is praying to the saints worship?  What does the Bible say about it? As Catholics we have all heard these questions and they deserve answers. The Catholic Church and the Bible teach that we can and should pray to the saints. So, let’s discuss why it is prudent to do this.

Praying to the Saints and Worship

Praying does not equate to worship.  In fact, praying simply means to make a request.  When we pray to God, we add the worship to praying by adoring Him and completely submitting ourselves to Him.  Thankfully, since God knows what is on every man’s heart (Jeremiah 17:10), he knows whether or not we are worshiping when we are praying. 

When we ask someone to pray for us or for someone else, we are praying to that person for their intercession.  We may not call it prayer, but that is in fact what we’re doing.  This is why in Old English, people would say something like, “I pray thee do something for me.”  Webster’s dictionary defines the word “pray” as a “request or plea.”  This is precisely what we do when we ask someone to pray for us.  

Worshiping, on the other hand, includes sacrifice to God only and complete obedience to Him above all else.  When it comes to praying to the saints (e.g. Mary, St. Peter, Saint Ignatius, etc.) who have passed away from this life, it is no different than praying to the saints still alive on earth.  Both require Jesus’ mediation.  When we pray to God, or when a dead saint prays to Him, we do it through Jesus. 

Intercessory Prayer

In 1 Timothy 2:1-5, Paul urges prayers, supplications, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone.  Then he says there is one mediator between God and man; Jesus Christ himself.  Ephesians 6:18, says, “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.”  When we die, this obligation does not cease.

Physically Dead Saints Are Alive

Matthew 22:32 & Mark 12:27 says God is not the God of the dead but of the living.  All saints on earth, in purgatory and in heaven are alive in Christ.  This is why Hebrews 12:22-23 says, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to the judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of the just men made perfect.”  

The author is speaking to the Hebrews, people on earth.  Who are these just men made perfect?  They are the saints and they reside in the same place as the angels in festal gathering. 

Romans 8:35, says, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  If death cannot separate us from the love of God, are we not all united to God through Christ?  Thus, by their union to Christ, the saints in heaven can hear our prayers. 

Physically Dead Saints Pray

Revelation 5:8 reveals there are saints in heaven who are praying for the saints on earth.  It states, “When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”  If the saints in heaven are communicating the prayers of the saints on earth to God, they must be aware of our prayers. 

Still, one might ask, If the heavenly saints can hear our prayers, why can’t we hear their prayers? The heavenly saints have no need for our prayers. Thus, there is no reason for them to pray to us. However, the occasional apparition shows that God sometimes allows them to interact with us similar to the way Jesus allowed Moses and Elijah to interact with Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration.

All Believers Are in Christ

Colossians 1:15-20 says, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (italics added for emphasis). 

Since we are all in Christ, whether in heaven or on earth, and he holds all things together, physical death does not separate those on earth from those in heaven or purgatory.  Again, the saints can hear our prayers.  

Time to Pray

Finally, when someone asks me to pray for them, I can only do it intermittently.  I have work, school, and other responsibilities that prevent me from praying as much as I would like.  The saints in heaven, however, have an infinite amount of time to pray.  If I ask Mary to pray for me, she can offer prayer continuously. 

Although we must pray to God in order to maintain a relationship with Him and to show our love for Him, we can also pray to the saints in the same way we ask others to pray for us. Additionally, James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” Among humans, none are more righteous than the saints in heaven.

Kneeling Before Others

In case the question, Why do Catholics kneel before the Pope or statues of dead saints? is ever asked, please be aware that kneeling has been a sign of respect for centuries.  Even the Jews knelt before their rulers and elders (i.e. Gen 23:12, 33:3-7, 42:6, 49:8, Ruth 2:10, 1 Sam 20:41, 25:23, 2 Sam 14:33, 18:28, 1 Kings 1:16, 23, 31, 2:19, 2 Kings 2:15, 4:37 and others).  Today, people kneel before kings and queens. Kneeling is not a form of worship unless it’s intended to be done as a form of worship.  Thankfully, God knows what is on every man’s heart. 

What Does the Bible Say About Praying to the Saints

So, to summarize, can we pray to saints who have died?  Yes.  The Bible is clear.  What’s the point when I can go directly to Jesus?  First, we are told to pray for one another and the saints in heaven can pray continuously.  Second, we Christians are a family; God is our Father and Mary is our mother through Christ, who calls us his brothers. Therefore, it is a good and holy act to pray for others and to ask the saints in heaven and on earth to pray for us. Is praying to the saints worship?  Not unless we intend for it to be.  What does the Bible say about it?  Do it!

[Social media appeal: Hello, readers! If you think my article, or any other article at Catholic Stand, will help others better understand and/or spread the faith, please post a link to your social media account(s). Thank you!]