|Catholic Children Pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary|
Photo Credit: Fr. Christopher Phillips
Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, San Antonio Texas
ANSWER: No, Catholics do not worship (adore) Mary, nor do we worship anyone or anything other than the Trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church condemns the worship of anyone or anything else as idolatry (Catechism 2112 - 2114) and such idolatry could be punishable by excommunication, if such an idolater does not repent.
QUESTION: If Catholics do not worship Mary, why then do Catholics pray to Mary?
ANSWER: Catholics pray to Mary, other Saints and the holy angels, because we do not believe prayer, in and of itself, is worship (adoration). Catholics understand worship in the Biblical sense, which usually involves the presentation of an actual flesh and blood sacrifice (Genesis 4:4; Genesis 8:20; Exodus 22:20; 1st Samuel 15:22; Romans 5:10; 1st Corinthians 5:7; 1st Peter 2:5). This, coupled with the act of adoration (full submission of the mind, body, soul and will) is how Catholics understand worship in the usual Biblical sense. In the act of Holy Communion we unite ourselves with Christ's perfect sacrifice thus participating in real Biblical worship. (Catechism 2099 - 2100) The mere act of prayer is simply to offer requests and does not, in and of itself, constitute worship in the full Biblical sense.
QUESTION: Why pray to Mary and the Saints at all when you can take your prayers directly to God?
ANSWER: As Catholics we do take our prayers directly to God all the time. We do so publicly during the Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass) and also during the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), as well as during the administration of all the sacraments. We also take our prayers directly to God during private devotion and prayers as well. In addition to this, we also pray to Mary, the Saints and the holy angels, because we view them as "prayer partners" in our devotion to God. (Catechism 2683 - 2684) They assist us in our prayers in the sense that they pray with us to God. Just as we ask friends and neighbours in this world to pray for us, so we also ask friends in the next world to pray for us as well. The Bible itself gives us indications that this is a wholesome and acceptable practise (Tobit 12:12; Mark 12:26-27; Mark 9:4; Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:4).
QUESTION: How is praying to the Saints not necromancy or witchcraft which is forbidden in the Bible?
ANSWER: There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that forbids praying to the Saints. Jesus himself did it in Mark 9:4. While Jesus is divine and able to communicate with the dead freely, he was also a Jewish man under the Law of Moses when he did this. If he broke the Law of Moses he could not be God nor a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Thus simple communication with the dead, through the Holy Spirit, cannot be a violation of God's law. If it's good enough for the Son of God, than it's good enough for us.
The Scripture passage that is commonly used here, in an attempt to equate prayer to Saints with necromancy or witchcraft, is Deuteronomy 18:10 in which God strictly forbids witchcraft. This is then combined with the Scripture that recalls King Saul's encounter with the witch at Endor (1st Samuel 28). Because the witch engaged in conjuring up the dead (a medium), it is mistakenly interpreted that any attempted contact with the dead is a form of witchcraft.
First of all, when Catholics pray to a deceased person, we do not expect that person to answer us in a way we can hear, as is typically expected when one visits a medium. Second, when we pray to a deceased person, we do so through the Holy Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit who makes that communication possible. We make no attempt to circumvent (get around) God and talk to the dead ourselves, expecting some kind of reply apart from God. That really would be witchcraft and necromancy. The very definition of witchcraft is to attempt to do spiritual things apart from God. We Catholics have no desire for this and such things are forbidden by the Church anyway.
As I said, there is no Scriptural prohibition against praying to the Saints and I defy anyone to present me with one. You see, Catholic Christians believe that death is truly conquered in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We do not believe people in Heaven are really dead. We believe they are living, and they are just as connected to the Holy Spirit as we are, if not more so. They are more finely attuned to what is happening in the Body of Christ than we are. Therefore, we can communicate with them. We can send messages to them, through the Holy Spirit in prayer, and we most certainly can ask them to pray for us, which is what we do. The real question here is to ask; why do some Christians not pray to Saints? Has not the power of death truly been conquered in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Why do some Christians assert that the dead are truly dead and helpless when the Bible says they are not? (Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 5:8) Perhaps the answer can be found in their refusal to pray to angels as well. They mistake prayer for worship.
More information on this topic can be found in my book Catholicism for Protestants.
More answers to questions on Catholic Christianity can be found on the Apologetics Page.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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