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Is prayer to saints / Mary biblical?

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Some Roman Catholics draw a fine line between praying to Mary—which they deny doing—and praying with her. They maintain that a prayer addressed to Mary or the saints is simply a way of asking people in heaven to pray for people on earth and is no different from asking someone here on earth to pray on one’s behalf. Other Catholics readily admit that they pray to Mary and the saints.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, second edition, seems clear enough that prayers on earth can indeed be directed to Mary: “When we pray to [Mary], we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus’ mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her” (part 4, § 1, ch. 2, art. 2, ¶ 2679, emphasis added).

There are many Catholic prayers to Mary. A famous one is the Memorare, which addresses Mary directly and encourages the petitioner to trust in her:
“Remember, most loving Virgin Mary,
never was it heard
that anyone who turned to you for help
was left unaided. . . .
I run to your protection
for you are my mother.”

The same is true for another traditional Catholic prayer, “Hail, Holy Queen.” This prayer explicitly calls Mary a “most gracious advocate”:
“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy,
hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To you we cry, the children of Eve;
to you we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this land of exile.
Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy toward us;
lead us home at last”
(from A Book of Prayers, 1982, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc.)

Praying to Mary and the saints in such a way is unbiblical. Even in cases in which Mary or a saint is simply being asked to pray on one’s behalf, the practice has no biblical basis.

The Bible nowhere instructs believers in Christ to pray to anyone other than God. The Bible nowhere encourages, or even mentions, believers asking individuals in heaven for their prayers. Why, then, do many Catholics pray to Mary and/or saints such as Gertrude, Rita, Sylvester, Vincent, Agnes, etc.? Why do they petition the dead and request their prayers?

Catholics view Mary and the saints as “intercessors” before God. They believe that a saint, who is glorified in heaven, has been perfected in love (including love for us) and has more “direct access” to God than do earthbound sinners. In Catholic thinking, prayers delivered by a saint are more effective than our praying to God directly. This concept is blatantly unbiblical. Hebrews 4:16 tells us that believers here on earth have direct access to God and can “approach the throne of grace with confidence.”

No saint can take Jesus’ place: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). There is no one else who can mediate with God for us. Since Jesus is the only mediator, Mary and the saints cannot be mediators. Further, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ Himself is interceding for us before the Father: “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25). With Jesus Himself interceding for us, why would we need Mary or the saints to intercede for us? Whom would God listen to more readily than His only begotten Son? Romans 8:26–27 says the Holy Spirit is also interceding for us. With the second and third Persons of the Trinity already interceding for us before the Father, why would we need to have Mary or the saints interceding for us?

Let us examine the claim that praying to Mary and the saints is no different than asking someone here on earth to pray for us:

1) Asking other believers (on earth) to pray for us is certainly biblical (2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:19; 2 Timothy 1:3). The apostle Paul asks other Christians to pray for him in Ephesians 6:19.

2) The Bible nowhere mentions anyone asking someone in heaven to pray for him or her. The Bible nowhere describes anyone in heaven praying for anyone on earth.

3) The Bible gives absolutely no indication that Mary or the saints can hear our prayers. Mary and the saints are not omniscient. Even glorified in heaven, they are still finite beings with limitations. How could they possibly hear the prayers of millions of people?

4) Whenever the Bible mentions praying to or speaking with the dead, it is in a negative context involving activities the Bible strongly condemns (Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10–13; 1 Samuel 28:7–19).

Praying to Mary or the saints is completely different from asking a friend here on earth to pray for us. Asking people on earth to pray for us has a strong biblical basis; asking the heavenly saints or Mary to pray has no biblical basis whatsoever.

It is wrong to think that God will hear and answer the prayers of St. Jude, for example, over ours. Scripture teaches that prayer offered to God in faith, according to God’s will, from a redeemed heart will be heard. As an example, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17–18).

There is absolutely no scriptural basis to pray to anyone other than God alone. There is no need to, either. Jesus, our Intercessor, has it covered. No one in heaven can mediate on our behalf except for Jesus Christ. Only God can hear and answer prayer. The temple veil was torn in two (Hebrews 10:19–20); the child of God on earth has just as much access to God’s throne of grace, in Jesus’ name, as anyone in heaven (Hebrews 4:16).

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Is prayer to saints / Mary biblical?
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This page last updated: December 9, 2022