*Quick Disclaimer* I answer the following questions according to my current understanding. I cannot claim beyond a shadow of doubt that my answers are totally without error. I reserve the right to edit the answer at anytime. Thanks for your understanding.
What’s the deal with praying to the saints?
Why wouldn’t I just pray directly to Jesus?
Isn’t it sinful communicating with the dead?
Before I go into those questions, let’s first define what we’re talking about. Growing up in a Spirit-Filled United Methodist Church, prayer was considered an act of worship, and a quick look at the first commandment made it clear that worship is reserved for God only. Case closed. However, remember that the Catholic Church doesn’t do anything quickly. This is especially true when it comes to the definition of words! A quick search reveals that “pray” has not always been associated with worship. The word “pray” formerly meant “ask.” The Catholic Church still uses that meaning. Prayer offered to God with adoration can be an act of worship, but prayer in and of itself is not considered worship.
Ok, but shouldn’t you just pray directly to Jesus? Gracious, YES! Jesus is our Savior, our Lord, and our Good Shepherd who cares for us with an unfathomable love. What’s more, He is constantly offering intercession to the Father on our behalf! What great comfort to know that Christ, who laid down His life for us, continues to offer Himself to us! Even with Christ’s prayers on our behalf, in times of difficulty it is still a common practice to call up a friend or Prayer Warrior, or ask to be put on Prayer Lists in our church or community group. We ask them to pray for us because we know that they 1) know how to pray, 2) care about us, 3) may have walked through something similar and can therefore pray with greater understanding.
Prayers to the Saints sprung out of this practice. During the persecution of the early church, the prayer warrior who interceded for you yesterday may have been sent to the lions today. But because of their belief in the Communion of the Saints (Hebrews 11/Apostles & Nicene Creeds), they could continue to ask that prayer warrior to intercede for them.
But isn’t it sinful to communicate with the dead? Indeed, the book of Deuteronomy condemns soothsayers, augurs, sorcerers, charmers, mediums, wizards, and necromancers, because, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—him you shall heed” Duet 18. Notice first that the context of the verse makes it clear that it is the practice of conjuring a spirit for the purpose of gaining information that is expressly forbidden. God has given us living voices (and in latter days has also placed in us His own Holy Spirit) to give us direction.
Prayers to the Saints always ask for their intercession. We don’t ask that the Saints give us anything, do anything for us, or help solve our problems. Rather, we ask that they pray to the Father on our behalf (in addition to our own prayers to the Father). Let’s look at the most famous prayer to a Saint. “Hail Mary, Full of Grace! The Lord is with thee!(Luke 1:28) Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.(Luke 1:42) Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.” What have we done? We have recited those things said about Mary in scripture, and asked for her intercession. Nothing more.
Additionally, look at Jesus’ response in the Book of Luke to questions about the resurrection “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” When we come to our death, we will rejoice in Christ who has conquered death. He will bring us into His resurrection life. We will be more alive in that moment than we have ever been before (I love C.S. Lewis’ description of heaven in the Narnia book “The Last Battle”). So too, the Saints who dwell with God are fully alive in the glory of the resurrection! What’s more, being outside the bonds of time, they are truly able to pray without ceasing, ever before the throne of God. (Revelation 5:8)
But the Bible Talks about all Christians being Saints; why does the Church elevate certain Saints? Great question! There are the Saints on earth (The Church), and the Saints in heaven (also The Church). Together they make up the Communion of Saints. If someone you love dearly (who loved Christ dearly) dies, and through the evidence of their life, you know that they are before the throne of God, you may certainly ask for their intercession! Kristin and I ask our dear Lydia Rose for her intercession on behalf of our family. They are Saints just as truly as St. Paul, St. Matthew, et al. But the Church scrutinizes the lives of certain Saints who lived life with great holiness and heroic virtue, who serve as witness and example for how we should order our lives (Just as non-Catholics do with the likes of Billy Graham, A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, Fanny Crosby, et al.) and lifts them up as an example to us all. These Saints are not “more holy” than anyone else in Heaven. They are simply Saints who offer such a profound witness that it benefits the whole Church to look to them for inspiration and intercession.
Why don’t you pray straight to Jesus?
We do, with full and grateful hearts!
Isn’t it sin to talk to the dead?
No, it’s sin to try and discern the future by asking the dead for knowledge. We only ask for the Saints’ intercession (we don’t expect them to talk back), and they aren’t dead, but are fully alive in Christ.
What is the deal with Prayers to the Saints?
We ask Saints (on earth and in heaven) to intercede for us because they 1) know how to pray, 2) care about us, 3) may have walked through something similar and can therefore pray with greater understanding.
For further reading, see http://www.catholic.com/tracts/praying-to-the-saints