Q. How would you explain to a non-Catholic the reason why, at times, we pray to saints instead of praying directly to God?
A. While it is true that the Catholic Church has a process whereby some men and women are officially canonized as saints, we have great confidence that there are countless saints in heaven. Why would it be unreasonable or offensive to God to pray to these holy men and women who have gone before us into heavenly bliss when we are frequently asking fellow Christians to pray for us in this life? When we ask a friend to pray for us instead of praying directly to God, we discover that Christ desires for each of us to be an intercessor for others. It is not as if those in heaven somehow become indifferent or disconnected to the joys and sufferings of those who have yet to die and meet the Lord. To pray to them is to continue the conversation we had with our loved ones in this life or to reach out to the Christian heroes of the past who provide us with lasting examples of fidelity to Christ. They are that great cloud of witnesses that the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of who are available to intercede on our behalf and to help us pray if we do not know how to pray as we should.
An important distinction needs to be made as to how we are meant to pray to the saints in heaven. We do not offer them worship or adoration – that is proper to God alone. In Latin, this type of prayer is known as latria. When we pray to the saints, we offer them dulia, a prayer of great respect and reverence for the holy lives they have lived and ask for their help in our lives as disciples. Of course, Catholics should never feel that they cannot pray directly to God – we do so every day, no more powerfully and evidently than in the Eucharist which is offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. But to disregard the tremendous prayers of the saints would be to deny ourselves great advocates in our daily task to walk in the presence of the Lord!