Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

The problem with “Praying to Saints”

August 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Apologetics, Dan Burke, Mary, Prayer, Saints

The Problem with “Praying to Saints”

At one time in my life I viewed Christians as shallow people blindly following silly rules. As I was to discover, these perceptions were not only wrong, they were worlds away Saint_Silouanefrom reality. The root cause of my misconception was my confident ignorance. Until I allowed Christians to speak to me and define their faith in their words, I was unable to get anywhere near the truth.

As a Protestant, I had the same problem when examining teachings of the Catholic Church. Even after more than a decade of study, one-hundred percent of my perceptions were framed, not by understanding how the Catholic Church defined or explained its own beliefs, but by how Protestants defined and explained them. With that as a back-drop, let's look at a common concern with the idea of “praying” to the Saints.

First of all the word “prayer” was a huge stumbling block for me. It is very important for Catholics to understand that in the Protestant world, the word “prayer” is never used for any other purpose than to describe communication with God. So to hear someone was “praying” to a Saint easily sounded like sacrilege.

A similarly sized challenge for the Catholic is finding alternative words to describe this preternatural conversation. No Protestant has an issue with asking a friend to pray for them. The scenario of a prayer request to an earthly friend is easily described because the exchange happens in the natural realm. For example, “I talked with Bill and asked him to pray for me.” If a Catholic were to use natural-realm language like this to describe the expression of their needs to someone beyond this life, for obvious reasons, it would sound odd and incomprehensible. The difficulty is that aside from the word “prayer” what word could one use to describe this exchange? I can't think of one that captures the true nature of the Catholic's supernatural supplication. So, one is then forced into either falsely defining reality for the Catholic, or, allowing them to define what they mean by what they say.

An honest inquiry reveals that the phrase “prayer to” as defined by Catholicism in this context, can be accurately translated like this, “I sought to engage Saint Catherine to intercede on my behalf.” Now, any reasonable person would find this an odd and circumlocutious utterance. Instead, a Catholic achieves the same meaning from the efficient expression, “I prayed to Saint Catherine.” To a Catholic this does not mean that Saint Catherine, any more than Bill in the example above, takes the place of God. What it does mean is that Saint Catherine loves God, is a sister in Christ, cares about the person, and will likely intercede for them effectively. No more, no less.

So, if we accept a purely Protestant definition of a contextually Catholic use of a word or phrase, we end up with a contrived pseudosacrilege. If we use a Catholic definition in a Catholic context, we end up with something quite reasonable and biblically sound.

Unfortunately, the errant interpretive method outlined above is very common to Protestant evaluations of Catholic doctrine. This disappointing approach is unworthy of the often helpful perspectives Protestants bring to doctrinal discourse on important issues in the Christian life.

Seek Him – Find Him – Follow Him


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • Ubaldo Vega

    Don’t worry, I know my post will never get posted, it was meant for you.

Skip to toolbar