Asking the saints in Heaven for their intercession is a basic part of Christianity, and is deeply rooted in history. Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Armenian, and several other historic Christian groups have always prayed to the saints — except for Protestants. Within the last few hundred years, this practice has come under fire from many Christians, many of which Protestants. They did away with this practice, despite it being taught by the early Christian Fathers.
St. Clement of Alexandria
“In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]” (Miscellanies 7:12 [A.D. 208]).
Origen of Alexandria
“But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep” (Prayer 11 [A.D. 233]).
St. Cyprian of Carthage
“Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy” (Letters 56:5  AD.)
“Atticus, sleep in peace, secure in your safety, and pray anxiously for our sins.” (funerary inscription near St. Sabina’s in Rome) 300 AD
St. Augustine of Hippo
“A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers” (Against Faustus the Manichean [A.D. 400]).
“You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard…But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?” (Against Vigilantius 6 [406 AD])
All historic Christians invoke the saints in Heaven. The relatively new five hundred year old Protestant movement does not. The intercession of the saints in Heaven seems to gradually disappear from Protestant theology shortly after the creation of the early denominations during the Protestant Revolt in the 1500s. Why do Protestants cringe at the thought of saintly intercession? The concept of the saints in Heaven interceding to God for the Christians on earth is completely biblically sound.
First, it should be made clear that prayer is not always worship. One problem for some Protestants is that when they hear the phrase “prayer to the saints” they incorrectly regard it as synonymous to “worshipping the saints”. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings of the subject.
The verb “to pray” means “to ask”. It originally held this meaning in old English, and was used in phrases such as “I pray thee, do tell…”. It is originally just another word phrase for “ask”. The usage began to change meaning during the Protestant Revolt. The head of the Church of England did not warm up to the practice of prayer to the saints, and the term became solely associated with prayer to God. As the English monarchy took over many churches and universities of England, this Protestant word usage became the norm among non-Catholics. Catholics however, did not take to the new meaning, and from then till now “prayer to the saints” has strictly meant asking for saintly intercession.
This explanation shows that not all prayer is worship, as it depends on the manner of such, and the definitional term used.
Secondly, the bible exhorts Christians to constantly pray for one another, and it does not restrict the Christians of Heaven to do so.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the charity of the Holy Ghost, that you help me in your prayers for me to God” (Romans 15:30)
“By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit; and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints: And for me, that speech may be given me, that I may open my mouth with confidence, to make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:18-19)
“You helping withal in prayer for us: that for this gift obtained for us, by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many in our behalf.” (2 Corinthians 1:11)
And perhaps the most explicit passage on intercession for one another:
“I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men: For kings, and for all that are in high station: that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Asking the saints in Heaven to pray and intercede for us to God is the same exact concept as asking other Christians on earth to pray for us.
The saints in Heaven are perfectly suited for interceding for us to God, as they are nearer to Him than we are, and have their attention focused on him. Furthermore, the saints in Heaven are free from earthly distractions, and better yet, are completely free from sin and perfectly sanctified, unlike the people of earth. James 5:16 states that the “prayer of a righteous man is powerful”. Think of how the saints of Heaven are truly righteous, and how this makes their prayer more efficacious than that of Christians on earth.
The Bible depicts the people of Heaven being aware of our prayers in Revelation 5:8.
“And when he had opened the book, the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.”
This passage depicts the saints in Heaven offering our prayers to God. They are very much aware of our petitions and present them to God. Some may argue that the prayers in this passage are not explicitly directed solely to the saints, but to God. Even so, this passage strengthens the fact that the saints are aware of our prayers, even if they are not directed to them.
But, it is clear that the saints in Heaven are actively interceding for us, as John, in this passage tells us that the saints offered the vials of odours (incense) that are in fact, the prayers of the saints.
I was once told by a non-Catholic challenger that God forbids any contact with the dead, and this means that we should not pray to the saints. He cited Deuteronomy 18:10-11 as proof of his allegation.
“Neither let there be found among you any one that shall expiate his son or daughter, making them to pass through the fire: or that consulteth soothsayers, or observeth dreams and omens, neither let there be any wizard, nor charmer, nor any one that consulteth pythonic spirits, or fortune tellers, or that seeketh the truth from the dead.”
These verses do not condemn contact with the dead, but rather the conjuring of spirits. God is condemning necromancy, not contact with the Heavenly Court. A prime example of what God is condemning is found in 1 Samuel 28:7-25, where King Saul visits the Witch of Endor, imploring her to conjure the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel.
Praying to the saints, asking them to pray for us to God has nothing to do with necromancy, the conjuring of spirits. Nowhere does God prohibit contact with his “dead” saints. The saints, when one thinks about it, aren’t exactly just “dead”. They are more alive than we are now. They are in the presence of God, a sanctified, glorious soul. Consider:
“And as concerning the dead that they rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spoke to him, saying: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You therefore do greatly err.” (Mark 12:26-27)
All the people named in this passage were “dead”(Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and yet God is their God; the God of the LIVING. The dead saints are all alive and well in Heaven. They are only physically dead.
God explicitley allowed contact with the dead in Scripture. Consider the scene of the Transfiguration, in Matthew 17:1-5:
“And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him. And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”
If God commands us not to have any contact with the dead, then he would not have allowed several of the Apostles to witness apparitions of dead saints.
The saints themselves are all quite alive and well, and aware of the happenings on earth (to the extent that God allows).
“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord (holy and true) dost thou not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given to every one of them one; and it was said to them, that they should rest for a little time, till their fellow servants, and their brethren, who are to be slain, even as they, should be filled up.” (Revelation 6:9-11)
The saints mentioned in Revelation are fully aware of the happenings on earth, concerning those that have wronged them and the Lord. This passage exhibits the fact that the saints are aware of us on earth, and previous passages (Revelation 5:8) have shown that also offer our prayers to God, and that contact with them is most certainly not prohibited (Matthew 17:1-5).
I’m not entirely certain why asking the saints intercession triggers Protestants the way it does. The saints in Heaven are no less part of the Mystical Body of Christ than Christians like you and me. St. Patrick or St. Peter or St Francis are no less members of the Body of Christ than when they were physically on earth.
As Christians, we are all connected spiritually due to our Christianity; being members of the Body of Christ. Our connection with one another does not end at physical death. Our connection is spiritual, and is therefore not dependent on a physical life or body.
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”(1 Corinthians 12:12)
“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25)
“I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
All Christians are part of the Body of Christ, and are parts of one another. Christ is the vine, we are the branches connected to Him. Through our connection with Christ, we are connected to one another. This spiritual connection enables us to continually ask our brothers and sisters for their prayers…not even death can separate us from each other.
Patrick E. Devens