As someone born and raised in the Catholic Church who is now a pastor in a Protestant church, I have my feet in two theological worlds. Several months back I blogged about the differences between Catholics and Protestants when it comes to the Pope and since those blogs were so well received I thought I’d write another set of blogs looking at another doctrine that divides us: praying to Mary (and the saints in general). Here is Part 1 of the Catholic perspective:
Catholics believe all believers should pray to the Blessed Mother, and one prayer in particular stands out above the rest: The Hail Mary. I remember being taught to pray these words in catechism at St. Ronald’s in Clinton Township:
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb: Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Just like to the Catholic-Protestant differences concerning how each defines words like “faith” and “salvation,” there are similar differences between the two concerning “prayer.”
Catholics differentiate prayer to God and prayer to the saints like Mary. For example, one part of the Easter Mass is the Litany of the Saints where the person up front would say names like “St. Ronald” and “St. Blase” and the congregation would reply, “Pray for us” after each saint’s name is spoken. In Why Do Catholics Genuflect? Al Kresta points out:
Then the direction of the litany shifts as we address God and Christ. We no longer chant, ‘Pray for us,’ but rather ‘Hear our prayer.’ Also, during the daily liturgy we request: ‘And we ask Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord, our God.’ The difference is striking. We ask the saints in heaven and on earth to pray for us. We as the Lord to hear our prayer.
So Catholics use the same word — “pray” — but they use it in two different ways depending on whom they are praying to. From a Catholic perspective “praying” to Mary and other saints is simply another way to say “asking” — asking others to intercede on their behalf.
The Catholic Church teaches Mary and the saints do not have power on their own to answer prayers. Instead they act as our advocate before God. Just as Christians are encouraged to ask a friend to pray for them, Catholics believe a saint who has died and is in heaven with God is a great ally for those on earth. After all, if a righteous person’s prayers are powerful and effective (see James 5:16) while he or she is alive on earth, how much more powerful are the prayers of those who are now perfect in Christ?
This ties in directly with the Catholic doctrine of the “communion of saints.” Catholics do not believe that death separates us. All believers both alive and dead are still attached the Vine. As Al Kresta puts it, death does not act as a meat cleaver cutting off Christians on earth from those in heaven. They are still in relationship and therefore there is no real difference between asking a living relative to pray for you or a saint who is in heaven.
Let me stop here. In my next blog I will focus on a fascinating story in John 2 that Catholics use as evidence that Mary has Jesus’ ear in a unique way and gets Him to do things He otherwise wouldn’t do. Stay tuned…
***Please join us this Sunday at The Eastside Vineyard Church. My sermon is titled “Accidental Pharisees” and is based on Matthew 23:13-39. Here’s a quote: No one starts out with the desire to become a Pharisee. They’re the bad guys. We all know that. In the same way, no one ever looks in the mirror and sees a Pharisee. I bet you haven’t either. The word always describes someone else. But the truth is that accidental Pharisees are made up of people just like you and me, people who love God, love the Scriptures, and are trying their best to live by them. June 9. 10:30am. More info at tevchurch.org***