Prayers of intercession are petitions offered by Catholics for the needs of others. Such prayer is an expression of the bond of charity that unites the entire Church on earth, in purgatory and in heaven, in Christ, Who is the first and chief mediator. In theological terms this is known as the Communion of Saints. By virtue of this bond in Christ, anyone in the Church can and should make intercession for others. After Christ Himself, the chief intercessor is Mary, our Blessed Mother, who continually prays for those whom Christ has made her children (John, 19:26-27). In his homily in the Basilica of Guadalupe, on January 27, 1979 Pope John Paul II, mentioned this verse from John (“Woman, behold your son…etc”) saying: “….and in that man (John) He entrusted everyone to you.” Jesus gave us His mother as our mother.
Catholics are often asked by many members of Protestant denominations why we pray to our Blessed Mother or the saints with personal requests or petitions rather than praying directly to God for our needs and desires.
We read from the book of Numbers in the Old Testament that Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s wife Miriam were in the presence of God. God caused Miriam to become a leper and therefore an outcast because she had spoken against Moses. Aaron petitioned Moses to intercede for him with God, because he knew Moses was very close to God. When Moses interceded for Aaron for Miriam’s healing, God heard his prayer and arranged for the leprosy to only remain for seven days. God then healed her and she was allowed back into the camp (Numbers, 12:11-15).
Also from the Old Testament in Genesis, 18:15-33 we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In these verses we learn that God listened to the petition of Abraham who asked that the cities not be destroyed if a certain number of just men were found there. God granted his request for intercession, but there were no just men to be found and the cities were ultimately destroyed. It is important to note that God did listen to, and agree to accept Abraham’s petition.
In Lumen Gentium, Pope John XXlll, we read: “It gives great joy and comfort to this sacred synod that among the separated brethren too there are those who give due honor to the Mother of Our Lord and Savior, especially among the Easterns, who with devout mind and fervent impulse give honor to the Mother of God, ever virgin. The entire body of the faithful pours forth urgent supplications to the Mother of God and of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into the one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity.”
Early in His ministry, Jesus with Mary, and the disciples went to a wedding feast at Cana. They ran out of wine at the reception and Mary mentioned this to Jesus and He responded: “What would you have me do, woman? My hour has not yet come” (John, 2:4). However, Mary just told the waiters: “Do as He instructs you.” She knew that Jesus would correct the problem, for she, His mother, had requested it! There was no doubt about it; Mary interceded for the host, and Jesus did as she asked. There should be no doubt in our minds that when we pray to Mary for her intercession, she places our requests in His hands, just as she did at Cana. Some people might dispute this because at Cana everyone was still on this earth, and now since Mary has been assumed into Heaven, she is physically unable to hear our prayers. These people do not have the knowledge of the ‘Communion of Saints’ enjoyed by Catholics.
The term ‘Communion of Saints’ refers to the unity and co-operation of the members of the Church on earth with those in Heaven and in purgatory. They are united as being one Mystical Body of Christ. The faithful on earth are in communion with each other by professing the same faith, obeying the same authority, and assisting each other with their prayers and other good works. They are in communion with the saints in Heaven by honoring them as glorified members of the Church, invoking their prayers and aid, and striving to imitate their virtues. The faithful on earth are in communion with the souls in purgatory by the offering of prayers and good works.
It is permissible and profitable to venerate the Saints in Heaven, and to invoke their intercession. This is an article of our faith (De fide). The veneration of saints is called “absolute dulia” The Council of Trent declared in connection with the veneration of images, that “through images we honor the saints which they represent” The same teaching is found in article VII of the Second Council of Nicea in the year 787. We Catholics know that a statue or image has no power at all to answer our intercessory prayers, but is used to inspire us to pray to the person represented by the image, that he or she will present our petitions before God, in our name.
It is also an article of faith that it is permissible to venerate the relics of the saints. This veneration is known as “relative dulia” and the reason for this veneration is “…..that the bodies of the saints were living members of Christ and Temples of the Holy Spirit; that they will again be awakened and glorified and that through them God bestows many benefits on mankind” (Council of Trent).
Others, who would claim that we are guilty of idolatry, do not realize that we Catholics only use these images in order to bring to the mind a closer connection with the person whom we are requesting to present our petition to God.
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