IS IT LAWFUL TO PRAY TO THE DEAD?
Bishop Brian Kennedy, O.S.B.
In union with and venerating the memory of
Mary the Holy Theotokos and all the holy, righteous and elect of God we unite with the intercession, ministry, gifts
and graces, faith and merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ submitting ourselves to the Father of mercy and all consolation giving the Father thanks and praise for the gift of His Divine Son to be our savior and mediator.
By Jesus’ wounds we are healed and
By His precious blood we are redeemed
Let us pray the Father glorify His Name
and the Name of His divine Son by sending down
His Holy Spirit upon us that we may have pardon,
absolution and remission of our sins from His bounty
through Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with
the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God
forever unto the ages of ages.
It is God pleasing that we should join with Mary and the Saints in giving worship to God in Christ but our prayer must be Christ centered. We do this by uniting our prayers with the Saints in the measure it pleases the Father and offer our prayer through Christ, that through the working of the Holy Spirit in the Communion of Saints we may give glory to Jesus and through Jesus give glory to our Heavenly Father.
We ask God to unite our prayer with those of Mary and the Saints. We do not direct prayers to the deceased directly who cannot hear or respond to our prayer.
What follows is not a denial of the Communion of Saints or an attack on the Intercession of the Saints.
This will show the proper manner in which to celebrate the Communion of Saints and how to properly venerate the deceased souls who live with Christ. It is through the Communion of Saints and the fellowship of believers in the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant and in the Church Suffering we glorify Christ who is head of the Mystical Body and through Christ by the Holy Spirit we give glory to the Father.
IN VENERATING AND HONORING THE SAINTS
WE CELEBRATE THE VICTORY OF THE
HOLY SPIRIT IN THE LIFE OF THE DECEASED
WHO NOW LIVES WITH CHRIST IN HEAVEN.
GOD IS THE END OF ALL PRAYER
Scripture teaches us to pray to the Father, through the Son by the action of the Holy Spirit. We pray to the Son and through the Son to the Father. The prayer to the Holy Spirit also terminates in the Father through the Son.
Sacred Scripture in MANY, MANY places warns against praying to Spirits directly who have left this world, even if that prayer be addressed to spirits of the souls of the just having been made perfect and are now in Heaven.
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines "consults" as used in Scripture to mean 'pray to' and the verse quoted below shows how God has warned us not to ‘consult’ (pray to) those who have died, even those who are now part of the church Triumphant in Heaven. The article from the Catholic Encyclopedia follows this quote from Scripture. After the article from the Catholic Encyclopedia, I explain what that means to us as Christians and what it means to the Communion of Saints.
9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium OR SPIRITIST who consults (consults means to pray to) the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.
The Catholic Encyclopedia THE ADVENT defines "consults" as actually praying to something or someone.
In MANY places in the Scriptures we are warned against praying to (consulting) spirits that have gone on before us, even the spirits of the just having been perfect that now are in Heaven. See 1 Samuel 28:6 as an example of the word ‘consult’ meaning to pray to.
Catholic Encyclopedia > P > Prayer
(Greek euchesthai, Latin precari, French prier, to plead, to beg, to ask earnestly).
An act of the virtue of religion which consists in asking proper gifts or graces from God. In a more general sense it is the application of the mind to Divine things, not merely to acquire a knowledge of them but to make use of such knowledge as a means of union with God. This may be done by acts of praise and thanksgiving, but petition is the principal act of prayer.
The words used to express it (prayer) in Scripture are: to call up (Genesis 4:26); to intercede (Job 22:10); to mediate (Isaiah 53:10); TO CONSULT (1 Samuel 28:6); to beseech (Exodus 32:11); and, very commonly, to cry out to. The Fathers speak of it as the elevation of the mind to God with a view to asking proper things from Him (St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith III.24); communing and conversing with God (St. Gregory of Nyssa, "De oratione dom.", in P.G., XLIV, 1125); talking with God (St. John Chrysostom, "Hom. xxx in Gen.", n. 5, in P.G., LIII, 280). It is therefore the expression of our desires to God whether for ourselves or others. This expression is not intended to instruct or direct God what to do, but to appeal to His goodness for the things we need; and the appeal is necessary, not because He is ignorant of our needs or sentiments, but to give definite form to our desires, to concentrate our whole attention on what we have to recommend to Him, to help us appreciate our close personal relation with Him. The expression need not be external or vocal; internal or mental is sufficient.
By prayer we acknowledge God's power and goodness, our own neediness and dependence. It is therefore an act of the virtue of religion implying the deepest reverence for God and habituating us to look to Him for everything, not merely because the thing asked be good in itself, or advantageous to us, but chiefly because we wish it as a gift of God, and not otherwise, no matter how good or desirable it may seem to us. Prayer presupposes faith in God and hope in His goodness. By both, God, to whom we pray, moves us to prayer. Our knowledge of God by the light of natural reason also inspires us to look to Him for help, but such prayer lacks supernatural inspiration, and though it may avail to keep us from losing our natural knowledge of God and trust in Him, or, to some extent, from offending Him, it cannot positively dispose us to receive His graces.
Objects of prayer
Like every act that makes for salvation, grace is required not only to dispose us to pray, but also to aid us in determining what to pray for. In this "the spirit helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings" (Romans 8:26). For certain objects we are always sure we should pray, such as our salvation and the general means to it, resistance to temptation, practice of virtue, final perseverance; but constantly we need light and the guidance of the Spirit to know the special means that will most help us in any particular need. That there may be no possibility of misjudgment on our part in such an essential obligation, Christ has taught us what we should ask for in prayer and also in what order we should ask it. In response to the request of His disciples to teach them how to pray, He repeated the prayer commonly spoken of as the Lord's Prayer, from which it appears that above all we are to pray that God may be glorified, and that for this purpose men may be worthy citizens of His kingdom, living in conformity with His will. Indeed, this conformity is implied in every prayer: we should ask for nothing unless it be strictly in accordance with Divine Providence in our regard. So much for the spiritual objects of our prayer. We are to ask also for temporal things, our daily bread, and all that it implies, health, strength, and other worldly or temporal goods, not material or corporal only, but mental and moral, every accomplishment that may be a means of serving God and our fellow- men. Finally, there are the evils which we should pray to escape, the penalty of our sins, the dangers of temptation, and every manner of physical or spiritual affliction, so far as these might impede us in God's service.
To whom may we pray?
Although God the Father is mentioned in this prayer as the one to whom we are to pray, it is not out of place to address our prayers to the other Divine persons. The special appeal to one does not exclude the others. More commonly the Father is addressed in the beginning of the prayers of the Church, though they close with the invocation, "Through Our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end". If the prayer be addressed to God the Son, the conclusion is: "Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end"; or, "Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity, etc.". Prayer may be addressed to Christ as Man, because He is a Divine Person, not however to His human nature as such, precisely because prayer must always be addressed to a person, never to something impersonal or in the abstract. An appeal to anything impersonal, as for instance to the Heart, the Wounds, the Cross of Christ, must be taken figuratively as intended for Christ Himself. (END OF QUOTE)
THE CATHOLIC ENCYLOPEDIA CORRECTLY TEACHES THAT WE CAN PRAY DIRECTLY TO CHRIST AS MAN BECAUSE HE IS ALSO DIVINE, THE SECOND PERSON OF THE BLESSED TRINITY. THE ANGELS AND THE SAINTS ARE NOT DIVINE PERSONS AND WE SHOULD NOT, THEREFORE, ADDRESS PRAYER DIRECTLY TO THEM THINKING THAT THEY HEAR US. WE CAN JOIN OUR PRAYER WITH THEIRS BUT THEY DO NOT HEAR THE PRAYER DIRECTLY. CHRIST HEARS THE PRAYER AND RESPONDS ACCORDING TO HIS WILL AND FAVOR. CHRIST CAN LET THE DECEASED KNOW OF OUR PRAYER AS HE WILLS.
The New American Bible (Catholic Bible) St. Joseph Edition
Published by Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York has a footnote under Chapter 18 Of Deuteronomy explaining verse 10-11 as follows:
“Three forms of superstition are listed here: Augury….
And necromancy (by one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead.”
In this same Bible Edition, the footnote for 1 Samuel 28:12 says Human Beings cannot at will communicate with the spirits of the deceased. This is true. Prayers addressed to a deceased person is an attempt at will to communicate with the spirits or the souls of the deceased.
This same Bible Edition goes on as an expansion of the footnote to remark that (and to this we have no objection or difference in opinion) God can at HIS will send a departed soul to communicate with the living and even reveal something not known to the living person.
It is GOD who initiates any contact with the souls of the deceased and those still living in this world.
WE PRAY WITH MARY, THE SAINTS
AND ANGELS, NOT TO THEM.
It is God pleasing that we should have recourse to the prayer support of the Angels and Saints, especially Mary who is queen of all the Saints, but not that we should try and communicate with them directly. God is glorified in the victory of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His faithful and it returns glory to God when the fellowship of believers in Heaven and on earth unite their prayers together. Trying to communicate directly opens the door to the devil who is the Father of Lies.
In the COMMUNION OF SAINTS we are one with the souls in Heaven who still live but now live to God. God can and has sent these spirits to minister His Will to us on earth to the glory of His Name, but that has to be initiated by God and not by us. We venerate them and unite with them, but pray to the Triune God.
The Saints in heaven (the Church Triumphant), the Saints on earth (the Church Militant) and the souls of the just being made perfect (the Church suffering) are all one in the sight of God. God is glorified by the communion of all members of the church in prayer. However, only those on earth can we address directly to petition their prayer support.
By the work of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Believers, Christ is glorified and through Christ glory given to our Heavenly Father.
Spiritism is the name given to the heresy that says we have direct contact with a Saint or Angel. The Bible in many places condemns this heresy as an abomination before God.
Trying to communicate with a deceased person, even Mary the greatest of all Saints and our Mother in faith opens the way for the devil to fool mankind and teach a new doctrine not known to the Apostolic church.
PRAYING DIRECTLY TO A SAINT IS AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY
AS THEY CANNOT HEAR YOU
“For the living know they will die, but the dead know nothing; and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten and also their love, hatred, and envy have now perished; And they have no portion forever in all that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9: 5-6)
Saint Augustine says (De Cura pro mortuis XIII)
The dead “even the Saints, know not what the living,
even their own children, are doing.”
(GOD CAN, AT HIS PLEASURE AND ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, LET A DECEASED PERSON KNOW WE ARE THINKING OF THEM WITH LOVE AND ARE ASKING FOR THEIR PRAYER SUPPORT. THE DECEASED KNOW OF OUR ACTIVITY AND REQUESTS ONLY FROM GOD, NOT FROM ANY CONTACT OR ATTEMPTED CONTACT BY US)
Origen on Prayer XX, AD 233
again: In neither case is a need seen to ask the departed to pray for us –
for it is assumed that they already do, or are thought
Irenaeus wrote: St. Irenaeus calls praying to deceased persons a wicked curious art and says the church addresses prayer to the Lord directly, rather than to a deceased Saint.
of Alexandria defines prayer as communication with God. He refers to
Christians "passing over the whole world" in order to commune with God
alone in prayer. He describes it as a form of worship to God. Apparently,
he had no concept of praying to the dead:
if, by nature needing nothing, He delights to be honored, it is not
without reason that we honor God in prayer; and thus the best and holiest
sacrifice with righteousness we bring, presenting it as an offering to the
most righteous Word, by whom we receive knowledge, giving glory by Him for
what we have learned....For the sacrifice of the Church is the word
breathing as incense from holy souls, the sacrifice and the whole mind
being at the same time unveiled to God. Now the very ancient altar in
Delos they celebrated as holy; which alone, being undefiled by slaughter
and death, they say Pythagoras approached. And will they not believe us
when we say that the righteous soul is the truly sacred altar, and that
incense arising from it is holy prayer?...Prayer is, then, to speak more
boldly, converse with God. Though whispering, consequently, and not
opening the lips, we speak in silence, yet we cry inwardly. For God hears
continually all the inward converse. So also we raise the head and lift
the hands to heaven, and set the feet in motion at the closing utterance
of the prayer, following the eagerness of the spirit directed towards the
intellectual essence; and endeavoring to abstract the body from the earth,
along with the discourse, raising the soul aloft, winged with longing for
better things, we compel it to advance to the region of holiness,
magnanimously despising the chain of the flesh. For we know right well,
that the Gnostic [believer] willingly passes over the whole world, as the
Jews certainly did over Egypt, showing clearly, above all, that he will be
as near as possible to God." (The Stromata, 7:6-7)
ALL PRAYER IS TO CONFORM TO THE OUR FATHER FORMAT:
takes The Lord's Prayer to be representative of all prayer. The object of
all prayer, then, is God: "God alone could teach how he wished Himself
prayed to. The religious rite of prayer therefore, ordained by Himself,
and animated, even at the moment when it was issuing out of the Divine
mouth, by His own Spirit, ascends, by its own prerogative, into heaven,
commending to the Father what the Son has taught." (On Prayer, 9)
Tertullian refers to "the religious rite of prayer", meaning that he's
referring to all prayers, not just some. All prayers are "commended to the
Father", following the pattern of The Lord's Prayer, according to
THIS SHOWS THAT TERTULLIAN IN THE SECOND CENTURY BELIEVED, AS DID THE CHURCH AT LARGE, ALL TRUE PRAYER IS DIRECTED TO THE FATHER THROUGH HIS CHRIST.
He explains that prayer is a sacrifice to God, which would exclude praying to anybody else:
are the true adorers and the true priests, who, praying in spirit,
sacrifice, in spirit, prayer,-a victim proper and acceptable to God, which
assuredly He has required, which He has looked forward to for
Himself! This victim, devoted
from the whole heart, fed on faith, tended by truth, entire in innocence,
pure in chastity, garlanded with love, we ought to escort with the pomp of
good works, amid psalms and hymns, unto God's altar, to obtain for us all
things from God." (On Prayer, 28)
in them [the Psalms] we have 'prayer,' viz., supplication offered to God
for anything requisite" (On the Psalms, 8,
comments that Christians pray only to God:
every prayer, and supplication, and intercession, and thanksgiving, is to
be sent up to the Supreme God through the High Priest, (Jesus) who is
above all the angels, the living Word and God. And to the Word Himself
shall we also pray and make intercessions, and offer thanksgivings and
supplications to Him, if we have the capacity of distinguishing between
the proper use and abuse of prayer. For to invoke angels without having
obtained a knowledge of their nature greater than is possessed by men,
would be contrary to reason. But, conformably to our hypothesis, let this
knowledge of them, which is something wonderful and mysterious, be
obtained. Then this knowledge, making known to us their nature, and the
offices to which they are severally appointed, will not permit us to pray
with confidence to any other than to the Supreme God, who is sufficient
for all things, and that through our Saviour the Son of God, who is the
Word, and Wisdom, and Truth, and everything else which the writings
of God's prophets and the
apostles of Jesus entitle Him....And being persuaded that the sun himself,
and moon, and stars pray to the Supreme God through His only-begotten Son,
we judge it improper to pray to those beings who themselves offer up
prayers to God, seeing even they themselves would prefer that we should
send up our requests to the God to whom they pray, rather than send them
downwards to themselves, or apportion our power of prayer between God and
them....Celsus forgets that he is addressing Christians, who pray to God
alone through Jesus" (Against Celsus, 5:4-5, 5:11, 8:37)
AGAIN SPEAKING OF THE OUR FATHER PRAYER, CYPRIAN IN THE 4TH CENTURY SAYS:
wrote a treatise on The Lord's Prayer, a treatise that addresses prayer in
general, even though it focuses on that one prayer in the gospels. He
describes prayer as something done "in God's sight", something directed to
God, not to people: "Let us consider that we are standing in God's sight.
We must please the divine eyes both with the habit of body and with the
measure of voice. For as it is characteristic of a shameless man to be
noisy with his cries, so, on the other hand, it is fitting to the modest
man to pray with moderated petitions." (On the Lord's Prayer, 4)
HERE CYPRIAN ADDRESSED THE NATURE OF TRUE PRAYER AND RELATED THE FORM OF PRAYER SHOULD ALWAYS BE THAT WHICH IS FOUND IN THE "OUR FATHER" AS TAUGHT BY DIVINE INSTITUION
AND COMMANDED BY SAVING PRECEPTS
in the treatise, Cyprian explains that The Lord's Prayer addresses "all
our prayer", which implies that we're to pray only to God, since The
Lord's Prayer is addressed only to God: "What wonder is it, beloved
brethren, if such is the prayer which God taught, seeing that He condensed
in His teaching all our prayer in one saving sentence? This had already
been before foretold by Isaiah the prophet, when, being filled with the
Holy Spirit, he spoke of the majesty and loving-kindness of God,
'consummating and shortening His word,' He says, 'in righteousness,
because a shortened word will the Lord make in the whole earth.'" (On the
Lord's Prayer, 28)
other words, Cyprian considers The Lord's Prayer to be an outline for all
prayer, which necessarily excludes praying to anybody but God.
that we direct our prayers to God and to
BUT THE LORD”, TO “GOD ALONE”: He continues "Moreover, when we
stand praying, beloved brethren, we ought to be watchful and earnest with
our whole heart, intent on our prayers. Let all carnal and worldly
thoughts pass away, nor let the soul at that time think on anything but
the object only of its prayer. For this reason also the priest, by way of
preface before his prayer, prepares the minds of the brethren by saying,
'Lift up your hearts,' that so upon the people's
Lactantius, an early church writer: "it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, or venerate the earth, or make over their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and gult, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law.” (The Divine Institutes, :18)
Tertullian writes of "Paradise, the place of heavenly bliss appointed to receive the spirits of the saints, severed from the knowledge of this world” (The Apology, 47). The teaching seems clearly to be that deceased believers wouldn't be able to receive our prayers. I have no doubt the deceased do know certain things happening on earth as the Lord wills but it is not a direct knowledge.
COUNCIL OF LAODICEA IN PHRYGIA PACATIANA 364 A.D.
THE ABOVE CANON DOES NOT PROHIBIT REQUESTING OF GOD
THAT WE SHOULD HAVE A SPECIAL SHARING IN THE FRUITS OF THE INTERCESSION OF A SAINT OR ANGEL BUT IT DOES PROHIBIT
DIRECT PRAYER TO THEM and calls direct prayer to them as
FOR AN EXAMPLE OF COVERT IDOLATRY IN THE MODERN CHURCH
Please pray for me a repentant sinner, worker in the vineyard of Christ and His unworthy Priest.
Bishop +Brian J. Kennedy, O.S.B.