Note: I did not capitalized the word "catholic." In this sense it means "universal." I use the term expansively to include Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, other "flavors" of Catholics, Anglicans/Episcopalians, and the various "flavors" of the Orthodox faith who are creedal rather than confessional expressions of Christianity.I had some folks from more Protestant traditions tell me that we catholics are idolators for "praying to the saints and not God." Others tell me they believe in the communion of saints, but that means only the community of believers on earth and does not include the dead. Some have even implied that invoking the name of a long departed saint is somehow linked to occult behavior and necromancy. So, on the occasion of All Saints Day, I thought I'd set the record straight on this.
First, we don't "pray to the saints and not to God." We pray with the saints and that is a huge difference. Take for example the prayer often called the "Hail Mary." While it is a prayer to Mary, it is not asking for Mary to do anything which she did not do while she was on earth. Check it out:
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.The opening words are the angelic greeting Gabriel gave to Mary when he announced she was pregnant (Luke 1:28). But notice what we ask Mary to do - "pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death." We are asking Mary to pray for us, nothing outside the realm of her abilities while she was among us on earth.
In the catholic faith, we believe we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) which include the saints on earth and the saints in heaven. We believe the ultimate reality of God falls outside the realms of space, time, and physicality. If we believe in the resurrection of the dead, why would we not believe they are able to pray for us and with us?
I think of it more like an extension of how we think of prayer amongst our faith communities. Asking a saint to pray for you and with you is no different than asking the people at your church to hold you in prayer. It's not communicating with the dead in the occult sense and it isn't praying to the saints instead of God. It's joining the saints at all times and in all places in praising God and caring for each other.