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Ask Dear Old Dad: PRAYING TO SAINTS?




Dear DOD,


My husband, Von, believes that praying to saints as intercessors in the Catholic Church is NOT praying to God. He is a cradle Episcopalian and believes that we must pray to Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit directly, for prayers to be heard and answered.


Yours truly,

Kathy Vine



 


Dear Kathy,


While I basically agree with your husband’s view, I want to offer a more nuanced response.

First, we pray to the Holy Mystery we call God. This mystery is experienced in creation, in forgiveness and redemption, and in Holy Presence. These experiences are personified in liturgical practices as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Such personification leads many to erroneously believe that the Holy Trinity consists of three separate “gods.” But our prayer is to God, who is ONE.

 

What's prayer? It's shooting shafts [arrows] into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who's to say? It's reaching for a hand you cannot touch. The silence is so fathomless that prayers like plummets [stones] vanish into the sea. You beg. You whimper. You load God down with empty praise. You tell him sins that he already knows full well. You seek to change his changeless will ... And sometimes, by God's grace, a prayer is heard.

― Frederick Buechner, Godric

 

Now, about prayer which involves saints, I start with the wonderful Hymn 526 in

The Hymnal 1982. It describes “the Communion of Saints” which we affirm in the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.


Let saints on earth in concert sing with those whose work is done;

for all the servants of our King in heaven and earth are one.

One family, we dwell in him, one church, above, beneath;

though now divided by the stream, the narrow stream of death.

One army of the living God, to his command we bow:

part of the host have crossed the flood, and part are crossing now.

—  Charles Wesley (1759)

 

Some Protestant thinkers over the centuries thought that praying to the saints smacked of polytheism, while Catholics taught that such prayer was for the saint to intercede (or pray) to God on our behalf. When I personally involve saints in my prayer practice, I ask that they pray to God WITH me. This is another example of those of us in the Anglican Communion seeking “the middle way.” And, as a dear Roman Catholic put it, “we delight to pray with the saints for their friendship and their company.”

 

Hope this helps,

Dear Old Dad (DOD)


Do you have a burning question about church, Episcopal/Anglican traditions, theology, and so on? In our weekly feature "Ask Dear Old Dad," after the classic "Dear Abby" format, the Rev. Reese Riley, COS Senior Adjunct Clergy, will tackle your questions with his signature wisdom and charm. And by the way, there are no dumb questions! You may request to be anonymous, or you may have your name published. Your questions will inspire the conversation! Submit your question to Hannah at HannahR@COSepiscopal.org

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