Q. Why do Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints?
A. When we “pray to Mary” we are merely asking Mary and/or the Saints to pray for us in exactly the same way as when we ask another Christian to pray for us. This is nothing more than asking for intercessory prayer. And just like most Christians ,when we are in need of prayer we ask those we consider to be closest to God. If I need prayer for healing for my mom with cancer I will not ask the drug dealer on the corner or even a nominal Christian to pray for me. Instead, I ask the holiest Christians I know. After all, James 5:16 says, “the fervent prayer of a righteous man is very powerful”.
Misunderstanding arises between Protestants and Catholics because of our use of the phrase “pray to Mary” or “pray to St. Francis” etc. For Protestants, with a shorter history, prayer is only and always directed to God. However, for Catholics the older uses of the English “pray” have endured through the centuries. In medieval English it was common to use the word “pray” as a synonym for “ask”. I pray thee, good king, give me …. Plus, as usual in human speech this phraseology has endured because it is short and sweet. It is easier to say, I will pray to Mary than to say, I will ask Mary to pray to God for me. While the second sentence is more theologically accurate it is also more than twice as long. So, no one uses it in everyday speech.
Despite this colloquialism, the prayers of the Church are theologically correct. For instance, in the Hail Mary we say, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” and in the I Confess we say, “And I ask blessed Mary, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God.”
Another difference between Protestants and Catholics is how we view those Christians who have died. Protestants remember them and miss them but once they are dead they are beyond this world and our prayers. And although Protestants certainly believe in the Body of Christ they tend to think of this consisting of living Christians only. Dead Christians are either in Heaven or Hell and no longer connected or affected or interested in events in this world.
But ,for Catholics, all Christians both the living and the “dead” are a part of the Body of Christ. We remain connected to each other. We continue to love, care and pray for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, intercessory prayer continues through the power of God, among the members of the Body of Christ, because we are all alive.