The Church has always venerated the saints and set them before us as men and women who lived an exemplary testimony to genuine Christian life while they were alive. They are Catholic disciples of the Lord who lived lives of virtue, faith, charity, and love. They provide a good and clear example for us of what it looks like to live our lives in the service of God. They were human beings like us in all things, even sin, who trusted in God and lived their lives in God’s presence. The saints are not saints because they did great things but rather because they allowed God to accomplish great things through them. Thus a key characteristic of a saint is openness to God. Saints are also models of holiness because they preached and lived the Gospel in their daily lives.
Catholics pray to the saints and ask them the mediate on their behalf because the saints are in heaven and close to God. The saints are in God’s presence now but they still remain connected to us as one community of faith. In the same way that we may ask a living person to pray for us, we can ask the same of the saints. It is important to note that we are not praying to the saints as if they have the power to grant our prayers but rather we are asking them to pray with and for us – we are praying through them. We believe the saints are true intercessors for us because they were so close to God on earth, as models of holiness, and now they are even closer to God, as witnesses in heaven. Invocation (asking saints to pray for us) and intercession (knowing that saints pray for us, even without asking) is a form of reverence for God.
Why pray to saints when we can pray to God directly? NewAdvent.org explains, “It has been clearly shown that the honour paid to angels and saints is entirely different from the supreme honour due to God alone, and is indeed paid to them only as His servants and friends. “By honouring the Saints who have slept in the Lord, by invoking their intercession and venerating their relics and ashes, so far is the glory of God from being diminished that it is very much increased, in proportion as the hope of men is thus more excited and confirmed, and they are encouraged to the imitation of the Saints” (Cat. of the Council of Trent, pt. III, c. ii, q. 11). We can, of course, address our prayers directly to God, and He can hear us without the intervention of any creature. But this does not prevent us from asking the help of our fellow-creatures who may be more pleasing to Him than we are. It is not because our faith and trust in Him are weak, nor because His goodness and mercy to us are less; rather is it because we are encouraged by His precepts to approach Him at times through His servants, as we shall presently see. As pointed out by St. Thomas, we invoke the angels and saints in quite different language from that addressed to God. We ask Him to have mercy upon us and Himself to grant us whatever we require; whereas we ask the saints to pray for us, i.e. to join their petitions with ours. However, we should here bear in mind [St. Robert] Bellarmine’s remarks: “When we say that nothing should be asked of the saints but their prayer for us, the question is not about the words, but the sense of the words. For as far as the words go, it is lawful to say: ‘St. Peter, pity me, save me, open for me the gate of heaven’; also, ‘Give me health of body, patience, fortitude’, etc., provided that we mean ‘save and pity me by praying for me’; ‘grant me this or that by thy prayers and merits.’ For so speaks Gregory of Nazianzus… ‘The supreme act of impetration, sacrifice, is never offered to any creature.’ Although the Church has been accustomed at times to celebrate certain Masses in honour and memory of the Saints, it does not follow that she teaches that sacrifice is offered unto them, but unto God alone, who crowned them; whence neither is the priest wont to say ‘I offer sacrifice to thee, Peter, or Paul’, but, giving thanks to God for their victories, he implores their patronage, that they may vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven, whose memory we celebrate upon earth…”
From the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001)
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:
211. The doctrine of the Church and her Liturgy, propose the Saints and Beati who already contemplate in the “clarity of His unity and trinity”(276) to the faithful because they are:
- historical witnesses to the universal vocation to holiness; as eminent fruit of the redemption of Christ, they are a proof and record that God calls his children to the perfection of Christ (cf. Ef 4, 13; Col 1, 28), in all times and among all nations, and from the most varied socio-cultural conditions and states of life
- illustrious disciples of Christ and therefore models of evangelical life(277); the church recognises the heroicness of their virtues in the canonization process and recommends them as models for the faithful
- citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem who ceaselessly sing the glory and mercy of God; the Paschal passage from this world to the Father has already been accomplished in them
- intercessors and friends of the faithful who are still on the earthly pilgrimage, because the Saints, already enraptured by the happiness of God, know the needs of their brothers and sisters and accompany them on their pilgrim journey with their prayers and protection
- patrons of the Local Churches, of which they were founders (St. Eusebius of Vercelli) or illustrious Pastors (St. Ambrose of Milan); patrons of nations: apostles of their conversion to the Christian faith (St Thomas and St. Bartholomew in India) or expressions of national identity ( St. Patrick in the case of Ireland); of corporations and professions (St. Omobono for tailors); in particular circumstances – in childbirth (St. Anne, St. Raimondo Nonato), in death (St. Joseph) – or to obtain specific graces (St. Lucy for the recovery of eyesight) etc.
- In thanksgiving to God the Father, the Church professes all this when she proclaims “You give us an example to follow in the lives of your Saints, assistance by their intercession, and a bond of fraternal love in the communion of grace”(278).
212. The ultimate object of veneration of the Saints is the glory of God and the sanctification of man by conforming one’s life fully to the divine will and by imitating the virtue of those who were preeminent disciples of the Lord.
Catechesis and other forms of doctrinal instruction should therefore make known to the faithful that: our relationship with the Saints must be seen in the light of the faith and should not obscure the “cultus latriae due to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, but intensify it”; “true cult of the Saints consists not so much in the multiplication of external acts but in intensification of active charity”, which translates into commitment to the Christian life (279).
Courtesy: Archdiocese of Boston; www.BostonCatholic.org