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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's He Got That I Ain't Got

I guess October really is Ghost month
. We have had a lot of discussion about the souls of the dead.

Meanwhile, we have found another fabric store. Sister St. Aloysius refuses to go there at any time of the year because she says is too crazy in there. I take her advice on all things crazy, especially is thread is involved. I'll brave it, however. The Souls in Purgatory need me.

I'm a new reader and I really, really enjoy your writing. Tonight, however, I do have a question regarding this post. You said to NOT pray for your aunt unless she's been canonized? Why is that? Haven't many saints been prayed to for their intercession BEFORE they were canonized? Surely you've heard of people praying for the intercession of Pope JP II and Mother Theresa since the moment they've died (and I do think with the Church's blessing as well). Help me out on this one. Thanks!

You have brought up an very interesting dilemma, even though you have things a little backwards. Let's walk through it a step at a time:

1. We do not pray to anyone but Jesus...or God...or the Holy Spirit, Who are One but also separate. It's the Sacred Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Sacred Mystery is "Catholic" for "just let it go".

2. We do not pray to any saints or Mary. Even though we often say, "Pray to St. Anthony" or whoever, what we really mean is "Pray for the intercession of St. Anthony". We are asking St. Anthony to pray to Jesus..or God...or the Holy Spirit, Who are One but also separate. It's no different than if I asked you to pray for me.

When I speak to people I always try to make that distinction, so as not to confuse people further. But it's much easier to say "pray to" than "pray for the intercession of". I would prefer just to say "pray to" myself, and that everyone would just GET that that's not exactly what I mean. It makes life easier. Oh, well...one more thing to offer up for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.

3. We do pray for the dead, because until someone is canonized a saint we don't know where they ended up. Everyone who is in heaven is a saint, but we don't know for a fact if someone is in heaven or not unless they have been canonized. Canonized means we have proof they made it. Everyone else is in doubt and gets the benefit of the doubt of our prayers to hasten their trip to heaven.

Unless they went to hell. No amount of prayers and sacrifice will get them out of there. We give everyone the benefit of the doubt there, too. We never ever say that anyone, not even Hitler, is in hell. At the last second, he could have said, "What was I thinking!?"

So in answer to your question, of course you can pray for the soul of your dead aunt Sally.

We discourage you from praying for the intercession of your Aunt Sally(euphemistically called praying to Aunt Sally), since unless she has been canonized, we don't know that she's in heaven. But you do bring up an interesting question.

Indeed, we can't canonize anyone in the first place unless someone has prayed for their intercession and a miracle has occurred.


I would remind you that Pope John Paul II isn't your Aunt Sally. He certainly isn't my Aunt Sally, good old gal that she was. He has one thing, as the Wizard of Oz says, that she hasn't got.

There is another important criteria for sainthood: heroic virtue. Note the word, heroic. Note the word virtue. Not just virtue and not just heroism. Virtue that goes above and beyond the call of duty. My aunt Sally was very virtuous and she may well be in heaven, but she wasn't heroic. My Uncle Frank was heroic. But he was not virtuous. To say the least.

In these cases of heroic virtue we have more than enough reason to believe the person is in heaven. We just want proof. The miracles are to prove the person is in heaven, since the devil will never do anything nice.

So, you may pray for the intercession of your Aunt Sally, but we discourage it. Certainly pray for Aunt Sally.

Of course, some day, if I make it to heaven, I'm sure my Aunt Sally will be there saying, "Why didn't you ask me? I would have prayed for you in a heartbeat!" Then we'll both pray for Uncle Frank. I'm sure Purgatory has sobered him up some.


Heather said...

I've had the honor of explaining this whole saints/praying "to" twice. The first I did so well she's corrected other non-Catholics on it! "No, they don't pray to Mary..."
She told me recently that the idea that anyone (except God, of course) can "hear" us after they're dead plain never crossed their minds.

The other happened after telling someone we're a Catholic homeschooling family. "You don't pray to Mary, do you?" she said sideways. I started with, "Well, I ask her to pray for me, but she's not the one who grants the prayers," and by the end of our discussion it made sense to her.

But thanks for the clear and humorous explanation.

Anonymous said...

Tell us more about Uncle Frank, he sounds like an interesting fellow.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to say thank you, so much, for producing this blog. Your humor keeps me coming back, and when here, I find that my soul is fed. Thank you.

Pilgrim said...

"Sister", would you mind very much pointing me in the direction of some Church documentation that we should not ask for the intercession of folks we know who have not been officially canonized?Thank you kindly

Anonymous said...

Just an observation:
Sometimes, I'll meet a Protestant who will indignantly tell me that the Bible says not to pray to the dead. That's true; it says that, though in the sense of trying to conjure up spirits the way mediums claim to do or do some other satanic mischief.
But the Bible also says that those who die in Jesus Christ are not really dead. So we are never praying for the intercession of "dead" saints or for the salvation of the souls of "dead" Christians because they're all alive in Christ, in the cloud of witnesses. Except, sadly, for the ones in hell who may be "alive" in some sense but who didn't die in Christ.
Maybe you've already covered that in one of your posts.

La Bibliotecaria Laura said...

Sister, I think if you pray for Aunt Sally, and she is in Heaven, she may just pray for you and help you out in a manner needed if she is in heaven.

Now, when we pray for the souls in purgatory, and then they are released and enter Heaven, can they not then remember us and pray for us?

Thank you for the writing, Sister. We need more folks like you who can defend the Faith with whit.

In our Good Lord and Most Gracious Lady,
La Bibliotecaria Laura

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister mary Martha,

Thank you for undertaking the spiritual work of mercy of blogging. You write so well of the Faith and with such obvious care and love.

The teachings of the Magisterium support your gut preference to speak of "praying to" the saints. And they do so with no hedging or apology.

It is true that the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes prayer first, in the words of St. John Damascene, as "the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God" (n. 2559) and as "a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God" (n. 2558).

But we also raise our hearts and minds to the saints, we direct petitions to them, and we have a living and personal relationship with them, too.

From the Catechism: "'We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers'" (n. 962).

Even more explicitly, the Catechism says of Mary: "We can pray with and to her" (n. 2679). It speaks of the "twofold movement of prayer to Mary" found in the "Hail Mary" (n. 2676) and teaches: "Because of Mary's singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her" (n. 2682).

Yes, when we "entrust supplications" to our Blessed Mother and the other saints, we are asking their help in gaining some favor from the One who is the source of every grace, and yes, when we direct "praises" to the saints, the honor which we express to them is essentially different from the honor we express to the life-creating Trinity. But this communication, this mystical converse, whether with God or His saints, is properly called prayer. We not only pray to God, we pray to the saints.

May our Lord, through the intercession of our Lady and all the saints, prosper your work.

Anonymous said...

I teach a course on early and medieval christianity and I always emphasize that distinction. If I teach them nothing else, they're going to come out of my class knowing that catholic people pray for the intercession of the saints, not pray to them like they're a whole lot of demi-gods. I tell them even if they encounter confused catholic people, it isn't the official position.

my other favorite thing is teaching them the difference between the immaculate conception and the virgin birth.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that the souls in purgatory, while not able to pray for themselves, can still pray for us. Is this true? If this is the case, then wouldn't it be o.k. to ask Aunt Sally to pray for us? (We're praying for her--it would be nice if she could return the favor.)

Also, I just wanted to mention that many protestants feel "prayer" and "worship" mean the same thing, so I'm often able to clear the whole thing up by explaining the difference between intercessory and worship prayer.

Thanks so much for the blog!

Tom in Vegas said...

It seems that praying is something that we - the living - do in the here and now, separated from God. But when you are a saint and in the full presence of God, why do you still need to pray? Isn't there a word that implies a more direct method of communicating with the Maker that is available only to those who see Him "face-to-face?"

BTW, you are kicking rear-end in the Blogger’s Choice Awards.


Jane said...

Thank you for this post. when I was in the process of converting from a fundamentalist, Calvinist upbringing to Catholicism, this one came up alot. A Catholic lady loaned me some Sott Hahn tapes where he addressed this question. Since he spoke in a (religious) language that I could understand I was able to "get it" and explain to others.
Not that they accepted it. But at least they couldn't say Catholics prayed to saints anymore.

Anonymous said...


Please clarify for me.
I was catechized to believe that:
Church Militant(us) may pray for Church Suffering (purgatory); and Church Suffering AND Church Victorious (heaven) may pray for Church Militant....I know that Church Suffering can't pray for themselves; which is why they need us...but can't they pray FOR us? And if so, then can't we "pray to" them for their intercession?

Also, I noticed one of your readers implied that you are a nun...I thought you were a Religious Sister? There is a difference, no? And you are the latter, yes?

Thanks Sister...God Bless You

Ebeth said...

Great and to the point. However, I have a grandmother that the Pope didn't know that I feel is truly a saint, and my neighbor, "The Lady Next Door" was truly a saint as she never drove a car, lest she probably never swore! squeak, squeak, squeak!

Climbing for more canonized "no-bodies"

Anonymous said...

What about children who have died? Don't they get to go directly to Heaven if they are under the age of reason? They don't have to stop over in purgatory, do they? So we can be assured that these little ones are indeed a part of the communion of saints in heaven and we can ask for their intercession.