Here’s What the Bible Says About Asking Saints to Pray For Us

‘Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven ... do not cease to intercede with the Father for us’ (CCC 956)

Fra Angelico, “All Saints”
Fra Angelico, “All Saints” (photo: Public domain)

Protestants believe that glorified saints in heaven are unable to hear an intercessory request or a petition from people on earth and that this is not one of their characteristics or functions. But is this what the Bible teaches? Not at all. We discover this, however, by examining a lot of related texts, rather than just a few reputed, failed “prooftexts” in opposition to the Catholic view, that are repeated ad nauseam.

St. Paul states that now we only “see in a mirror dimly” and “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12), and that “eye has not seen” (1 Corinthians 2:9) what God has prepared for us. We shall “see his face” (Revelation 22:4) and see him “face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12), and he will be our “light” (Revelation 22:5). Saints in heaven “shall understand fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12) and possess perfect knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).

St. Paul implies that believers even while on the earth can achieve “the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”

 (Colossians 1:9) and can obtain “all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ” (Colossians 1:10). And they “shall be like” Jesus (1 John 3:2) and fully “united to the Lord” and “one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). Christians “are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This will be perfected in heaven. Saints in heaven will fully be “filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19) and “the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13) and will be fully “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and totally free of sin (Revelation 19:8; 21:8, 27; 22:14-15).

Hebrews 12:1 (“we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”) and Revelation 6:9-10 (“I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?’”) prove that the saints are quite aware of happenings on earth.

If we’re “equal to” angels after death, according to Jesus (Luke 20:36), and “like angels” (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25), and we know that angels communicate with those on earth (many examples in the Bible; e.g., “the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven” — Genesis 21:17), then it stands to reason that the dead saints will by analogy be able to do the same thing. Jesus said, “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). That’s an interior disposition. If angels know that, and we will be “equal” to them, then dead saints in heaven can certainly hear a petition, since by analogy to the angels they’ll be able to discern interior thoughts.

Is it reasonable, then, to believe that even though the saints in heaven possess all of these extraordinary characteristics, the ability to hear an intercessory request or a petition is not part of their abilities? That position is neither plausible nor biblical. Their love will be perfected, and will certainly include intercession. We also have many direct, explicit biblical examples to go by.

Saints and angels present our prayers to God in heaven (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4). What are they doing with them and how did they obtain them? The most logical, feasible explanation is that they had received prayers (technically, intercessory requests) from people on earth as intermediaries to God. “Elders” in heaven (dead saints) spoke to St. John (Revelation 5:5; 7:13-17), and John spoke to one of them (Revelation 7:14). Angels also spoke to John (Revelation 1:1-2; 10:9, 11; 11:1-2; 17:1-2; 7-18; 19:9-10; 21:9, 15; 22:6-11), and he talked to one of them (Revelation 10:9). St. John wasn’t in heaven at the time; he was “on the island called Patmos” (Revelation 1:9).

Jesus himself invoked a dead person twice: Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:54: “Child, arise”; cf. Mark 5:41) and Lazarus (John 11:43: “Lazarus, come out”). They obviously both heard him. St. Peter did the same thing: “Turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, rise.’ And she opened her eyes” (Acts 9:40).

King Saul spoke to the dead prophet Samuel, who appeared to him after death, and made a petition (1 Samuel 28:15). Samuel talked to him and refused to grant his request (1 Samuel 28:15-19). Samuel never said, “Why then do you ask me, since God has forbidden all invocation of departed persons? You have to ask God only.” Lot made two petitionary prayer requests to angels, and they were both granted (Genesis 19:15, 18-21). Jesus talked to the dead Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-4; cf. Mark 9:2-5; Luke 9:29-33). If such a practice were absolutely forbidden, Jesus would certainly never have modeled it.

After Jesus died, “many bodies of the saints” were raised, and “appeared to many” (Matthew 27:52-53). Presumably, some or many or all of these talked to people and had conversations with them, just as Saul, Moses, Elijah and the risen Jesus did when they came back from the dead.

In Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), Abraham receives a petition from the rich man and doesn’t correct the rich man for doing it.

In Jeremiah 15:1 God states, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people …” This presupposes that Moses and Samuel intercede in heaven for people on earth. And 2 Maccabees 15:12-16 also describes Onias, a high priest (1 Maccabees 12:7-8, 19-20), and Jeremiah praying for the Jews and conversing with Judas Maccabeus.

Francisco de Zurbarán, “The Family of the Virgin,” ca. 1650

Why Do We Ask Mary to Pray for Us?

“After her Son’s Ascension, Mary ‘aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.’ In her association with the apostles and several women, ‘we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation.’” (CCC 965)