the intercession of the Saints


  • “I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will let fall from heaven a shower of roses.” (Saint Therese of Lisieux)                                                                   

    “I believe in the communion of saints”  (Apostles’ Creed)

    1.  In the New Testament (at Hebrews 12:1) we are told that the saints who lived before us form a “great cloud of witnesses” who “surround” us and therefore are interested in the struggles we are enduring as part of the body of Christ.

    2. In the Book of Revelation, where we actually get a glimpse of what is going on up in Heaven, we see the saints (called elders) in Heaven bringing the prayers of God’s holy people on earth before the Lamb, Jesus (see Rev. 5: 8-9). This is an example of the charity that exists between the saints on earth (the church militant) and the saints in Heaven (the church triumphant).

    3. Having died in Christ the saints in Heaven are not dead (we pray to living saints); in fact, they are more alive than ever, being fully united to the infinite merits of Christ. As Jesus said at Mark 12: 26-27, speaking of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our God is not the God of the dead, “but of the living.” And as the author of Hebrews says, “You have come to Mt. Zion…to the heavenly Jerusalem…to the [living] spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12: 22-24).

    4. We see from the Book of Revelation, which shows us the activities of Heaven, that the saintly martyrs under the altar (in Heaven) cry out to the Lord for vindication (Rev. 6: 9-11). We see here the saints in heaven petitioning the Lord for justice with respect to events taking place on earth.

    5. Another New Testament verse which demonstrates that the saints who lived before us are still active in the body of Christ is Mark 9:4 where, during his transfiguration, Jesus talks with Elijah and Moses.

    6. Some people quote 1 Timothy 2: 5, which states that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, to argue against the doctrine of the intercession of the saints. But in fact if you read the verses immediately before 1 Tim. 2: 5, you will see that Paul clearly sees no conflict between intercessory prayer and Christ’s unique role as the one mediator. For example, at 1 Tim. 2: 1-3 Paul “urges that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men….” Thus, it is clear that Christ’s role as the one mediator empowers those in the body of Christ to act as intercessors.

    7. The saints are powerful intercessors on our behalf because they are joined to God like branches are joined to a vine, forming, in essence, one organism which is kept alive by Christ’s own life. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, puts it this way in the Gospel of John (Chapter 15):

    I am the vine

    You are the branches

    Whoever remains in me, with me in him

    Will bear much fruit

    8. We see in the Book of Revelation that the saints (in this instance, the apostles) assist Jesus even in passing judgment. Revelation 20: 4 states: “Then I saw some thrones [the thrones of the twelve apostles], and I saw those who are given the power to be judges take their seats on then.” The saints, therefore, are not inactive in heaven; they are working with Christ to bring salvation history to its final stages.

    9.  Our mutual prayer for one another is very valuable. As James states in the New Testament: “pray for one another, that you may be healed” (5: 16). Paul, himself, offers up intercessory prayer on behalf of the community (Romans 1: 9). Now, in Heaven, Paul’s prayers united with our own are even more efficacious for the body of Christ. Paul also teaches that the sacrifices of one Christian for the benefit of another are profitable (see 2 Cor. 12: 15 and 2 Tim. 4: 6). Even veneration of the relics of a saint can benefit the body of Christ: It is said of St. Paul that “so remarkable were the miracles worked by God at Paul’s hands that the handkerchiefs or aprons which had touched him were taken to the sick, and they were cured of their illnesses, and evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19: 11-12). The point here is clear: the prayers and sacrifices of one member of the body of Christ can benefit another member. The saints in heaven are members of the body of Christ!

    10.  All genuine prayer is ultimately directed to God (and originates from the grace and prompting of the Holy Spirit). Intercessory prayer is merely the joining of our prayers or needs with the prayers of the saints on earth or in heaven; intercessory prayer is therefore one example of the unity that exists between Christ and all believers (“all of us, in union with Christ, form one body” – Romans 12: 5). To claim that intercessory prayer detracts from our relationship with Christ would be as absurd as claiming that the love of neighbor detracts from the love of God when, in fact, the love of God and the love of neighbor are inseparable commandments (“anyone who says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar” – 1 John 4: 20). The saints in Heaven are fully united to Christ; they do not compete with Jesus for our prayers, but rather in union with Jesus they share in His life as members of the family of God.

    Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

    References: I have no doubt composed this note from information gathered from having listened to numerous Scott Hahn tapes. See, for example, Dr. Hahn’s tape series, Answering Common Objections. I’m sure other apologetic materials figure in as well.

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         “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1. Corinthians 6:2)

“All the good we do,” says a great spiritual writer, “Jesus Christ does in us.” Accordingly, “we may say that [Jesus] has done, in a manner, all the good works of the Saints….” Thus, “when we keep the feast of some Saint, we keep the feast of Jesus Christ, who is the author of all the sanctity of the Saints” (Father L. Lallemant, The Spiritual Doctine, p.262).

Another great spiritual writer, Father Weiss, tells us that in “His Merciful Providence God sent each saint to remind the world of its duties and to save it from its corrupt life. The saints…are selected as instruments of salvation by the compassionate Doctor of the nations [Jesus].” For “those who receive the saints, they are a great means of salvation. A people will never fall hopelessly into corruption as long as they have a single saint” (The Mystical Evolution, Vol. II, p. 373).

The great Father Olier adds:”In a certain sense the Feast of All Saints seems to me to be greater than that of Easter or the Ascension because this mystery perfects our Lord. But Jesus as Head is not perfect except in union with all His members, who are the Saints. This Feast is very glorious…for all the excellence of the perfection of the saints is nothing more than an emanation of His Spirit poured forth on them” (Id at 501).

Father Weiss explains that “the saints have always been the most faithful sons of the Church….The more united anyone is to the Church, the more certain he is of union with her Founder and Lord, the author of all graces and the model and end of all sanctity. The more tightly one is bound with the mystical body of Jesus Christ, the more he adheres to this divine Head….” (Id at 485).

And on this subject of the importance of the Saints, Father Faber warns us to not underestimate the dignity and power they hold:

“The honor of God …is deeply implicated in the worship paid to the saint. In some sense [God] is more jealous of it than of His own; less patient of levity with [His saints] than with Himself, and frequently punishes persons for this [levity]. The saints themselves have entered into the dispositions of God, and, with a sort of vindictive holiness, hard for us in our present state to understand, resent familiarities and impertinences….  Faith is the chief ingredient in a true devotion to the saints; faith is the reality of their power, and of their relationship towards us. It is a great sign of a man being supernatural when he fears to offend a saint. The favors of the saints form a great department of the Divine Mercies, and play an important part in the sanctification of holy men….  Weakness of prayer is one of the feeblenesses of our times, through want of faith and fear; this is one way to set them right. We always fear those in whom we have confidence. We cannot ever put confidence in those whom we do not in some way fear” (From: Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects, Volume I, pages 381-82).

PRACTICAL RECOMMENDATION:  Here is an instance where modern technology is truly advantageous. Since devotion to the saints gives glory to God, it is sage advice to put a high premium on devotion to the saints! I might add that two modern saints of extraordinary significance indicated that they intended to do a lot of good for us in the church militant once they got to Heaven (i.e., the Church Triumphant) – and these two saints are St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Faustina Kowalska. “Love never remains idle.” So here is how this simple devotion works. You have the “Saint-of-the-Day” email sent to your email account. I use the Saint of the Day email from You open the email and read the short bio of the Saint of the Day, paying attention to that saint’s particular spirituality and virtues (learning to imitate the saints, according to your own life situation, is one of the best things you can do!). You then thank that saint for his or her awesome service to Jesus and his church, and you then petition that saint for a share or increase in one or more of the virtues that saint exemplified during his or her life (such as fortitude during trials, devotion to the poor, perseverance in prayer, kindness to enemies, great devotion to the Holy Eucharist, etc). Devotion done…much learned…fresh graces merited! God honored. You will be blessed by this devotion. “God is great in His saints” (see 2 Thes. 1:10).

Remember, in a very real way, the Feast Day of a Saint is the Feast Day of Jesus Christ. Glory be to God for the Saints!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. In addition to the internet, the Church Calendar will also tell you the name of the Saint whose Feast is being celebrated on a given day. I try to look at my wall calendar when I get up in the morning. The next Saint Feast Day on my calendar is St. Hilary, an early Bishop, on January 13, followed a few days later by the great Saint Anthony. Do you think Saint Anthony could help you?

Image:  Saint John on Patmos by the Limbourg brothers. Date: between 1411 and 1416. According to Wikipedia, “Rev. 5:8 presents the saints in heaven as linked by prayer with their fellow Christians on earth.” Public Domain, U.S.A.

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“so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched [Saint Paul] were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:12)

I had a dream about a faith-filled and holy Protestant man…

He was standing by the road in the throes of a dreadful and deadly illness, barely clinging to life, and crying out, “someone help me.” Suddenly, he sees a kind lady approaching him with Saint Paul’s handkerchief, the one mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, the one that God allowed to heal so many people. As he sees the relic coming close to him, his sense of hope ascends to an incredible height! His family is amazed that such a grace is being  given to him. But suddenly something sends him a scruple and he reasons: why should I touch a handkerchief that touched Saint Paul, a mere human? No, I will pray directly to Jesus, lest I steal away Jesus’ glory by honoring Paul. The crowd is urging him to touch the handkerchief but he refuses to do so. Suddenly, Jesus appears to him to calm his fear of offending Him, and says: “My son, be not afraid, it will give me great glory if you touch the handkerchief, for Paul was once my great enemy but through grace he became a mighty image of myself, and his transformation into a saint has given my Father great glory.”

Suddenly the man realizes that by amazing grace Saint Paul has been incorporated into the mystical body of Christ. He – Paul – is a part of Christ’s body. The man sees that God is indeed glorified in His saints (see 2 Thessalonians 1:10). He touches Saint Paul’s relic. He’s healed. His wife is crying tears of joy. And everyone is saying, “praise God!” 

What a great mystery the communion of saints is! How much does it tell us about how wonderful our Heavenly Father is! In the historical Protestant faith the model for justification is the courtroom and legal righteousness (imputed), but in the Catholic faith the model for justification is Divine sonship. We truly become sons and daughters of the eternal Father and cry out “Abba,”( Papa). It’s all a family affair. And what gives a Father more glory than allowing his sons and daughters to partake of His own life, and eat at his table, and perform miracles like Jesus did, and bring his children’s prayers to Him (I see the clear influence of listening to many hours of Scott Hahn tapes in the tone and content of this paragraph!).

“To venerate the relics of the saints is a profession of belief in several doctrines of the Catholic faith [including] the belief in the special intercessory power which the saints enjoy in heaven because of their intimate relationship with Christ the King; and… the truth of our closeness to the saints because of our connection in the communion of saints — we as members of the Church militant or pilgrim Church, they as members of the Church triumphant” (Fr. W. Saunders, “Church Teaching on Relics”). The fact that the New Testament identifies, in Paul’s Handkerchief, such a striking example of God’s power working through the relic of a Saint profoundly authenticates the Church’s teaching in this area.

So why pray to a saint in Heaven? : because it shows great confidence in the amazing munificence of the redemption merited by the Precious Blood, that sinners are made into saints and allowed participation in the very Trinitarian life of the omnipotent Creator. How great God is!! Far from detracting from God’s glory, the doctrine of the communion of saints is a rather amazing manifestation of it.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. It would be incredulous to think that Saint Paul, now glorified in heaven, has less influence in the Communion of Saints than what he had on earth! If we can pray for each other, consider what the Saints in Heaven can do! Its a beneficial practice to make friends with a new Saint and to be devoted to that Saint for a particular need which corresponds to that Saint’s particular sanctity. See what happens!

Image: Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1482, Public Domain, U.S.A.

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