A common objection we receive from critics as well as people trying to understand the faith is why we invoke the saints. “Why do you Catholics pray to the saints?” they ask: “Why don’t you just pray directly to Jesus?”
I always respond this way: “Do you ever ask a friend to pray for you?” “Of course!” they respond. “Well, why do you pray to your friend? Why don’t you just pray to Jesus yourself?” No one who asks a friend to pray for them is for a moment implying that they’re asking the friend to pray instead of praying themselves; they’re asking their friend to pray along with them. And of course, no one is thinking that their friend is going to be the one who grants the answer to their prayers. Well, if we can ask friends on earth to pray for us, why can’t we ask our friends in heaven, the saints? It’s part of what we call the Communion of Saints, that the souls on earth, the souls in Purgatory, and the souls in Heaven are not separated from each other in such a way that we can’t be of assistance to one another when needed. Only the condemned souls in Hell are beyond our ability to help. Purely speaking, we don’t pray to the saints; rather, we pray through them, or we ask them to pray along with us. Saint Augustine once put it perfectly in a treatise against a man named Faustus that he once wrote:
“We celebrate the martyrs with love and fellowship.
“We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers. Yet we erect no altars to any of the martyrs, even in the martyrs’ burial chapels themselves.
“No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, “Peter, we make this offering to you,” or “Paul, to you,” or “Cyprian, to you.” No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs. We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so.
“So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us. We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle. We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already achieved the victor’s crown and live in heaven.
“But the veneration strictly called “worship,” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone. The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are called idol-worshippers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If anyone among us falls into this error, he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned.
“The saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved for God, as is clear from the case of Paul and Barnabas. When the Lycaonians were so amazed by their miracles that they wanted to sacrifice to them as gods, the apostles tore their garments, declared that they were not gods, urged the people to believe them, and forbade them to worship them.
“Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them.”
The saints are our heavenly prayer partners, our role models, our heroes, but only God is our God! So by all means, invoke the aid of the saints! They help us by their example and their prayers to follow Christ.