No Christian would dispute the fact that we can pray to God our Father. But Christians do disagree amongst themselves regarding prayer to anyone else. Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants (such as Anglicans) believe one can pray to the Blessed Trinity, the angels and the saints. Other Protestants and Evangelicals say we can only pray to the Three Persons of the Godhead, not to beings other than God. And a few Evangelicals (but not all!) say that we cannot pray to the Holy Spirit; while some even think it is wrong to pray to Jesus!
The following is a defense of the ancient Christian practices of prayer to Christ, the Holy Spirit and the angels and saints.
Can We Pray to Jesus?
Most Christians all over the world pray to Christ our God, as have Christians of every generation since the first century A.D. Yet a few have decided that this is wrong; all prayer, they say, should be addressed to God the Father in the Name of Jesus. They base this belief on the fact that Jesus commands His disciples to pray to the Father in His Name:
"And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it" (St. John 14:13-14).While Our Lord clearly tells the Apostles to pray to God the Father in His Name, He never actually says: "Only pray to the Father, never pray to Me directly". This distinction is important; just because our prayers to the Father should be in Christ's Name does not mean that we cannot also pray to Christ Himself! (As Catholic apologists often say: 'It's not "either/or", it's "both/and"!')
"...that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you" (St. John 15:16).
"And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" (St. John 16:23-24)
Let us consider what the whole of Scripture has to say on this topic. The Bible certainly contains many prayers to God the Father, but it also contains some prayers to Jesus Christ Himself. For instance, while St. Stephen the First Martyr was being stoned to death, he cried out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59) - clearly a prayer to Christ!
Toward the end of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul exclaims "Maranatha", an Aramaic phrase meaning "O Lord, come!" (1 Corinthians 16:22). This is an ancient Christian prayer for the Second Coming, which is addressed to Christ Himself. St. John the Evangelist says a similar prayer at the end of the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Apoc/Rev 22:20)!
So here are three prayers addressed to Jesus Christ, from three eminent early Christians, all found in the inspired word of God. Christians clearly did pray to the Second Person of the Trinity from the very beginning, and prayer to Him is perfectly biblical:
"Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." (Rev 5:9-10)Can we Pray to the Holy Spirit?
So the Bible does contain some prayers addressed to God the Son, which proves that prayer to Jesus is appropriate. Yet Scripture contains no prayers specifically addressed to God the Holy Spirit. Consequently, some Christians believe it is improper to pray to Him. But a case can be made for prayer to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity as well.
First of all, Sacred Scripture never actually forbids prayer to the Holy Spirit, so calling it an "unbiblical" practice is essentially an argument from silence, which is not very convincing. Second, the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person co-equal with God the Father and to God the Son, so He could certainly hear and answer our prayers as easily as can the other two Divine Persons.
Third, this argument seems to assume that the Old Testament prayers only invoke God the Father. On the contrary, some of them actually invoke the entire Trinity. Christians have long understood the Trisagion ("Holy, Holy, Holy") sung by the seraphim in Isaiah 6:3 to be an implicit invocation of the Trinity. The Spirit, then would be implicitly included in the final "Holy" of that prayer. The same goes for the Trisagion found in Apocalypse/Revelation 4:8.
In Acts 28:25, St. Paul indicates that the words in Isaiah 6:9-10 were spoken by the Holy Ghost. If we read that passage in context, we find that the LORD God spoke those words to the Prophet Isaiah in response to what Isaiah said to Him! Was Isaiah wrong to speak to the Holy Spirit here? Evidently not.
In 2 Corinthians 3, St. Paul identifies the Holy Spirit with the LORD God whom the Jews worshipped:
"Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (vvs 16-18).If the Holy Spirit is the very same LORD who appeared to Moses, to whom the Hebrews offered prayer and worship, then the prayers of the Old Testament are actually prayers to the Third Person of the Trinity - along with the Father and Son.
Some argue that prayer to the Holy Spirit is improper because the Spirit is the One Who enables us to pray in the first place. Yet what if one is having trouble praying, or doesn't know what to pray for; is it wrong to ask the Spirit of God for help? Since the Third Person helps us to pray, there's no reason we can't invoke Him at the beginning of our prayer time to ask for His aid in talking to Our Father in Heaven.
Also, the Spirit does more in us than just help us pray: He strengthens our faith, fills us with graces and gifts, causes us to bear His fruits (Gal 5:22-23), teaches, convicts and guides us, among other things. It is certainly not wrong to ask Him for His light and inspirations in these areas.
As we saw above, just because we must pray to the Father in Jesus' Name does not mean we cannot also pray to Jesus Himself. Even so, just because the Spirit helps us to pray to the Father does not mean we cannot also pray to the Spirit Himself!
Can We Pray to the Holy Angels?
One reason why many Protestants find prayer to angels and saints objectionable is they consider prayer a form of worship. Actually, prayer is a request; this is the ancient meaning of the term. Catholics worship God alone, but we make requests of God, the holy angels and the saints in Heaven.
Many people talk to angels in Scripture: Abraham (Genesis 22:11), Lot (Gen. 19:1-2), Jacob (Gen. 32:26-29), Gideon (Judges 6:11-13), St. Zacharias (St. Luke 1:18), the Blessed Virgin (St. Luke 1:34, 38), St. Mary Magdalen (St. John 20:12-14) and St. John the Evangelist (Apoc/Rev 7:13-14), to name a few. Now, the Bible forbids us to offer divine worship to angels (Col 2:18; Apoc/Rev 22:8-9), yet it never condemns these people for just talking to them. So there is clearly a big difference between talking to angels and worshipping them!
Of course, these people all spoke with angels who appeared to them personally, while Catholics generally address the holy angels in Heaven apart from an apparition. There really isn't a big difference; in both cases angels are being invoked rather than God. The Bible never condemns the latter practice either; in fact, two of the Psalms contain invocations of angels:
"Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word.Since God wants us to pray these inspired psalms, there is obviously nothing wrong with us addressing the holy angels in Heaven!
Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure." (Ps 103:20-21)
"Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights.
Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts." (Psalm 148:1-2)
Our request in this case is that the angels offer prayers of praise to the Lord. But we can also make other requests of them, as did some of the biblical personages listed above. We can especially ask them to offer prayers of petition to the Lord on our behalf. For the angels of God do intercede for us, as shown in the Apocalypse/Revelation:
"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." (Apoc/Rev 8:3-4)Here we see a holy angel offering the prayers of the saints (a term used for Christians on earth in Scripture) before the throne of God. Here is biblical proof of angelic intercession!
The heavenly hosts are deeply concerned with the well-being of the Church and all her members. God gives them charge over us to be our guardians (Psalm 91:11-12; Daniel 12:1; Matthew 18:10; Acts 12:5-11, 5; Hebrews 1:14); and surely these blessed spirits must pray for their charges! We also have fellowship with them as fellow citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22). We do not and should not worship them as we worship God, but we can still love and talk to them, even as we love and talk to fellow Christians on earth.
Can We Pray to the Saints in Heaven?
The same goes for the saints in Heaven. Jesus says they are like the angels of God (St. Matthew 22:30). Scripture calls them "the spirits of just men made perfect"; and says that they, like the holy angels, are our fellow citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22). We are all One Body of Christ (I Corinthians 10:17; 12:13; Ephesians 4:4) - and every one members of one another (Romans 12:5)!
The Bible tells Christians to pray for one another and for the world (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:3; I Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thess 1:11; Hebrews 13:18). If Christians on earth can do that, then what about the Christians in Heaven? Well, the Apocalypse actually shows the saints in Heaven interceding for us:
"And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." (Apoc/Rev 5:8)The angels and twenty-four elders in Heaven offer incense to God, which is said to be the "prayers of the saints (on earth)". The saints in Heaven are offering the prayers of Christians on earth before the throne of God! This is biblical proof of the intercession of saints!
This is why Christians since the first century have sought the intercession of the angels and saints. There is, in fact, some biblical precedent for it. Though we must never offer divine worship to the holy angels or the saints, we can still talk to them and ask them to pray to God for us.
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