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Tuesdays with Mary: Praying with the Saints

The earliest known prayer addressed to Mary comes from around AD 300:

We fly to your patronage,
O holy Mother of God.
Despise not our prayers
in our necessities, but
deliver us from all dangers,
O glorious and ever-blessed Virgin.

Last Wednesday the discussion at church was about Jesus as our Mediator and the pastor the observation that when you go to the doctor, you don’t want to hear, “The doctor isn’t available, but if you like you can go in and see his mother.”

That’s about the way I feel when it comes to asking for things only Jesus can provide. I can’t imagine myself ever praying the Marian prayer above (called the Sub Tuum in Latin). If I need healing, deliverance, or forgiveness of sins, I want to “have a little talk with Jesus” because he is the only one that can provide what I’m lacking. I don’t like the Sub Tuum precisely because it implies‚Äîor more than implies‚Äîthat deliverance “from all dangers” is something the Virgin Mary can accomplish. To me, it’s kind of like asking my physician’s mom to write me a prescription.

Let me state this as clearly as I can: I have no room in my theology for departed saints (Mary or anyone else) being able to grant requests in response to prayers made to them. Having said that, however, there is still much to be said.

For example, I also have no room in my theology for my pastor or other trusted Christians being able to impart spiritual blessings such as healing, courage, a steady hand to the surgeon, and the like‚Äîand yet I appreciate it when they pray for me. In fact, when something big is going on in my life or the life of a loved one, I don’t have the slightest qualm about asking my closest Christian friends to pray specifically about that situation. I tell Dad, Mom, Beckie, Lee, and others all about it because I want as many faithful people praying as possible.

If we believe it is right to ask other believers to pray for us, the questions we need to settle with respect to the saints have nothing to do with the centrality of Christ or his role as God’s uniquely appointed mediator between God and humanity. Rather, the pressing questions are eschatological in nature. Do the righteous dead know what is happening on earth? Is their entire attention focused on a heavenly vision of God, so that earthly concerns are completely beyond them? Or do they exist in some sort of “twilight zone” or “time warp” in which there are no conscious thoughts at all between their death and eventual resurrection?

If Mary (or Paul or Martin Luther) is in some sense conscious of events on earth, it stands to reason she wants God’s will to be done in the circumstances of which she is aware. It is therefore safe to say she is already praying to God about those circumstances‚Äîwhether we ask her to or not! And if that is the case, I’m not sure there is any harm in asking, although I’m also not convinced it helps in any objective sense. I certainly wouldn’t attribute an eventual positive outcome specifically to the intercessions of the saint in question. You give God the glory, and you thank all the folks that prayed.

Is this kind of exercise praying to the saints? It strikes me as more like praying with them: inviting them to add their petitions before God to one’s own. It’s a practice I’m willing to hear more about from those who do it.
technorati tags: intercession, mary, saints, virgin mary


1 Comment

  1. PS says:

    This was interesting and got me thinking. Sometimes taking thinking to the next position isn’t really advancing the argument, but….if God knows everything, He knows what we need, etc. so why pray at all, because He already wants what is best for us.

    OK, that was rhetorical; I already have my own answers.

    However, regarding the departed saints: we often say that an old sick person will be delivered from his body or that a person who dies is delivered from the strife of this life. Going along with your discussion above, are we not saying two different things if we think it is A-OK to pester dead saints with our earthly woes?

    Like

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