Many people wonder why we pray to the saints. Perhaps it’s easier to understand if I say that we pray
them, when we ask them to pray for us.
But let’s start with a more basic question, “What is prayer?” I think this is where people get hung up. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2558) puts prayer in the context of faith:
, then, requires that the faithful believe in it
, that they celebrate it
, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.
Since prayer is a relationship with the living and true God, we can think of it like Christmas at grandpa’s house. In my grandfather’s house at Christmas, there is always an abundance of foods and activities and, most of all, people! Grandpa loves to have a houseful of people and is happy when we all talk to each other and play with each other. What were all those people doing there? Well, they were related to grandpa and so were related to me. One was grandma, others were aunts and uncles, and lots of others were cousins. They are a part of my relationship with grandpa.
Sometimes, when we think of a personal relationship, we want to limit it to only spending time with that person. We’ve all seen couples (usually young, but even some old ones can be like this) who seem attached at the hip and entirely exclusive. And we’ve seen how unhealthy they are. This doesn’t happen at grandpa’s house. Even though there will always be a time when I will be able to sit and talk to grandpa directly—to say hello, to catch up, to ask for a favor, and even to express admiration. For a vital relationship, prayer must connect our whole life to God and connect us to all of God’s life and relations.
At grandpa’s house, I’ve noticed that cousin Timmy gets a drumstick every year. So I ask him how he does that, since grandpa carves the goose and Timmy has the technique down. At grandpa’s house, I’ve always wanted to help milk a cow, but it seems like a pretty big deal, so I ask grandma, who is very close to grandpa’s heart. She knows him better than anybody I know so I figured she could convince grandpa to let me help in the morning. All of this is, in fact, directed to and in my relationship with grandpa.
Some might ask, “Why don’t you just go talk to grandpa about it directly?” Most of the time, I do. I ask grandpa
and I ask for help.
That’s easy enough with the drumstick, but Timmy’s got some insight that he can share with me. And as for helping with milking, grandma knows things about grandpa and milking and me that could make the whole process easier. I know that she’s better at talking to grandpa than I am, and I know that she’ll be awake with grandpa when I’m overcome by sleep.
So, why do we pray to the saints? If prayer is our relationship with God, then saints are our relatives. Sometimes they have special areas of understanding that we don’t, and they are close to God in heaven so they can help by praying when we cannot. When we speak with the saints, we ask them to speak on our behalf. We never confuse the saints and God, though.
Fr. Streifel is pastor of the Church of St. Joseph in Dickinson.
If you have a question you were afraid to ask, now is the time to ask it! Simply email your question to
with the “Question Afraid to Ask” in the subject line.