When it comes to the saints, one of the most common questions Catholics get is, “Why would I seek the help of saints when I can go straight to Jesus?” There are two ways that we can answer this question. The first is to address the problematic assumptions. The second is to give positive reasons for the practice.
Let’s look at the assumptions first.
Consider that many who ask this question assume the Catholic practice of asking the saints to pray for us implies that we can’t go straight to Jesus. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Catholic Church affirms wholeheartedly that we can go straight to Jesus in prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
The prayer of the Church, nourished by the Word of God and the celebration of the liturgy, teaches us to pray to the Lord Jesus. Even though her prayer is addressed above all to the Father, it includes in all the liturgical traditions forms of prayer addressed to Christ (CCC 2665; emphasis added).
Notice the Church doesn’t say that we must invoke the saints to pray for us before we can go straight to Jesus. The Church affirms that Christians have a straight path to Jesus.
A second assumption is that many think there’s no reason to seek the saints’ help because Jesus’ intercession is sufficient. Now, it’s true that Jesus’ intercession is sufficient, as the Catholic Church affirms (CCC 519, 662, 739, 1341, 1361, 1369, 2593, 2635). But this shouldn’t be the reason why our Protestant friends reject seeking the saints’ prayers.
If Jesus’ sufficiency as our intercessor precluded us from asking the saints in heaven to pray for us, then there’d be no reason to ask the “saints” (born again Christians—Col. 1:2) on earth to pray for us. The same question could be asked, “Why seek the help of Christians on earth when we can go straight to Jesus?”
Now let’s look at some positive reasons why we should seek help from the saints.
First, it gives glory to God. From the Catholic perspective, it’s God’s will that we ask the saints to pray for us. That’s the way he set it up. So our request for the saints to pray for us is due primarily to manifest the will of God.
God’s glory is not only found in simply what he wills, but also in the divine wisdom and goodness in light of which he wills things. His will concerning the invocation of the saints’ intercession, indeed, is a manifestation of that wisdom and goodness. As Aquinas writes,
It is not on account of any defect in God’s power that He works by means of second causes, but it is for the perfection of the order of the universe, and the more manifold outpouring of His goodness on things, through His bestowing on them not only the goodness which is proper to them, but also the faculty of causing goodness in others. Even so it is not through any defect in His mercy, that we need to bespeak His clemency through the prayers of the saints, but to the end that the aforesaid order in things be observed (ST suppl. 72:2, ad 1; emphasis added).
With regard to God’s wisdom manifest in his willing the invocation of the saints’ intercession, Aquinas argues,
[T]he order established by God among things is that the last should be led to God by those that are midway between. Wherefore, since the saints who are in heaven are nearest to God, the order of the Divine law requires that we, who while we remain in the body are pilgrims from the Lord, should be brought back to God by the saints who are between us and Him: and this happens when the Divine goodness pours forth its effect into us through them. And since our return to God should correspond to the outflow of His boons upon us, just as the Divine favors reach us by means of the saints, intercession, so should we, by their means, be brought back to God, that we may receive His favors again. Hence it is that we make them our intercessors with God, and our mediators as it were, when we ask them to pray for us (ST suppl. 72:2).
Since Catholics believe our request that the saints pray for us is a manifestation of God’s wisdom and goodness, and as Christians we desire to give God glory by showing forth his wisdom and goodness, it’s reasonable that Catholics invoke the saints’ intercession.
A second positive reason for the Catholic practice of the invocation of the saints is that St. Paul instructs us not to refuse help from other members of the Mystical Body of Christ. He writes, “[T]here are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor. 12:20-21).
Now, the saints in Heaven are still members of the Body of Christ. St. Paul teaches us that death doesn’t separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:35, 38).
Since Christ has willed that we not reject the help of other members of the body of Christ, and the saints in heaven are members of the body of Christ, it follows that we shouldn’t deny their help that’s offered through their intercessory prayer. We should employ it.
Given this revelation of the saints being fellow Christians, invoking their intercession is in principle no different than St. Paul asking the Christians in Rome to pray for him: “strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints” (Rom. 15:30). Why should where Christians exist be an obstacle to requesting their prayers?
A third reason, and our final one here, is that the saints’ prayers bear much fruit. James tells us in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” We know the saints in heaven are perfectly just: “But you have come to . . . the heavenly Jerusalem . . . to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore, the prayers of the saints in Heaven have great power in their effects.
Going straight to Jesus for help is essential to the Christian life. But going to other members of his Mystical Body for help, including those perfected members in heaven, is also essential. That’s the Christian way.