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Sean Smith wrote:

Hi, guys —

I just finished reading this posting:

and it was very helpful.

Perhaps my perception that the Catholic faith gives too much emphasis to Mary is from my own ignorance.

  • Regardless, aren't there still Catholic prayers asking Mary, or various saints to pray for us?
  • How then can they pray for us if they are asleep or dead in Christ as Paul mentions prior to our own ascension into Heaven?

Thanks for your help,

Sean

  { If Mary and the saints are asleep or dead in Christ, as Paul mentions, how can they pray for us? }

John replied:

Sean,

You seem to be holding to a heresy known as soul sleep.

I would refer you to Hebrews chapters 11 and 12, especially the verses that describe
New Testament worship that clearly state we join the spirits of just men made perfect in our prayers and worship.

Also see Revelation 5, where the elders in Heaven, 24 of them representing Israel and Church, offer up incense which is the prayer of the saints.

John

Sean replied:

Hi John,

Actually, I've never heard the term soul sleep. I thought, apparently mistakenly, that Purgatory or Abraham's bosom was thought by Catholics, to be the place where those who die go until the rapture. I'm probably mixing up various doctrinal beliefs from other denominations. I've been told Seventh Day Adventists believe in some sort of unconscious rest. Perhaps this is what you were referring to i.e. soul sleep.

The Baptists are fairly prevalent in the South, as are their varied opinions on what Catholics believe. I'm sure you can understand my confusion as I try to:

  1. learn what the Catholic faith actually teaches, and
  2. express that within a context which I've been taught that Catholics believe

It seems a bit strange to pray to a saint and ask [him/her] to pray for me to the Father through Christ. Actually, the whole idea of praying to a non-deity has a spooky feel to it.

I've enjoyed reading your various replies. They have been quite helpful and have explained much to me.

Sean

Eric replied:

Hi Sean,

Good to hear from you.

You wrote:
Actually, I've never heard the term soul sleep. I thought, apparently mistakenly, that Purgatory or Abraham's bosom was thought, by Catholics, to be the place where those who die go until the rapture. I'm probably mixing up various doctrinal beliefs from other denominations.

Somewhat.

Abraham's Bosom was, before the death and Resurrection of Christ, the part of Sheol (Hades, or limbo of the Fathers, sometimes referred to archaically as Hell), where the just went when they died. We see this in the account of Lazarus and the rich man.

Purgatory is the place where individuals go who need to be cleaned up, so to speak, since sin has two effects on our soul, a temporal effect and an eternal effect. When God forgives our sins, that covers the eternal part, but there is still the temporal part. When you spilled orange juice all over the floor as a kid, your mother forgave you immediately, but you still had a mess to clean up.

As for the Rapture, well, that's a dicey issue. The term rapture comes from the translated word in the Latin Vulgate for caught up in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. As such, it is a legitimate term but generally today it refers to a popular Protestant doctrine not compatible with Catholicism. Many Protestants time the rapture anywhere from (3½ years to 7 years) before the Second Coming, when it is obvious from this verse that it happens immediately at the Second Coming. We would therefore refer to it as the Parousia, which is the Biblical word for Presence, i.e., The Arrival of the Lord at the end of time.

You wrote:
I've been told Seventh Day Adventists believe in some sort of unconscious rest. Perhaps this is what you were referring to i.e. soul sleep.

Soul sleep refers to an idea that the dead in Christ are unconscious. Obviously if this is true,
you can't ask them to pray for you.

You wrote:
It seems a bit strange to pray to a saint and ask [him/her] to pray for me to the Father through Christ. Actually, the whole idea of praying to a non-deity has a spooky feel to it.

Well think of it this way. All you are doing is asking them to pray for you. The word in Latin for pray is ora, which is the common term for ask. In English, prayer has an unfortunate connotation of worship, which is not what Catholics mean at all.

If you're still edgy about it, think of it this way:

  • Would it be legitimate to ask God to ask a Saint in Heaven to pray for you?
  • And is it possible for Saints in Heaven to pray for us?

I think you'd agree that it would be. (Whether you'd argue it would be efficacious is another matter.) Then think of praying to a Saint as shorthand for asking God to ask the Saint to pray for you.

Revelation 5 is important — here we see the elders in Heaven carrying our prayers to God.

In Hebrews 12, we see a mystical description of worship. Present at the worship are the angels and the Saints — the just men made perfect. We also see in 12:1 that the Saints (chapter 11) surround us like a cloud of witnesses, cheering us on in the race to the finish line.

Also, Jeremiah 15:1 gives a tantalizing view into intercessory prayer in Heaven. Also, the reason we ask the Saints in Heaven is because they have been made perfect (as Hebrews says) and completely sanctified; and James 5 says that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

If you find a Saint's experience convincing, the process of canonization requires two verified miracles attributed to the candidate's intercession. That means for every canonized Saint since the 11th century or so, when the formal process began, there have been at least two carefully verified miracles worked. That's at least several hundred, if not over a thousand, miracles attesting to the efficacy of saintly intercession!

Hope this helps!

Eric

John replied:

Hi Eric —

You said:
As for the Rapture, well, that's a dicey issue. The term rapture comes from the translated word in the Latin Vulgate for caught up in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. As such, it is a legitimate term but generally today it refers to a popular Protestant doctrine not compatible with Catholicism.

Actually the current teaching by some, and I emphasize some, Evangelicals is only about 150 years old. It is rooted in dispensationalism which is itself a heresy.

John

Mary Ann replied:

Sean,

I am coming in late, but I did want to add something.

The dead saints are dead in Christ just as we are (baptized into His death), and they are asleep in Christ in the sense that they are dead to the world but not really dead in the final and definitive sense.

They are really to us asleep because their bodies will rise. Also, we must remember that even though the immortality of the soul and the fact that the saints were a cloud of witnesses was believed, there was still that strong Hebrew sense of the person being a live body, an embodied soul, so that the person, (though very much alive in God) was, in a sense, asleep as long as the body was dead.

As for praying, the old English word, pray meant simply to ask. It was used in common speech to others. It was used also as a way to introduce speaking to an equal or superior, as we sometimes use please or pardon or excuse me. Think of it simply as talking to a superior — superior in the sense of someone who has finished the course. I pray to St. Joan only means I submit a request to St. Joan by the favor of God, in whom all such communication takes place, because we are in Him, joined in the body of Christ. We don't stop working in Heaven, and we don't stop working for each other, and we don't lose our particular job.

Prayer to Saints in a way is prayer to God: it takes place in Him and by His permission, as I said, and it is directed to God in that we are asking the Saint to pray with us to God — to ask God for us. If the Saints begin to be treated as little personal sources of good — little totems — much as in santeria, for instance, that is when devotion to them crosses over into impiety.

One could think of prayer to the saints as putting our prayer into the hand of the saints or angels, much as the Book of Revelations shows happening with the angels.

One thing is important: We are not establishing communication or communing with saints or angels. It is not a 2-way street communication-wise, and shouldn't be sought as such. Those who practice intercession for others, or ask it of others (or of the saints: no difference, really) do know experientially that it all takes place in God and by His wonder, grace, and power.

As for myself, I avail myself of all the saints, and I always come closer to God through them, through their particular lesson or charism. I like to enlist the saints to work on different things in the world, and I like to ask everyone who has passed on to join me in prayer for things. I even ask George Washington to pray for our country. Of course, whenever I ask the intercession of a non-canonized saint, I always say a prayer for that person's soul.

A person can also pray from Purgatory, but it is only good manners to help that person out if you are asking his or her prayers. If you are interested in this aspect of prayer, check out Mike's other web site:

Helpers of the Holy Souls

Mary Ann

Sean replied:

Thanks for taking the time Mary Ann.

Mike is sending me a book and I've checked out a couple of books from my local Library.
I'm going to have to make notes with specific questions and focus on fewer things at once.

The more I learn about the Catholic Church the more overwhelmed I feel. There are some fundamental differences between the Catholic and Protestant beliefs that I was completely unaware of. The more I read and learn, the more questions and disagreements I have.

For example, the postings below helped my understanding of Catholic beliefs, but since they differ from my Protestant — mostly Baptists beliefs, they also raised more questions.

Sean
[Related posting]

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