Monday, April 24, 2006

Johnny asks a great question about the Invocation of the Saints

My cyber-chum Johnny Drums recently asked, "What evidence do we have that a saint in Heaven can hear what a man utters in his heart, or has the omniscience to hear and understand all these prayers at one time? To me, these seem to be attributes of God in which we have no part."

Well Johnny, you are certainly right to suggest that we have no evidence whatsoever that the saints in Heaven can hear what a man utters in his heart, or for that matter, what he utters with his mouth. But this is of no consequence at all to the practice of invoking saints. It is the faith of the Church that matters, in two respects: (1) that the Church believes that the saints, though departed this life, are nonetheless alive and living with God; and (2) that they continue to pray with and for the Church militant here on earth (the doctrine of comprecation). Neither concept should be terribly difficult for a Protestant to accept.

As for invoking saints specifically by name in our supplications, especially those petitions that employ 2nd person address, the Daily Office canticle Benedicite, omnia opera might be able to help us understand such language. Of the many stanzas in this canticle are such like: "O ye Mountains and Hills, bless ye the Lord" and "O ye Fowls of the Air, bless ye the Lord," as well as "O ye Spirit and Souls of the Righteous, bless ye the Lord." Now no one understands the first two of these examples in a literal sense, that is to say, that we would actually expect mountains, hills, or even fowls of the air to hear our exhortations to praise God; let alone would we expect them to understand what we were saying. This is metaphoric language, the truth of which transcends the literal dimension, giving us a glimpse of the realm of the eternal. The same could be said of the last example which exhorts "ye Spirits and Souls of the Righteous" by direct address to bless the Lord. Could not this same metaphoric use make sense of the Church's language of direct address in the invocation of saints, especially in the context of corporate worship?

As I said in my earlier post on this topic, we pray to saints in the certain hope that God will answer the general requests of the Church Triumphant in specific ways for us.


Johnny! said...

I would have no problem whatsoever with a metaphorical usage such as you suggest. I don't think that is what's going on most of the time.

Are you saying that it's acceptable in spite of the petitioners' intentions, for the reasons you've given?

georgetwalkerjr said...

In the Burial of the Dead liturgy from our BCP we pray: "...for those whom we love but see no longer." We pray for them now, even as we prayed for them when they were bodily with us. Fr. George, St. Alban's, Monroe LA

joseph said...

Throughout the centuries the Church has expierienced prayers to Saints being answered.

lexorandi2 said...

Hi Johnny,

Actually, I would say that it is inconsequential what a person believes "happens" when invoking saints (i.e., whether saints can hear requests or not). All prayer is ultimately directed Godward, even if mediated through the intercession of saints.

If, for instance, I believe that Mary prays for the Church, then I also believe that I benefit in some way from her general intercessions. If I wish my specific requests to be joined together in union with her general requests, or, in other words, I desire that her prayers for the Church be answered in specific ways for me, then I could very well express this with a simple petition addressed to her, like, for example, "...pray for us sinners, now, and out the hour of our death."

I don't know if she hears me as an individual petitioner, but neither do I think that it matters if she can or cannot.


lexorandi2 said...

That should be "at the hour of her death."


lexorandi2 said...

"at the hour of OUR death." Oi vey!

Mark said...

Interesting post. One of the implications that jumps out at me is the fact that the key to our prayers ascending to the Father depends primarily and objectively upon the person and mediation of Christ. Whatever efficacy the intercessions of the church may have- whether in heaven or on earth- is a derivative efficacy that comes from Christ, who is the fullness of priestly mediation in Himself. It is indeed true that the Church shares in His priestly office, but only in the sense of an existential participation in Christ by grace

Thus, it isn't necessary for a saint in heaven or a saint on earth to know all the details of the request he is bringnig before the Father through the Son on behalf of his brother to be effective. The persons of the Holy Trinity have known them all from the before the foundation of the world. In fact, for James, the derivitive efficacy of intercessory petitions is predicated upon the sanctity of the Christian, not the extent of his knowledge: " The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working". And, then, he gives the example of Elijah. If that is the case, we might expect the prayers of the saints in light, having been purged of all traces of orginal fallenness, to be particularly powerful-even if they are unable to hear our requests.


anOther Jeff said...


Thanks for your question - I wonder if there might be another aspect of this which should be addressed, and that is that the Church does not, in comprecation, nor even in invocation, necessarily claim any omnipresence for those who have attained to the Church Expectant. Christian doctrine of worship is not that Christ and the saints descend to join *us* wherever *we* happen to be, scattered about the globe, but rather that we ascend (lift up your hearts!) to join *them*.

It is when John is "In the Spirit, on the Lord's Day" that the veil is lifted and he sees the Church Expectant worshiping before the Throne of the Almighty. What this vision shows, as the Church has always held, is the *present* reality of worship is, not just for John, but for all who are "In the Spirit, on the Lord's Day".

Furthermore, contrary to the way we normally think about it, in and through the use of traditional liturgy, it is *we* who join with the Church of all the ages, in *their* prayer, and in *their* praise, so that their prayers and praises become our prayers and praises, and together with them, those prayers and praises are offered up, through Christ and his perfect sacrifice, and ascend before the throne.

Thus even "pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death" is not *primarily* the prayer of an individual qua individual, but rather it represents the individual's "joining with" the prayers of the Church as a whole. Thus it doesn't require or presuppose any omniciense or omnipresence on the part of those who have attained to the Church Expectant. It merely requires and presupposes what Scripture itself tells us about Christian worship - that it is a corporate thing, and that it is offered by the Whole Church, both Militant and Expectant, *together*, for we are all one Body in Christ, and nothing - even death - can separate us from the love of Christ, or from his presence in and through the Holy Spirit.

Does this make sense?

Pax Christi,