One comforting aspect of Catholic theology is the teaching on intercessory prayer. It is nice to know that others are praying for you, whether or not you know who or when. It is important to note that intercession is not mediation; there is only one mediator: Jesus Christ. Being true God and true man with a fully divine nature and a fully human nature, Jesus is the only one to bridge heaven and earth.
His singular mediation, however, does not prevent, exclude, or discourage intercessory prayer. If you are having gall bladder surgery tomorrow, and you ask me to pray for you, and I say, “No, you don’t need my prayers. You should go directly to Jesus and pray for yourself,” you might be greatly offended—and with due cause. It is true, you do not need my prayers. You can pray for yourself, and you should. Everyone should. But we can and ought to pray for each other, too. While we do not need other people’s prayers, those prayers are never wasted. They are still efficacious. God hears everyone’s prayers, so what’s wrong with praying for others or asking others for their prayers? They are not necessary but helpful (by God’s will). It is still a mystery that despite the fact that we are to accept and embrace the will of God, He nevertheless allows us to ask what is in our will. Since we do not know with metaphysical certitude what God’s will is in our lives, we hope and trust we are at least close or near to it. Rather than us never asking for help, God wants us to ask; He also wants us to ask properly, always under the condition that our request be in conformity to His will.
The Gospel has numerous examples in which people asked Jesus for healing, not for themselves, but for others. That is intercessory prayer. When Jairus approached Christ (as described in Mark 5:22–43), he asked Jesus to heal his dying daughter. He was praying for her. Jesus allowed him to intercede on behalf of his daughter and cured her miraculously.
The Roman Centurion in Luke 7 sent messengers to ask Jesus to heal his slave. Here both the Centurion and the messengers were asking for help on behalf of another. Did Jesus rebuke the servants and say, “Tell your master to ask me in person himself?” No. Jesus allowed the Roman to intercede for his slave and allowed the servants to intercede as well. Intercessory prayer works, not by necessity, but by the will of God.
Catholicism not only teaches that you and I can pray for others and that others can pray for us, but the doctrine of the Communion of Saints teaches that the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory can pray for us as well. Death does not destroy the bonds of love. The dead can pray for us, and we can pray for the dead. The saints in heaven, however, do not need our prayers since they are already in heaven and have what they want and need. The damned in hell cannot be helped, nor do they want to be. The souls in purgatory, however, can be helped by our prayers. We do not know how or when they are helped any more than we know how or when our prayers here on earth help the living. Praying for the dead is a good thing in that it shows a respect for their immortal souls.
When Catholics pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary or to the saints, they are asking for their intercessory prayers. Only adoration prayer is worship, and that is reserved for God alone. Catholics do not and are forbidden to give adoration prayer to Mary or any of the saints. We can use the prayer of petition, however, especially intercessory prayer. If I can ask you, a living person, for your prayers for me, then I can ask a saint in heaven or even the mother of Jesus for her prayers, too.
Praying is communicating with the soul. Praying to the saints is not worshipping the saints, but communicating with them in the only way possible. Praying to the saints is only intercession; it is never necessary, but it is helpful.