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Do angels and saints in heaven — like St. Faustina — really hear our prayers?

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Oct 29, 2014)
In honor of All Saints' Day on Saturday, Nov. 2, let's take a look at the wonderful gift God gives us in the form of the saints.

One of the blessings in life that God has given me is that I get to teach theology to undergraduates. A few weeks ago, one of our readers sent me a question on the saints that made me head straight for my undergrad class lecture notes. A man named Peter wrote:

I have a question about intercessory prayer. I can understand how God can hear and respond to millions of prayers said at the exact same time, because He is omniscient. But how can the Blessed Mother and the Saints, like St. Faustina, deal with it? They are human, like us, but in heaven rather than on earth. The blessed Mother especially, because she is in heaven body and soul. It just seems impossible to me for the saints to be able to hear and respond to every single intercessory prayer.

To answer your good question, Peter, we need to divide it into two parts: (1) Can the saints in heaven actually hear and respond to our prayers — that is, what has God revealed about this in Scripture and Sacred Tradition? And (2) How can they manage it, since they are only human, even in heaven?

1) There are a number of Scripture passages which directly or indirectly relate to our first question:

• Hebrews 11:1-12:1 finishes "Seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [in other words, the heroes and martyrs of the faith from ages past], let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." Thus, the heroes and martyrs are a good example for us, and surround us like spectators at a running race — therefore, obviously, they know about us and can see our struggles from heaven.
• James 5:16-18: 'The prayer of the good man has powerful effect." In other words, the most powerful intercessors in the Church are those most advanced in holiness. And who is more advanced in holiness than a soul who is already fully sanctified and in heaven?
• Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4: "In heaven the elders and angels offer up the prayers of the saints [on earth] as incense before the throne of God." In this passage it is important to note that the New Testament uses the word "saint" of every baptized Christian, not because we are all perfectly holy, but because we have all at least received the gift of the Holy Spirit. So this passage implies that the angels and elders (holy Christian leaders now in heaven) hear the prayers of every Christian on earth, and join their prayer now with ours.


In short, put these passages together, and they certainly imply that the saints in heaven know of our struggles on earth and of our prayers, and join their powerful intercessory prayers with ours.

In the early tradition of the Church, the early liturgies almost all have passages which imply that the saints join their prayers with ours, and that ours are joined with theirs. Some examples of these early liturgical prayers are included in the modern rite of the Eucharist: "Now with angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven, we sing the unending hymn of your praise ..." (Preface of the Baptism of the Lord). There are invocations of the martyrs inscribed in the catacombs from the time of the late 2nd century onward, and the first prayer directly addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, of which we have record, was written in the early 3rd century. By the 4th century the invocation of the angels and saints is universally practiced in the Church, and there is no evidence of any significant division or dispute about it at any stage of this development. Catholic theologians see this consensus as a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, guiding the Christian people to perceive ever more clearly their relationship in the Body of Christ with the saints who have gone before us into heaven.

The doctrine of the invocation of the angels and saints also fits well with the wider pattern of the Christian Faith. Our growth in faith and holiness is aided by the intercession of other members of the Body of Christ (Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 3:11-13; 1 Tim 2:1-4), and the Church on earth and in heaven are evidently united in some way in Christ (Heb 12:22-24). It is hard to see how asking the angels and saints to pray for us can be misconstrued as "idolatry" (the accusation made by some Evangelicals), while asking one's Christian family members and friends for their prayers is not. Both acts seem to be based on similar principles of charity and intercessory prayer. Idolatry would only occur if one believed that a saint or angel would give you something that our Lord would not (as if praying to an alternate God); but authentic prayers to the angels and saints are no more than requests made to them to pray for us to Him! The final address is still the same, as in the "Hail Mary": "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."

Catholic defenders of the invocation of the angels and saints, therefore, would argue that there is a cumulative case for this doctrine, which combines the implications of Scripture, the early Tradition of the Church, and how it all fits into the wider pattern of the Catholic Faith. This makes it "morally certain" (i.e., true beyond a reasonable doubt) that we can indeed ask the angels and saints for their prayers, and that they can hear us and respond to us by praying for us. Add to that the fact that the Ecumenical Councils and Popes have always strongly endorsed this doctrine, and we can go beyond mere moral certainty: we can have "the certainty of faith" that this truth has been revealed to us by God.

2) The second part of your question is more difficult, Peter, only because it is an attempt to delve into mysteries of heaven which God has not fully revealed to the Church. But that does not mean we can't get at least close to an answer. Catechism entry 1028 tells us some important things about the souls in heaven:

Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man's immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory "the beatific vision."


Indeed, the Scriptures tell us over and over that in heaven we shall "see" God with our mind and heart, and contemplate God with the eyes of the soul (so to speak) in a new and glorious way: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8); "Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face" (1 Cor 13:12); "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2).

Think of it this way: to see God "as He is," "face to face," and to "contemplate" God in all his heavenly glory must be an indescribable experience, but it is the wonderful destiny He has in store for all of us who love and trust Him. We cannot fully understand what that means, from this side of heaven. But we know one thing for sure: to see and know and contemplate God in heaven must include to see and know and contemplate all that God loves — for how could you really see and know God "as He is" without seeing everything He loves, and without seeing how He loves everything? For "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8). And one of the things God loves best of all is human beings, the creatures He made in his own image, and for whom He gave His life on the Cross. The saints in heaven, therefore, must surely see and know all about us on earth, because they see us reflected in the mind and heart of the God who loves us, whom they behold face to face. The saints in heaven know us because they know all about God's love for us, and — being filled with His love for us — they love us too.

So, the next time you feel like asking Our Blessed Mother, or St. Faustina to pray for you, go right ahead! They are already overflowing with God's love for you, and they just cannot wait to be asked to help you with their prayers.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press).

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Marian fan - Aug 11, 2015

I think prayer requests to Jesus through Mary will always get attention because Mary can delegate her children, the saints in Heaven with her and Jesus, to pray extra prayers for us :) She has been delegating ever since she said "do whatever He tells you"... they listened to her and so will the saints who love her Son... to delegate is to entrust/ pass it on, and the saints are trustworthy with intercession... think of how when someone asks us for prayers, we promise to pray for them, and we may also pass on the prayer request to gather extra prayers for them because that'll help them even more, even if they didn't know who'd be praying for them... so I think it's logical to think that our prayers are getting even more prayers than we originally asked for... because Our Lady is a generous mother to us

truster in communion of saints intercession - Aug 11, 2015

people might ask us, but HOW can someone who's not God hear our prayers? I don't understand exactly how it works, but I believe our prayers make it up to Heaven, and that Heaven's praying for us. I can think of analogies. For example, a post office. It's organized and the mail gets delivered to the name it's addressed to, and then they open it and read it, and communication occurs... if we ask a certain saint for prayers, I believe God has the power to allow that saint to receive the prayer request. I don't know how they hear it themselves, maybe God allows us to be heard by them, like we'd listen to the radio or t.v. (or like how St. Joseph and Clarence could view the life of George Bailey because God made it possible). Or another analogy might be the telephone... I don't understand how it works exactly (I have a general idea, but electricity is still a bit of a mystery to me... I wouldn't know how to invent, manufacture, or repair a telephone, yet I still use it and take it for granted that it works regardless of my lack of knowledge on how). If I make a phone call to someone in particular, someone else at their house might pick up the phone, and then they pass it on to the name I ask for. This is possible even though I don't understand exactly how a phone works. Even if I get nervous on the phone or don't like talking on the phone, it still works. So regardless of our confusion of HOW the communion of saints and their intercession works, we can trust that it works! I'm sure God is capable of transferring prayer request prayer-calls to Heaven to the "extension" of the saint called on for prayer. :) With God, anything is possible! They couldn't do that without God's power. If someone can have faith that a guardian angel is watching over them, I think it's only a small step to believe that the saintly intercession is possible too. Saint Faustina -- a secretary of Divine Mercy on earth -- I imagine makes a wonderful secretary of Divine Mercy in Heaven... with the Prayer Requests Dept., especially during the Hour of Mercy! :D

p.s. from last 2 posts - Aug 12, 2015

I also thought of this, related to the analogy with the telephone. Sometimes when we make a phonecall, we're not sure who we need to speak to, and we have to have our call transferred to the right person (could take talking to more than one person to determine that). Maybe that's also kinda how it is when we ask saints for prayer intercession. I think they'd all care, but perhaps certain saints care especially about certain prayer requests... which is why there's such a thing as PATRON SAINTS of various causes and concerns. And of course Mama Mary cares about all of us and all her childrens' worries, fears, desires, intentions, etc. And I also think she cares about her children already in Heaven, the saints, who have all the time for eternity to pray for us, so she very well may delegate prayer requests to individual saints, or maybe whole groups of saints, like heavenly prayer groups? such as we do on earth. Because it's God's Will to pray for others, and in the Our Father it says we're praying to try to do God's Will "on earth as it is in Heaven." Maybe by letting unknown saints pray for us and answer our prayers, they will become known and do miracles and become canonized someday... or maybe part of their special quality is the humility of being unknown for some reason, that's ok if that's what God thinks is best. The example of the saints we do know of is plenty, and yet hopefully many more people make it to Heaven than those! The faithful people in the lives of saints help to make the saint into a saint, that's gotta be worth something. (Like the whole family of St. Therese... they were all holy and made her a shining example of holiness). Many adore Therese and ask for her prayers as a saint, but we can also ask her other nun sisters and holy parents for prayer requests. Again how do they hear our prayer requests? Because God lets them hear or know our prayer requests, that's how. If he wants to make them audible to them, or have guardian angels deliver scrolls of prayers, however He does it, I don't put it past Him to make it happen. The saints care and can pray for us. Thanks be to God! It gives HIM more glory, honor, and credit for being God, and it brings people closer to God... like how when people here ask eachother to pray for one another, and we're not even as close to the Trinity as those in Heaven are! So let's ask for prayers from friends on earth and in Heaven. Also, we can trust Jesus to pray for us (He taught us the Our Father, and Jesus prays to Our Father Himself... remember the Agony in the Garden? He WANTS us to pray WITH Him!:) Jesus reconciles us to the Eternal Father, so we're able to be the children of God -- the children of the Triune God. I don't think God the Father has to pray to anyone, not even to His Son, but Jesus prays to the Father and so can we, and the Father still speaks with and communicates with His Son. When we "pray to" the saints, we're asking FOR their prayers for us, but the prayer does go through the channel of Jesus. :D More properly speaking, to Jesus through Mary... to the Father. :) It's not like the Father doesn't get some of the prayers, they all end up in the Father's hands :) but the saints are his little prayer warriors! I might not have explained this exactly perfectly have mercy on my enthusiasm and look to the Marians for better sermons about this. God bless!

last thought - Aug 12, 2015

another thought, maybe the saints themselves pass on prayer requests to their saint friends in Heaven that they know would be interested in taking up the cause of prayer... sort of like how we may ask our friends to pray for what we've been asked to pray for. I don't know exactly how different the prayers work in Heaven, except that they're closer to God there obviously, and they are now freed from all sin and live in total holiness with God, in His sight (as we are) but He is completely in their sight, too. So the prayer system must be even smoother in Heaven... yet it still works and we can still participate, must participate in the prayer chain! :) The people in heaven are praying for us, they no longer really need prayers if they already made it to Heaven, only souls in Purgatory would need our prayers... all prayers ultimately are to lead us to Heaven closer to God Himself, that's what prayer is for when we get right down to it.

Lala - Oct 28, 2015

• James 5:16-18: 'The prayer of the good man has powerful effect.

Only applied to the living people, not the dead.

Mary and Saints do not have God's ears.

Tim - Oct 29, 2015

I don't see that this person's question waiver answered about prayers to Mary or saints. We know that God is omnipresent and can hear all prayers. How does Mary or the saints hear all prayers at once since No one but God is omnipresent?

Robert Stackpole - Nov 3, 2015

I wanted to try to answer the questions still bugging Lala and Tim-- first, thanks for reading my article and pondering it so deeply!

Lala, you pointed out that one of the New Testament verses that I cited, the one from the Epistle of St. James, is speaking about the efficacy of the prayers of good men who are living, not those who are dead. Yes, indeed, but I was not citing this passage as a Biblical "proof text" that proves all by itself that we can ask for the prayers of the angels and saints. I cited it because it puts forward an underlying Biblical principle:"the prayers of a good man are powerful in effect." My point was that this principle could also be applied to the prayers of the "goodest" (excuse my grammar!) of all people: namely those who have finished their pilgrimage of sanctification and now shine like stars in heaven, with Jesus Christ. In other words, this biblical principle can be applied to the issue we are discussing:"if the prayers of a good an on earth are so powerful, as St. James says, how much more powerful must be the intercessory prayers of the angels and saints in heaven!" Seems a reasonable inference to me. And as a matter of fact, I do not know of any Christian denomination that disagrees with this: they all believe that the angels and saints in heaven join their prayers with ours on earth, as the biblical passages I cited from Revelation clearly say. The question that divides Catholic from Protestant here is whether they can hear our requests for special prayers on our behalf; in other words, can we invoke the angels and saints directly, or do we just lean on the comfort that we know in general that they prays for us? But that leads me to Tim's question....

Robert Stackpole - Nov 3, 2015

OK: now to Tim's question. It seems to me we can break it down into two parts: (1) do we know from Scripture that the angels and saints in heaven see us and know all about us--and therefore could actually hear our special requests for their prayers for our particular needs? and (2) how is it possible that they could see and hear all of us, since they are not omnipresent, like God?

With regard to (1): it seems to me that Scripture is clear that the angels and saints in heaven do see us struggling here on earth and know about our prayers. Just look at the passages from Hebrews and Revelation that I quoted in the article. How could they be witnesses who cheer us on in our race if they did not see us racing? How could the elders in heaven lift the prayers of the saints on earth to God by their own prayers, if they were not aware of our prayers and what we were struggling with?

With regard to (2): it is a mystery, and a matter of speculative theology, how they are able to know all this. But in the article I shared with you the most common theological opinion, which is found in the writings of many saints, going back at least as far as St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century. I will re-quote it for you below in my next added "Comment." It makes sense to me, because it links well with the scriptural truth of the beatific vision. Hope this helps!

Robert Stackpole - Nov 3, 2015

Indeed, the Scriptures tell us over and over that in heaven we shall "see" God with our mind and heart, and contemplate God with the eyes of the soul (so to speak) in a new and glorious way: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8); "Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face" (1 Cor 13:12); "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2).

Think of it this way: to see God "as He is," "face to face," and to "contemplate" God in all his heavenly glory must be an indescribable experience, but it is the wonderful destiny He has in store for all of us who love and trust Him. We cannot fully understand what that means, from this side of heaven. But we know one thing for sure: to see and know and contemplate God in heaven must include to see and know and contemplate all that God loves — for how could you really see and know God "as He is" without seeing everything He loves, and without seeing how He loves everything? For "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8). And one of the things God loves best of all is human beings, the creatures He made in his own image, and for whom He gave His life on the Cross. The saints in heaven, therefore, must surely see and know all about us on earth, because they see us reflected in the mind and heart of the God who loves us, whom they behold face to face. The saints in heaven know us because they know all about God's love for us, and — being filled with His love for us — they love us too.

Bernadette - Mar 13, 2016

If we are part of the Body of Christ, (see 1 Corinthians 12), and if neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38) then it seems to me this way:

1) Mary and the saints, those faithful who have gone to heaven are part of the Body of Christ still, and in God's love just like we are. Only they are even more connected to God as they are in heaven with Him. They are even more alive in Christ than we are. (Remember God is not the God of the dead but of the living Mark 12:27, and he is referring to Abraham, Moses and Isaac as living even though their bodies are dead)
2) We are told that we can't imagine what it will look or be like in heaven (1 Corinthians 2:9) - therefore, there must be some understanding we have there that we don't have here. Which means the saints have more understanding, and other abilities there (eg. not being constrained by a physical body for just one example). We don't become God, but we are made in His Image and Likeness so we share something with Him. It follows then that they have even more ability to intercede than we have here.
3) James 5:16 tells us that the prayers of a just man work powerfully. There is nowhere said that this is the case ONLY whilst the just man is alive! Nor does it specify who they can pray for. Therefore, if the saints are just/righteous - and they wouldn't be in heaven otherwise - then their prayers work powerfully.
Finally, if we didn't have some influence (by virtue of abiding in Jesus -see John 15) then we can't help anyone. But we must have influence, as We are told to intercede for one another, here and now. (1 Timothy 2:1) How much more can we be effective when we are totally and eternally with God in heaven? Why would God cut us off from being able to be helped by our brothers and sisters in heaven?

Joy - Mar 13, 2016

It is just a certain group of people on earth and not JESUS who identified and enthroned the saints that people are looking up for and asking for intervention. The blessed and holy people on earth can help us pray for our intentions with GOD but I think not the dead ones. WHY NOT ASK AND PRAY TO JESUS DIRECTLY FOR THE ALMIGHTY FATHER'S BLESSING when JESUS EVEN EMPHASIZED THAT "HE IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE, NO ONE CAN COME TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME."

Bernadette - Apr 25, 2016

Why can't the dead (those in heaven I mean, not those elsewhere) intercede for us? They are both spiritually closer to God than the living are!
The quote in James does not say 'alive righteous people only'. Nowhere does it say the dead can't pray. Indeed, Revelations says thats what the saints do all the time! Pray and give glory to God!
You are however, correct, we can and do go directly to Jesus. But it is not wrong to ask the saints to pray to God for us as well, just as on earth we pray for others too.
The saints that are honoured (not adored) are those whose lives have been examined minutely to prove their holiness. And even then, a saint is only recognised when God works at least two miracles through the prayers of people to that saint. These MUST be verified by several independent scientists or doctors who cannot explain the miracle in terms of science/medicine or any natural cause.. The Catholic Church does not 'make' saints. The Church just follows the signs God gives of the holiness of their life before they call anyone a saint. God bless you!

Mathew - May 13, 2016

First Timothy 2:5 declares, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." There is no one else that can mediate with God for us. If Jesus is the ONLY mediator, that indicates Mary and the saints cannot be mediators. They cannot mediate our prayer requests to God. Further, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ Himself is interceding for us before the Father: "Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them" (Hebrews 7:25). With Jesus Himself interceding for us, why would we need Mary or the saints to intercede for us? Whom would God listen to more closely than His Son? Romans 8:26-27 describes the Holy Spirit interceding for us. With the 2nd and 3rd members of the Trinity already interceding for us before the Father in heaven, what possible need could there be to have Mary or the saints interceding for us?

Jackie - Jun 4, 2016

Let's look at Jesus' own words in John 14:13: "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son...and v. 14 goes on to say ..."If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it." Now let's look at John 16:24:.."Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full." And Mary said to do whatever HE said to do. Let's not complicate the matter. We were created to have a close, intimate relationship with God, our Creator. One on one. Because of our sin, we need a Mediator......and that is only Jesus. The Bible clearly states we have ONE mediator..ONE. Not many. ONE. Why go anywhere else? We have direct access to God through Jesus Christ, who is the ONLY ONE who paid the penalty for our sins, and is the ONLY one who can wash away those sins. When we pray, we are to pray as Jesus Himself directed us to pray......To The Father, through HIM, in HIS NAME. No one else's name. If you are going any other route, you have to ask yourself....Why....? Isn't Jesus good enough for you....? HIS sacrifice....HIS blood.....No one else's....living or dead. Only His blood atones for sin. When you think about it, who or what wants to distract, divert, confuse everyone on this issue.....? Who wants to get you looking 'elsewhere' and separate you from The Lord? We know who operates this way. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, as the wonderful song says. Mary was right when she said of Jesus that we should do what HE says to do. Even she "got it." Jesus is the Name ABOVE all names. Let's pray as Jesus told us to pray. Amen.

Oleg - Nov 2, 2016

You did mention James 5, however omiting the context:

"4 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven."
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=james+5&version=NKJV

So it does not call to address dead saints, but actual living presbyters.
The prayer to dead saints is a man-made tradition which has a paganizing flavor (as often the saints were confounded with local pagan cults), also it separates people from Christian community.

What did Lord Jesus Christ taught about man-made traditions of pharisees?

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+23&version=NKJV