A Social Media Discussion regarding Mary and Intercessory Prayer of the Saints
It all started when a friend posted Pope Francis’ homily about the Immaculate Conception of Mary. A very self-assured friend of hers named Tina took issue with the Pope’s words and tried to latch on to 1 Timothy 2:5, as her main authority against intercessory prayer of the saints. But she took the verse out of context and frequently changed a key word throughout the discussion (mediator and intercessor). Paul confirms that there is one “mediator”, Jesus, but the Catholic Church does not claim saints are mediators, they are intercessors and there is a difference between a mediator and an intercessor that Tina frequently blurred. This is especially important when the mediator of which we speak is Jesus Christ who was the perfect and sacrificial mediator on the Cross. Mary and the saints intercede for us, which is something different than Christ’s mediation as nobody else died on the Cross for us, nor would such an act have the same effect as Christ’s.
Tina’s use of Hebrews 7:25 does nothing to support her objection to intercessory prayer because it is a different context than 1 Timothy 2. In Hebrews, Paul is talking about the Old Testament priests, who ceased to be priests due to death. The OT priests were not mediators, they were intercessors, which is also what Christ does for us in addition to the mediation mentioned in 1 Tim 2:5. But nowhere does the bible say that there is only one intercessor or that Christ is the sole intercessor. Paul says Christ is both the mediator and an intercessor.
Tina also claims that “only God can hear our prayers”, which is clearly false. I can currently hear people’s prayers and I do so at Mass, around the dinner table, at some of the events I attend, etc… Additionally, we have scriptural evidence that those who are in heaven have heard prayers. Since it happened in the past, and nothing has said it is no longer possible, I’m going with the Church teaching that the angels and saints can hear our prayers. Since those who object to this are non-Catholic, I won’t quote the Catechism or apostolic tradition on the issue, I’ll just point you to the bible:
• In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells us a parable that tells us Abraham could have heard Lazarus from the fires of Hades. “So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Luke 16:24
• “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me…” Daniel 10:12-13
• “Seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 11:1-12:1
• “The prayer of the good man has powerful effect.” James 5:16
• “And when he [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).
• “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.” (Revelation 8:3-4)
These are some of the biblical references that show that those in heaven can hear us. But there is also reason to support this. Most, if not all, Christians will admit that all things are possible for God. And any serious Christian will strive to unite his or her will with God’s will, such as in the Our Father prayer when we pray “thy will be done”. So, a good Christian should accept that the angels and saints can hear our prayers if it is God’s will. And it has certainly been God’s will to send angels and saints to communicate with us, such as in the Annunciation and Transfiguration, not to mention the many times in the OT. Since there is nothing in the bible, nor in the early Church to suggest that God does not will saints to hear us, we should be open minded on the issue.
Tina claims that the Bible does not instruct us to pray through intermediaries, or to petition saints or Mary (in Heaven) for their prayers. She is clearly mistaken again. The Angel Gabriel was certainly an intermediary in Luke’s Magnificat and Mary communicated with him. Additionally, the bible is replete with occasions where the New Testament writers noted the need for prayers through each others and through the “body of Christ”, which includes the Church militant and the Church triumphant.
To claim that intercessory prayer (not to be confused with mediation), is not found in the bible, is to admit blindness to many parts of the bible.
Tina claims that Mary was a sinner, referencing the fact that even she called Jesus her savior. However, this is contrary to the bible as well. One of the better explanations of this on the internet is found on www.catholic.com and looks at Luke 1:28, in which the angel Gabriel said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you”. The phrase “full of grace” is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. The apologist goes on to explain that kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning “to fill or endow with grace.” Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. Being “full of grace”, certainly set Mary apart from all other humans and because grace is sanctifying, being full of grace would give her an amazing (almost supernatural?) ability to resist temptation. Since she was the mother of Jesus, it makes sense that God would have given her all the grace she needed to be the perfect mother for his Son. But in addition to Luke 1:28, we have several other passages that support Mary’s sinlessness:
1. Mary is revealed to be the fulfillment of the prophetic “Daughter of Zion” of Zech. 2:10; Zeph. 3:14-16; Isaiah 12:1-6, etc.
2. Mary is revealed to be “the beginning of the new creation” in fufillment of the prophecy of Jer. 31:22.
3. Mary is revealed to possess a “blessed state” parallel with Christ’s in Luke 1:42.
4. Mary is not just called “blessed” among women, but “more blessed than all women” (including Eve) in Luke 1:42.
5. Mary is revealed to be the spotless “Ark of the Covenant” in Luke 1.
6. Mary is revealed to be the “New Eve” in Luke 1:37-38; John 2:4; 19:26-27; Rev. 12, and elsewhere.
7. Mary is revealed to be free from the pangs of labor in fulfillment of Isaiah 66:7-8.
The fact that Mary referred to Jesus as her savior is not an admission of sin. Being saved does not always mean that you are forgiven for a sin already committed. The bible shows that you can be saved from committing a sin: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.” (Jude 24-25).
Borrowing from Duns Scotus: If you are in a very sticky situation and someone comes along and rescues you before you are harmed or before you succumb to the situation, they saved you. It is not necessary to fall victim to the situation before you can be saved. Since Mary was human and had free will just like the rest of us, she could have chosen sin. But with Christ as her son and due to the grace within her, she evidently chose holiness instead of sin.
Since there is nothing in the bible that suggests Mary was born with original sin or subsequently sinned once she was born, a “bible only” Christian would be forced to admit that the Catholic teaching is persuasive if not irrefutable.
Tina quoted Hebrews 4:16 in an effort to support the following claim: “No one in heaven has any greater access to God’s throne than we do through prayer.” But Hebrews 4:16 reads: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” This does not support the poster’s claim at all. It simply encourages Christians to pray.
However there is biblical proof that some have greater sway with God such as “The prayer of the good man has powerful effect.” James 5:16 Clearly this suggests that someone who is not as good as the “good man” has something less than powerful prayer.
Tina also stated: “The problem with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is that it is not taught in the Bible.” I think I proved the fallacy of this argument by showing that this argument relies uniquely on the theory of “sola scriptura” also known as “bible alone”. Someone who claims to be a “bible alone” Christian, lives their faith based on the black and white belief that any teaching that is not spelled out in the bible, is to be rejected. The funny thing is that “sola scriptura” is not found in the bible, nor is the trinity (as noted by Heidi), the altar call, the Jesus prayer or the bible. In other words, doctrine of “bible alone” is self-defeating.
But the Immaculate Conception actually is biblical as explained by Dave Armstrong :
Thus, the idea that a person is somehow spiritually formed and molded by God and called from the very time of their conception (and before) is an explicit biblical concept. But we can produce even more than that: having to do also with holiness. The prophet Jeremiah reported the Lord’s revelation to him (as confirmed by another writer of Scripture):
• Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (KJV: “sanctified thee”)
• Sirach 49:7 … he had been consecrated in the womb as prophet, …
o “Consecrated” or “sanctified” in Jeremiah 1:5 is the Hebrew word quadash (Strong’s word #6942). According to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979 reprint, p. 725), in this instance it meant “to declare any one holy.” Gesenius applies this particular meaning also to the temple:
• 1 Kings 9:3 And the LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before me; I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.”
• Here are a few more related appearances of the word:
• Exodus 29:42–43 … the door of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak there to you.  There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory;
• Isaiah 5:16 But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
• Ezekiel 20:12 Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I the LORD sanctify them.
Jeremiah was thus consecrated or sanctified from the womb; possibly from conception (the text is somewhat vague as to the exact time). This is fairly analogous to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It approximates it. We know Jeremiah was a very holy man. Was he sinless, though? Perhaps he was. I don’t recall reading accounts of Jeremiah sinning.
We know, after all, that the Bible is very frank about exposing sins where they existed (David’s adultery, Noah’s drunkenness, Moses’ murder, Isaiah’s “unclean lips,” Elijah’s and Jonah’s lapses of faith, Doubting Thomas, Peter’s betrayals, Paul’s persecutions, etc.). Therefore, though the lack of such an account of sin does not prove sinlessness, it is consistent with its possibility.
The retort at this point might be that there is a lack of such a notion in the New Testament. But that’s not true. We have the example of John the Baptist.
Following that, Tina claimed that the bible does not describe Mary as anything but an ordinary human female whom God chose to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is possibly the most superficial skimming of scripture one could possibly adopt. Actually, it probably takes a lot of effort to come to interpret Mary as an “ordinary human female”, but the end result is the same: total disrespect for the mother of our Lord. And this is utterly non-Christian. From the time of the Apostles, Mary was honored, loved and venerated. This is evident in scripture as well as the early Christian writings and practices. It is one thing to dishonor your friend’s mother (you might simply walk away with a black eye), but to say such things about the Mother of God, Mary, who conversed with the angel Gabriel and was addressed as “full of grace”(kecharitomene), is really asking for it. Mary was with Jesus from beginning to end and suffered unthinkable sorrows as she watched her tortured and disgraced son, die on the Cross. Intentionally choosing to ignore Mary’s greatness among humankind is truly putting all your eggs in one basket.
Tina claims that, “the Bible gives us every reason to believe that Jesus Christ is the only Person who was not “infected” by sin and never committed a sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).” But this is inaccurate as Adam and Eve were not “infected” with sin. They lived in the garden of Eden until they chose to sin thereby causing all sorts of messes, one of which is all the Protestant misinterpretations of the bible (a little humor is always helpful). And there are biblical references to people who are free from sin at some point or another (though not originally conceived without original sin) or who are called to be sinless in the bible. This list includes Abraham, Job, Ezekiel and the Christians evangelized by Paul in the New Testament. But there are also lots of Catholics who are at times, free from sin. Baptism frees us from the bonds of original sin and the sacrament of reconciliation frees us from personal sin each time we make a good and thorough confession to a priest. I know that opens up a whole ‘nother discussion, so hold off on that for now, but rest assured, I’m happy to explain it once all of this is finished. For now, you can turn to John 20:23, Matt 16:19, 2 Cor 5:18 and Luke 22:29-30, to see the evidence of this sacrament.
But Tina continued: “The Bible does not even hint that there was anything significant about Mary’s conception. If we examine this concept logically, Mary’s mother would have to be immaculately conceived as well. How could Mary be conceived without sin if her mother was sinful? The same would have to be said of Mary’s grandmother, great-grandmother, and so on. So, in conclusion, the Immaculate Conception is not a biblical teaching. The Bible teaches the miraculous virgin conception of Jesus Christ, not the immaculate conception of Mary.” I think I alluded to this earlier, but the same Christian who will nod and repeat, “all things are possible with God”, will also manufacture scenarios that completely disregard God’s power. In reality, Mary’s sinlessness was not dependent on the holiness of St. Anne, her mother. Mary’s sinlessness was solely dependent on God’s will and the grace with which He filled her. And we know that God knows us before we are born and he knits us in our mother’s womb. As an aside, where in the bible does it say Christ was immaculately conceived? It doesn’t.
Entering dangerously close to the heresy of nestorianism which was condemned at the 1st Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., Tina then stated that, “And this is my view on Mary – when you state the “Mother of God”, biblically should be said as “Mother of Jesus” … The Lord God Almighty has no mother, since He has no beginning and no end (Genesis 1:1; Revelation 4:8).” Tim Staples does a nice job of explaining this: “By saying Mary is the Mother of God, the Catholic Church is not saying that Mary is the source of the divine nature among the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, nor is she the source of the divine nature of the second Person. But she doesn’t have to be in order to be the Mother of the second Person of the Blessed Trinity incarnate… though Mary did not provide Jesus with either his divine nature or his immortal human soul, she is still his Mother because she did not give birth to a body, a soul, a nature, or even two natures—she gave birth to a Person. And that one Person is God. The conclusion to the whole matter is inescapable. Just as many of the more traditional Protestants would confess with us as Catholics: If Jesus Christ is one, eternal and unchangeable divine person—God—and Mary is his mother, then Mary is the Mother of that one, eternal and unchangeable person—God.”
It should be noted that it was also at the Council of Ephesus that Mary was formally called Theotokos or “Mother of God”. This predates every Protestant denomination by over 1,000 years and smaller local denominations such as LifeGate Church in Omaha by about 1,700 years.
Since Revelation seems to be a favorite book of Tina’s, she should read the first part of Rev 12 to see if she recognizes that John is telling us about Mary. But I should continue…
Tina then stated, “… but by no means is someone meant to be prayed to as a God. You should not pray to any other God’s before me the bible says.” This is totally consistent with 2000 years to Catholic teaching and any Catholic who fails to adhere to this is committing idolatry, so there are no disagreement here. It would however be wrong to say that the Catholic Church encourages or condones worshiping another god.
Tina repeated, “ Not once does the Bible say that Mary was sinless. In fact, Mary said that her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. (Luke 1:47). In so doing, she declared her need of a Savior just as much as anyone else”. Mary, being merely human, and therefore, much less than God, needed God as much as all other humans. But simply calling God your savior does not mean you are sinful as explained in the analogy I paraphrased from Duns Scotus above.
Tina continued, “Not once does the scripture say that Mary was God or that we should worship her.” Correct. Nor does the Catholic Church say Mary was God or that we should worship her.
Interestingly, Tina then agrees with the Catholic tradition of praying with the saints when she says, “We read that as the church began the apostles ‘…these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.’ They did not pray to Mary, they prayed with her and she prayed with them.” Right, the apostles prayed with Mary, just as we do today. Now I think there has been some progress on the original issue regarding Tina’s earlier misinterpretation of 1 Tim 2:5. It is intercession, not worship.
Some interesting tidbits were brought up after this:
1. “the whole purpose of the bible was to teach us how to live – it’s a handbook of life.” That is one way to look at it. But this does not mean the bible is the only guidance we have. This is where the apostolic tradition and authority of the Church helps too. One, independent of the other, would not work. Together, we have absolutely everything we need in our quest for holiness.
2. “When we start adding and taking away and assuming things of the bible, or wanting them a certain way – that is no longer what God wanted for his people.” This is exactly what Luther and the reformers did and the Protestants of today are taking that to its logical conclusion. Many Protestant denominations are ignoring the majority of the bible and some “Christians” look to other world religions to meet their needs. Osteen’s prosperity gospel is just one of many examples. Another wacky example is Eugene Robinson and Matthew Vines’ complete distortion of every biblical reference to homosexuality and marriage. Without the authority of the Catholic Church, the Church that has existed since Christ founded it in Matt 16, many Protestants run rampant over God’s word and in spite of God’s word.
3. “Just don’t let the traditions overcome what is the truth.” Actually, you shouldn’t be afraid of the truth. One truth is that the traditions of the Catholic Church are biblical and/or apostolic. The traditions of Luther and the 40,000 plus Protestant denominations of today seem to be often driven by human desires and pride. It is true that many Protestants have a much deeper faith and a deeper relationship with Christ than I have, but they could be even deeper if they came into the Catholic Church and had all the advantages that Christ intended all Christians to have.
4. “God loves us all and if we come to him (you can directly you know) and ask for forgivness of your sins…” Yes, we certainly do this when we do as Christ commanded and receive the sacrament of reconciliation he created in John 20.
5. “(no matter what they are – sin is the same in God’s eyes)” Actually, not all sin is the same. 1 Cor 6:9-10 specifies for instance that fornicators and idolaters will not inherit the kingdom and James 1:14-15 tells us that some sin is deadly. 1 John 5:16-17 again tell us that some sin is deadly and some sin is not deadly. So, not all sin is the same in God’s eyes.
6. “You have been saved by Grace and no amount of works/tradition can take that away if you accept him.” This one is an unusual statement. It seems to imply the flawed, “once saved always saved” fallacy of the Calvinists. And if that is the case, it also means that if a “saved” person decides to start following a false “tradition”, it is no big deal because they can’t lose their salvation, right? In other words, Tina appears to be making a circular argument if she is using this belief to somehow argue against intercessory prayer. But just so I’m clear, you can lose your salvation and as a Catholic, we believe that we have been saved by the grace of God (Titus 3:5), we are working out our salvation with trembling (Phil 2:12) and we will be saved if we endure to the end of our days (Mt 10:22). And as James tells us, faith without works is dead (James 2:26) The “Once saved always saved” ideology is particularly dangerous for those who use it to excuse a sinful lifestyle. Some people will cheat, steal and lie, but sleep quietly at night because they have bought into the deceit of the “permanent salvation”. 1 Tim 4:1 tells us that some will turn away from the faith, as do Romans 11:22, Ezek 3:20-21, 2 Pet 2:20-21, 1 Cor 9:27, 1 Cor 10:12 and many others. We are quick to rationalize our behavior anyway, but if we can point to some religious doctrine that allows us to coast along the wide path without any need for repentance or forgiveness, we are even quicker to follow the path to destruction (Matt 7:13-14)
Tina then quotes Revelation 22:18-19: “And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.” This is an interesting selection for two reasons. First, it likely applies only to the book of Revelation because it was written before the Canon of the bible was established (by the Catholic Church). Additionally, if it is taken to apply to the entire bible, which isn’t totally unbelievable since it could generally apply to the inspired word of God, it would certainly spell a bad ending for Martin Luther and many of our contemporary separated brothers and sisters who belong to the many Protestant denominations as it was Luther who removed 7 books from the bible and altered several others and it is today’s Protestants who comply with this fateful decision.
Later, Tina states, “I could say books from traditions that I follow are truth too. But they are not from God.” She is apparently referring to the Catholic practice of adhering to apostolic tradition in addition to the bible. The interesting thing is that she does not appear to understand that the apostles didn’t have the New Testament when they were teaching with oral tradition and that the Mass they celebrated with the early Christians is the same Mass Catholics celebrate today. I suspect that the service at LifeGate Church in Omaha is nowhere close to the Mass of the apostolic age and therefore, nothing like the Mass we celebrate today. The Mass and the other apostolic traditions of the Catholic Church are from God and all Christians agreed on this point until about 500 years ago.
Tina then states, “Those saints can’t hear your prayers. They are dead. You can pray directly to God.” This shows a total disregard for Christ’s very words in Mark 12:26-27 as well as the Transfiguration in Mark 9:4, not to mention Heb 12:1, Lk 16:19-30, Rev. 20:4 and Wisdom 3:1-6. The saints are not dead at all. In fact, Catholics believe the same thing as Jesus believes: He is the God of the living.
When Tina quotes Matthew 4:4, in which Jesus replies to Satan, “… Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”, she may not realize that she is actually referring back to Deuteronomy 8:3. This is interesting because she has said (more than once) that “what was is not now”, which is a little vague but could mean that the Old Testament or at least parts of the OT are no longer of any relevance to us. Quoting Matt 4:4 would indicate that she only disregards portions of the OT I guess. That is actually better than a lot of people in our culture who disregard the entire bible. And Deuteronomy would not support sola scriptura since the referenced part of Deuteronomy was discussing the fact that the Israelites learned about God not by the written word, but by feeling the pain of hunger and then being fed manna as they wandered in the desert. A particularly non-sola scriptura concept.
By looking at each of Tina’s arguments, I was able to single them out and review their applicability and relevance. As you can see, I found that her objections were unsupported. In some cases, she was mistaken about the Catholic teaching and on the rest, she was unable to point to biblical authority.