Mother Teresa


Gonxha Bojaxhiu a.k.a. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Image credit

Gonxha Bojaxhiu of Skopje, Yugoslavia, who is famously known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), will be canonized as a Catholic saint this coming Sunday (September 4, 2016) at Rome. Due to her popularity even among non-Catholics, the road to her sainthood was expedited. “The process leading up to the beatification has been the shortest in modern history.” [1]

Her canonization or declaration as a saint is part of the supposed “historic Christian practice of asking our departed brothers and sisters in Christ—the saints—for their intercession”. [2] 

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The “Catholic Answers” website quoted passages in the book of Revelation as one of their defense for the Catholic practice.
As Scripture indicates, those in heaven are aware of the prayers of those on earth. This can be seen, for example, in Revelation 5:8, where John depicts the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God under the form of “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” But if the saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God, then they must be aware of our prayers. They are aware of our petitions and present them to God by interceding for us. [3]
I beg to disagree. (Let me emphasize that I am not questioning here the character of Mother Teresa. I am just disagreeing with the concept of “praying to the saints” on biblical grounds.) First, the word “saint” in the New Testament does not only refer to a departed brother or sister in Christ. (1 Thessalonians 3:13 refers to souls of believers coming with the Lord when he returns.) It actually refers mostly to believers who are still alive here on earth. For example, according to Romans 1:7, “To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints”. (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition, emphasis added. I’m quoting from a Catholic Bible, by the way) Some would say that since it says “called to be saints” then to them it means the recipients of the epistle to Rome will become saints eventually. But that’s stretching the verse to mean more that it was meant to mean. In the Greek, it literally says, “called saints.” [4] They were not about to become saints when they die and when they go through the process of canonization. The Roman believers were already saints and were still alive at the time the apostle Paul wrote to them. So, the road to sainthood via a canonization process is out of whack with what the Bible teaches.

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Second, if we look at the verses from the book of Revelation closely, they don’t actually say that those were the prayers of saints “in heaven”. 
And when he had opened the book, the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints(Revelations 5:8, Douay-Rheims. Emphasis added) 

And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel. (8:3-4, Douay-Rheims. Emphasis added)
Psalm 141:2 tells us, Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening offering.” (New American Bible Revised Edition, emphasis added. It’s a Catholic Bible version, too.) Revelation also uses imageries from both the Old and New Testaments. Thus, our prayers here on earth are compared to incense offered up to God. It is also debatable if “the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients” were the departed saints in heaven. We should be careful not to base our beliefs on obscure or figurative statements. 

So, “the prayers of the saints” in Revelation refer to prayers of believers here on earth and not of those who are already in heaven. If we insist that it was talking about departed saints in heaven would be reading the meaning “into” the passages and not reading “out” of it. We should let the Bible speak for itself instead of making it say what we want it to say.

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Yes, we are to pray for one another. For example, according to James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (New American Bible Revised Edition) Note that it says pray one “for” another and not pray one “to” another. We are to pray “for” each other. But we are not to pray “to” departed believers in Christ. (The Bible also does not allow for praying for people who already died. See Hebrews 9:27) 

Brothers and sisters, let us pray to God for one another.

NOTE: A Catholic priest replied to this article. Download his reply here.

My response: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

[1] John Feister (13 July 2016), “Mother Teresa: ‘The Saint of the Gutters’”, American Catholic, retrieved from http://blog.americancatholic.org/.

[2] “Praying to the Saints,” Catholic Answers, http://www.catholic.com/tracts/praying-to-the-saints, accessed September 2, 2016.

[3] Ibid, emphasis added.

[4] John A. Witmer, “Romans” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NewTestament, Eds. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983, 1985), 440. 



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