April 29, 2007

Tough Questions - Praying to Angels

Our use of statues and adoration of Mary seem to be favorite topics for
those doubting that Catholics are, in fact, Christians. They often are
discussed together, even though one has very little to do with the
other. While I've answered questions on these topics before, in this
series - on 4/17 and 4/23 - today's "Tough Question" reference two
specific passages from the Bible.

Why does the Catholic church allow and even encourage prayers to Mary,
designated saints and angels when the Bible strictly forbids it?
(Revelation 22:9; Matthew 6:7)
Let's start with the Book of Revelation:

I John am he who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I
fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said
to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren
the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God." (Rev
22:8-9
)
Angels are pure spirit and in God's presence; they must be awesome creatures, indeed, to set eyes upon. In this passage, John describes his reaction - falling to his knees. I wonder if he believed he was receiving the beatific vision and seeing God, or if he knew that it was an angel? Regardless, the angel corrects him in that angels are creatures, as we are, and only God should be worshipped.

The Catholic Church doesn't disagree with that statement and doesn't allow or encourage the worship of angels. So why pray something like the Guardian Angel Prayer?

I think the problem is semantic - praying "to" someone could imply the belief that they are directly answering your prayer. When I say that prayer, I hope for two things, neither of which deify the angel:

1) That my angel will intercede with God on my behalf. He is directly in God's presence - which I'm not - and, simply, as a sinner I can use all the help I can get.

2) That if I ask my angel for something within its power and God's plan, it will help me out.

Now let's look at the Gospel passage:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand
and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by
men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go
into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and
your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up
empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for
their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need
before you ask him. (Mat 6:7)
This message is a warning against lipservice - doing and saying things to appear pious when, in fact, you aren't. Its a warning against "heaping up empty phrases". When I praise God in unison with the angels and saints in His presence, nothing I say can be "empty". When I ask any member of the Body of Christ - be they on earth or one of the "cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) in heaven - my words are not empty.

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