I hate to be an ecumenical wet blanket. I promise I’m not anti-Catholic. Even last month, I quoted extensively from the former Pope Benedict XVI’s excellent little book on Christmas, which I’d recommend to anyone. And I celebrate the many points of agreement between orthodox Protestants and Catholics.
Nevertheless, in this, the five-hundredth anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, I will shed no tears: There were good reasons the Reformation happened, and apart from drastic reform within the Roman church, good reasons that we Protestants still refuse to swim the Tiber. One of them is this New Year’s tweet from Pope Francis:
Let us entrust the new year to Mary, Mother of God, so that peace and mercy may grow throughout the world.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) January 1, 2017
Catholic apologists tell me that praying to the saints is nothing more than asking your friends—in this case, your friends in heaven—to pray for you. They are “prayer warriors”—if unusually effective ones. Indeed, even the Hail Mary prayer asks her to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
Not that this isn’t hard enough to swallow. It asks us to imagine that Mary and the saints wait in heaven at our beck and call, outside of time, endowed with God-like powers of omnipresence and omniscience, ready to hear our prayer and intercede for us. At any one moment, after all, thousands or millions could be praying the Hail Mary. How is she not omnipresent? Otherwise, supplicants are competing with one another to be heard—and, let’s face it, she would likely only hear a tiny fraction of the prayers offered. (Is this the reason people repeat the prayer so many times?)
And she must be able to read our thoughts: I assume a prayer that isn’t verbalized “counts,” for example, if the supplicant is unable to speak. How is that possible apart from omniscience?
I hate to speculate, but what else can I do? I would turn to the New Testament for guidance from Paul and the other apostles, but there’s nothing there. Praying to the saints is an entirely extrabiblical practice.
Regardless, apologists tell us that Catholics are only asking Mary and the saints to intercede on their behalf, nothing more. They don’t believe that the saints have any inherent power to answer any prayer other than the prayer for them to pray for us.
But if that’s true, how do you explain the Pope’s recent tweet? How is it not idolatrous to entrust the future to any creature, rather than to Christ himself? What powers does Mary herself possess to enable peace and mercy to grow?
I like this tweet from Lutheran Satire:
This year, be a man and entrust things directly to Jesus. https://t.co/P7Xi8gyPDZ
— Lutheran Satire (@LutheranSatire) January 2, 2017
P.S. “Mother of God,” from the Greek theotokos (literally “God-bearer”), was originally a Christological formulation, meant to communicate the full divinity of Christ: When Mary bore Christ, she bore God himself, because Christ was fully God. While I wouldn’t use the term myself, given how it’s prone to misunderstanding, there is nothing unorthodox about referring to Mary that way. Again, it says something about Christ, not Mary.