Christians from the earliest centuries of the Church have expressed their communion with those who have died by praying for the dead.
Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs indicate that the early Christians honored and prayed for their deceased relatives and friends.
It is not uncommon that non-believers see the Roman Catholic devotion to the Saints and the dead in general as falling under the prohibition of necrology as found in the Hebrew Scriptures. These people are not aware of the New Life of the Christian who has been called out of this life. They are not dead, but alive!
The early Christians, in praying for their dead were expressing their belief that departed brothers and sisters underwent a purification after death ("purgatory"). Their prayers were prayers that God would have mercy on them during this time of healing and purification.
Many people who do not share the Catholic Christian faith life have difficulty with the appearance that in their prayers, Catholics appear to pray to the Saints, to Mary, as one prays to God. This "praying to" appears to them to indicate a worship of the Saint as if giving to the Saint or Mary what is due to God alone.
However, earliest Christianity has always defined prayer as conversation, as in conversation with God. Conversation, as any other act of communication ( e.g., talking, conversation, yelling, etc.), requires a sign of the direction of the communication: one talks to someone, communicates with someone, prays to someone, converses with someone, yells at someone, etc. Hence, praying to God, a Saint, the Virgin Mary indicates simply the direction of prayer communication. It is more a matter of grammar and understanding communication than acknowledging the worship of the receiver.
From the earliest of Church Councils (the Council of Rome, 993; defined by the Council of Trent) the distinction was made between worship and honor. Catholics believe that worship is due to God alone. Catholics honor those saints who have gone before us as a sign of faith and victory in living the Christian life.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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Last Updated: September 17, 2004