The other day, a protestant friend of mine said that the hail mary was blasphemous. he claimed that we were praying to mary and that she was a false god. I explained that we ask mary and all the saints to simply pray for us. he responded "but they are dead", I said that they are living in heavan and that it was the same as the laying on of hands that goes on in both protestant and catholic churches today. to this he gave up on that argument and found another one. he then proceeded to say "well why can you not just pray for yourself?" and there was really no good answer I could give him. any useful information on this subject?
If your Protestant friend believes in the power of prayer, this should be pretty easy to explain. Prayer can help heal and strengthen us, so it stands to reason that more prayer provides additional healing and strength. Plus, it can't hurt to ask the saints to put in a good word for you with the Almighty.
We CAN pray for ourselves. We ask the saints to pray because scripture says the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and it doesn't get much more righteous than those who're already perfectly in line with the Holy Will of God in Heaven. We pray WITH the saints, as we pray they do as well. If we can't pray, they can pray for us.
It's no different than asking another person on Earth "Hey, I'm going through a tough time. Could you pray for me?" I'm sure your protestant friend would find no problem with that, so why ignore our brothers and sisters in Heaven who are very much alive (for God is the God of the living, not the dead), who are more than happy and capable of praying for us?
Something you should make clear in your own mind, and then to your friend, is that prayer to God and prayer to the Saints is different. Greek actually uses different words. When Catholics ask the Saints to pray for us, it's the same as when we ask a member of the Church Militant to pray for us, except, as has been mentioned, there's reason to think the prayers of the Church Triumphant are more efficacious, so to speak. Catholics don't believe the Saints have power of their own to accomplish things for the Church Militant.* They believe the Saints behold the face of God and the Church Militant, and can ask God to aid the Church Militant, same as members of the Church Militant ask God to aid each other.
For a Protestant, this asking is a violation of the First/Second Commandment (Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:) because it looks or sounds like how we pray to God. But it's God who actually aids; the Saints only aid through God's power.
*I wonder if an exception isn't prayers to Angels, because we know Angels have earthly power - can actually, say, turn door knobs and clean fish. Praying to them might be a bit more like "praying" to my natural father to, say, help me flip my mattress. What Angels do for us they do through their own natural powers, rather than directly through Divine power.
We can, should, and do pray for ourselves. The problem is with the "just" bit. Whether we ask for the intercession of the saints or our neighbors, the act of asking is a humble acknowledgment that we need all the help we can get. It helps keep us from becoming too vain and self-centered. Also, by our own willingness to ask others to pray for us we are far more likely to pray for others in turn.
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