E. Daniel Box
Catholics believe that God alone (not Mary nor any of the other saints) is worthy of worship. The confusion between Catholics and non-Catholics comes from how we understand the word "prayer." For non-Catholics, "to pray" to Someone is "to worship" that Someone. But for Catholics, "to pray" to someone simply means "to ask" something of that someone. Think of how you've heard the word "pray" used in a Shakespearean play (e.g. "I pray you do this without delay"). So when Catholics "pray" to Mary or the saints, we're not "worshiping" these mere human beings. Instead, we're simply "asking" them to continue to pray for us in heaven, the same way that our loves ones pray for us while on earth.
1 Tim. 2:5 tells us that Jesus alone is our sole mediator. Amen! Catholics agree. But pay attention to what Paul says only four verses earlier in 1 Tim. 2:1--he says, "I ask for supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone." In other words, all Christians must pray for one another, and doing so in no way threatens Jesus' role as our "sole mediator." Instead, it is precisely, because Jesus is our mediator, that we are all able to pray or mediate on behalf of one another through Him. We know this is true from Scripture, because Paul tells us that, when we have died into Christ, "it is no longer I [who lives], but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20), and Paul also says that when he acts, he does so "in the person of Christ" (2 Cor. 2:10). Again, Paul also says that we are God's coworkers (1 Cor. 3:9), such that we water and plant, but God causes the growth (v. 6). So when Mary and the saints pray for us, they do so NOT because they are God nor because they have powers. They pray for us, because they are part of the one body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12 (there is not one body on earth and another body in heaven)). And because they are part of that one body of Christ, we cannot say to them, "I do not need you" (1 Cor. 12:21). Remember, the prayer of the righteous person is very powerful (Jas. 5:16), and those who are in heaven are certainly righteous, because nothing unclean can enter heaven (Rev. 21:27). In fact, Scripture shows us, in Rev. 5:8 and Rev. 8:4, that both human beings and angels present our prayers to God! In these passages, we see the elders in heaven (i.e. the 12 tribesmen of Judah and the 12 apostles) and the angels presenting to the Lamb bowls of incense, which Scripture says are "the prayers of the holy ones" on earth. And Jesus himself uses a parable in Lk. 16: 19-31 that shows us a dead rich man praying for his loved ones still alive on earth.
Rom. 8:38-39 tells us that death cannot separate us from the love of Jesus. So dead Christians are not separated from Christ--they remain part of His Body and His Bride, the Church. Therefore, praying to the dead saints--who, of course, are not dead, but are more alive than ever in heaven--is only possible because of Jesus and the oneness we share through Him, the vine (Jn. 15:5). This practice is not the same thing as necromancy, which is expressly forbidden in Deut. 18: 10-11 and Isa. 19:3, because it does not seek to conjure up spirits or to manipulate the spirit realm. Instead, Catholics recognize, together with Heb. 11 and 12:1, that all of the dead holy ones who have gone before us actively "surround [us as a] great cloud of witnesses," which means they testify on our behalf, as we continue to run the race here on earth.
The beauty of Catholicism is that it is not an "either/or" religion, but a "both/and" religion. Catholicism believes in the goodness of both spirit and body, faith and reason, the Written Word of God and the Oral Word of God. Similarly, Catholics believe in praying both to God and to our holy brothers and sisters who have gone to sleep before us. So we absolutely do pray to the Father, as Jesus Himself taught us, and we do so often. But because God gave us brothers and sisters too, we ask also that they might continue to pray for us, whether in heaven or on earth.
Remember, God is the Trinity--a communion of Three Persons. Therefore, being made in His image, we too must seek out not just communion with God, but communion with our neighbors as well.
Daniel Box lives in Chicago with his wife, but is a proud Texan (Fort Worth native) and Mexican-American. He is a practicing real estate and zoning attorney, after having clerked with the Thomas More Society and served as the Board Chairman of the Chicago chapter of Young Catholic Professionals in 2015 and 2016. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from the University of Dallas in 2012.