By Fr John Flader
Question: Must we always pray to the Father through Jesus or can we pray directly to the Father? And can we also pray to Mary, the angels and the saints?
THIS question is more interesting than appears at first sight.
We can start with the definition of prayer in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” (St John Damascene, De fide orth. 3, 24; CCC 2559)
Here we see the classical understanding of prayer as words or thoughts addressed to God. It can be in the form of asking God for something, thanking him, telling him we are sorry, praising him, carrying on a conversation with him in meditation or mental prayer, or gazing on him with love in that more quiet and simple form of prayer known as contemplation.
When we say “God” in this sense we are normally referring to God in his unity, as the one God. Many prayers are directed to God in this way, among them the Act of Contrition: “O my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins …”
But there is nothing to prevent us from praying to any one of the three divine persons individually. Thus we pray to the Father directly in the Our Father: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name …” We pray to Jesus, the Son of God, directly in the Fatima prayer in the Rosary – “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell …” – and in the “Jesus prayer” – “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (cf. CCC 2616). And we pray directly to the Holy Spirit in numerous prayers, among them: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love …”
As regards praying through Jesus, we recall his words: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). And again: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name” (John 16:23). The Church in her liturgy does this. For example, the three so-called “Presidential prayers” in the Mass – the Collect, the Prayer over the Offerings, and the Prayer after Communion – are all addressed to the Father “through Christ our Lord”.
The Catechism confirms this way of praying: “There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray ‘in the name’ of Jesus. The sacred humanity of Jesus is therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our Father”. (CCC 2664)
This does not mean that we must always mention Jesus expressly in our prayers if they are to be heard. We do not mention his name in the Our Father, and we are certain this prayer is pleasing to the Father. It is sufficient that we have an habitual intention of praying through Jesus, without needing to make this intention actual in every prayer. And even if we do not think of Jesus while praying, he is the mediator who presents our prayers to the Father.
Can we also pray to Mary, the angels and the saints? Of course we can. The Hail Mary is addressed to Our Lady: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee …” Other Marian prayers like the Hail, Holy Queen, the Memorare, and many more are addressed directly to Mary. When in these prayers we ask for favours it is understood that Our Lady herself does not grant them but that she asks God to grant them. That is why we say, for example, “Pray for us sinners”. It is understood that Mary prays for us to the Father through Jesus, and so the Church gives us the traditional expression “to Jesus through Mary”.
And we can also pray to the angels and the saints. Among the most popular prayers to the angels are the prayer to the guardian angel and the prayer to St Michael, the archangel. There are numerous prayers addressed to the saints, from St Joseph through the long list of canonised saints in the history of the Church.
But we need not limit ourselves to praying to the canonised saints. We can pray to any deceased person, including our own parents, brothers and sisters and children. Even if they are in Purgatory they can intercede for us. When a baptised infant dies we know with certainty that he or she is in heaven and so we can pray to them with complete trust that they are interceding powerfully for us. So we can pray to anyone and this prayer always reaches God through Jesus.