Necromancy & Prayers to the Saints

Q. But since the “saints” are dead, and since the Bible condemns communication with the dead as necromancy, Catholic teaching clearly contradicts Sacred Scripture. Is that not true?

A. It is certainly true that in Deuteronomy 18:10-11 scripture condemns necromancy which is communication with the dead.

Deuteronomy 18:10-12 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…

But let’s think about what is meant in Deuteronomy. Would it even be possible to communicate with the souls of the dead unless God had a hand in it? No. So, if people are communicating to “souls” of the dead who might they actually be? I would say they are definitely evil spirits. And these evil spirits are pretending to be the soul of someone known to the person trying to contact the dead loved one or whoever. So, God is warning us not to open ourselves up to the lies and powers of the evil spirits- the fallen angels. And this warning is still very much in effect.

Also, when people practice divination or consult the dead they are communicating with spirits. Notice, scripture says “consults the dead” or in the King James “practices necromancy”. They do it in order to get answers from the spirit (divination) or at the very least some sort of communication from the spirit. Necromancy is the word that translates the Hebrew and the definition for necromancy is:

necromancy n
1. the practice of attempting to communicate with the spirits of the dead in order to predict or influence the future
2. witchcraft or sorcery in general (literary) -Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999

There is nothing in the practice that resembles Catholic intercessory prayer, of asking the saints to pray to God for us. And the Church teaches that it is through the power of God that our requests for prayer are made known to the saints. Therefore, Catholic intercessory prayer with the saints is not forbidden by scripture.

To find out more about Catholic intercessory prayer see under the category “Prayer to Saints

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15 Responses to Necromancy & Prayers to the Saints

  1. Constantine says:

    “Would it even be possible to communicate with the souls of the dead unless God had a hand in it? ”

    We might ask the same about sin. “Would it even be possible to sin unless God had a hand in it, i.e. its part of His creation? Surely its possible to sin but God still forbids it.

    And your assertion, “There is nothing in the practice that resembles Catholic intercessory prayer…” is amazing. The very first definition of necromancy that you site is the very definition of Catholic prayers for the dead. You are attempting to contact the dead in order to influence the future. Why else would you do it?

    When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, He was very specific. Nothing in His instructions were to pray for the dead.

  2. bfhu says:

    I am not clear about your point about, “God having a hand in” sin.

    My point in differentiating necromancy from Catholic prayer to the Saints was that Necromancy is a form of divination–seeking direction, information about the FUTURE or some other hidden knowledge. People think they are contacting dead loved ones but they are really contacting demons impersonating those people.

    This is light years away from asking a Holy Saint to join their prayers to ours to God Our Lord.

    Necromancy is condemned by God
    Intercessory prayer is recommended by God.

    You state that nothing in the Our Father contains instructions on praying for the dead. True enough, but neither is it condemned.

  3. Dr. Eric says:

    This was covered on Relevant Radio today.

  4. Robert says:

    In addition, magic and prayer are diametrically opposed. In magic one tries to manipulate other beings in order to gain a desired effect. It puts oneself in a position of authority over that which is being invoked (at least ideally– many would-be practiioners of magic don’t seem to understand that in contacting spirits which are more powerful than themselves they put themselves in grave peril, for these spirits are more powerful than them).

    Prayer, on the other hand, is a submissive supplication to a superior power. Christian prayer further defines it as only and always in accord with the will of God.

    In prayer one opens oneself up to God and accepts that one may not receive one’s petition if it doesn’t in accord with God’s will. The pray-er understands that prayer is about changing oneself, not changing God. Magic is the opposite.

    So quite frankly, I think Constantine is dead wrong. Prayer and magic are always diametrically opposed. That the objects of both necromancy and prayer are (at least in intention) the same is but a superficial aspect. What is truly revolting about necromancy and other magic is how it tries to spurn human nature by claiming mastery over powers proper to, say, the angelic order. Prayer is perfectly in accord with human nature, however.

    -Rob

  5. Fr. J. says:

    “in accord with human nature.”

    Robert, your Thomism is showing, and I like it !!

  6. Constantine says:

    Hi bfhu,

    Let me try this. Insofar as God allows sin, He has a hand in it. We would probably agree that God does not, however, approve of sin. Therefore, because He may allow prayers to/for the dead, does not necessarily mean He approves. I hope that is somewhat clearer.

    Thanks for your amplification on necromancy, although I was commenting on the definition listed on the original post, i.e. “the practice of attempting to communicate with the spirits of the dead in order to predict or influence the future.” So the definition I responded to does not say “seeking direction, information about the FUTURE…” but rather “…to…influence the future.” And certainly prayers are about influencing the future (i.e. shorter times in Purgatory), no?

    I would be very interested in your sources for God recommending intercessory prayer, in the context of praying for or to the dead.

    Interestingly, I’m having a dialog on another blog with someone who used the same approach you do with regards to the Lord’s Prayer. I pointed out to them that that is exactly the line of argumentation that is currently used by the gay lobby; e..g. “Jesus never explicitly condemned homosexual behavior, so He must have approved it.” So, I think you will agree that the latter statement is absurd. But it is of the same form as your argument.

    Thank you for your comments. Blessings to you.

  7. Constantine says:

    Hi Rob,

    I don’t recall writing about magic. But thanks for the thoughts. I do have a few questions, if I might.

    If prayer is “a submissive supplication to a superior power” whom do you suppose Jesus prayed to?

    Why do you think the Catechism has a different definition of prayer than you do?

    “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” CCC 2559.

    So the Catechism says very specifically that prayer is “…to God.” Isn’t praying to anyone else, living or dead, contrary to this teaching?

    Thanks for the chuckle in the last paragraph. Sometimes these posts can be a little too serious. But in a post where we are discussing “prayers to the saints” for you to say I’m “dead” wrong is really great. Thanks.

    Blessings to you.

  8. Dr. Eric says:

    First of all, the Saints are not dead. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (St. Matt 22:32, St. Mark 12:27, St. Luke 20:38.)

    In the Book of Revelation the Saints do this:

    “And when he had opened the book, the four living creatures, and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints:” Rev 5:8

    “And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel.” Rev 8:3-4

    The saints mentioned are guys like you an me.

    “Salute ye every saint in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:21

    To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 1:7

    “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother: to the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in all Achaia:” 2 Cor 1:1

    There are plenty of examples of Christians being called saints in the New Testament.

    And those who are with God are also called Saints:

    “Now of these Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying: Behold, the Lord cometh with thousands of his saints,” St. Jude 1:14

    “And the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose,” St. Matt 27:52

    The Communion of the Saints is a Biblical Doctrine, especially when Our Lord Himself partakes in it:

    “And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him.” St. Matt 17:1-3

    “And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter and James and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves, and was transfigured before them. And his garments became shining and exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller upon earth can make white. And there appeared to them Elias with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.” St. Mark 9:1-3

  9. Robert says:

    Constantine,

    Thanks for catching the flaws in my quick response. I was thinking of the petitionary aspect of prayer when I framed a quick response, so I naturally thought about the aspect of greater and lesser power. But, as you note, it’s probably more accurate to describe prayer in some way as being with God.

    As for magic– I personally tend to think that necromancy is a type of magic. And if that is so, then anything true of magic is true of necromancy. Sorry for not making that explicit.

    “Isn’t praying to anyone else, living or dead, contrary to this teaching?”

    Well, the author(s) of the Catechism definitely hold both to be true, so we’ll have to use the principle of charitable interpretation to see how this could be possible. Indeed, the Catechism also says that prayer is “wholly to the Father” (CCC 2564). Of course, we Catholics also direct prayer to the Son and to the Spirit, so we must have a way of reconciling that as well.

    For instance, read CCC 2565: “Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ.13 Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love.”

    Does this perhaps help?

    I think that many Protestant interpreters often make the either/or mistake. Either prayer is to God or it is to the saints. So it is to God and not to the saints. But Catholics don’t do that. It’s both/and. There is nothing in prayer to the saints which excludes being in the presence of God (indeed, in everything in our life we ought to be in the presence of the living God, hence the Catechism notes that prayer is the habit of being in communion with the thrice-holy God). The only real question is whether prayer to the saints is compatible with prayer to God, and I think it is. Catholics don’t see it as an exclusive disjunction, as an unavoidable either/or. When one prays to the Mother of God one is also praying to God. If my prayer to Jesus is ultimately to the Father, and if my prayer to the Holy Spirit is ultimately to Jesus, and to the Father, I see no reason why my prayer to the saints cannot be as well.

    As for the pun– thanks! It’s very gratifying to have you notice that. God bless.

    -Rob

  10. Constantine says:

    Hi Rob,

    Thank you for your explanations. I also appreciate your kind spirit. Let me apologize for the delay, but I was called out of town and have just returned.

    Your explanation of the “both/and” is very interesting but I must say that I remain unconvinced. For example, as I am having this chat with you I am wholly unable to have a chat, simultaneously with another. And that, it seems to me, is not a matter of interpretation but merely a declaration of the limits of my being, my “human-ness”. So were I to pray to any saint, I would, because of the way God created me, be necessarily unable to pray to Him, unless and until I stopped praying to that saint. There is no room for the “both/and” distinction. Not based on my preferences but just on the way He made me. (I suppose you could say that something metaphysical happens during a prayer. And as a result a prayer to a saint is automatically “re-routed” to God, thereby realizing the “both/and”. But that seems to me wholly unwarranted.)

    As you noted, paragraph 2564 of the Catechism seems to move very powerfully in the direction of prayer to God only:

    2564 Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.

    All three person of the Trinity united in an action directed “wholly to the Father.” The will of the Spirit, in union with the will of the Son directed to the Father. Maybe I am too simplistic but the author of this seems not to have left any room for another interpretation.

    And this seems to be a restatement of Paul’s beautiful description of God’s perfecting work in our prayer in Romans 8:26-27. Because we do not even know what to pray for, God searches our hearts. And because He knows the mind of the Spirit, He sends His Spirit to perfect our pitiful offerings and then the Holy Spirit takes these “perfected” prayers and intercedes for us. How perfect! That God would do all of that for us is so, so humbling. In the words of that old hymn, “I scarce can take it in….”

    I’m left wondering why, with all this, I would direct my prayer anywhere else?

    I don’t know how God will use our interaction, Rob but I am grateful to you for the opportunity. Thank you for your kindness and thoughtfulness. I pray that God richly blesses you as He continues to lead us to Him.

  11. Robert says:

    Constantine,

    “For example, as I am having this chat with you I am wholly unable to have a chat, simultaneously with another. And that, it seems to me, is not a matter of interpretation but merely a declaration of the limits of my being, my “human-ness”.”

    Such limits are the result of temporality, not humanity. Indeed, in heaven we are not in time but in eternity.

    “So were I to pray to any saint, I would, because of the way God created me, be necessarily unable to pray to Him, unless and until I stopped praying to that saint.”

    I’m not trying to say that there are two distinct prayers going on at once. That would make prayer to the saints superfluous. Rather, I’m trying to say that when we pray to the saints we are in communion with God through them. And that’s not quite as ridiculous as trying to– literally– do two things at once. Not two things, but one thing.

    “There is no room for the “both/and” distinction. Not based on my preferences but just on the way He made me. (I suppose you could say that something metaphysical happens during a prayer. And as a result a prayer to a saint is automatically “re-routed” to God, thereby realizing the “both/and”. But that seems to me wholly unwarranted.)”

    Nothing ‘deeper’ and more metaphysical than what the Catechism says. Namely, “Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body.” Union with the saints is union with Christ and vice versa. I think I mistakenly gave you the impression that there are two distinct things going on. Rather, there is only one thing which effects communion with God.

    “Maybe I am too simplistic but the author of this seems not to have left any room for another interpretation.”

    It’s not about being simplistic– I am sure you are not– but about reading this text in context with the rest of the Catechism. And since the rest of the Catechism enthusiastically supports prayer to the saints, I must conclude that it was not the intent of the author to exclude prayer to the saints by this statement. Granted, you may conclude that this statement does in fact do so, but when using the principle of charitable interpretation we ought first to exhaust attempts at reconciling the two without contradiction before we charge an author with contradiction.

    “I’m left wondering why, with all this, I would direct my prayer anywhere else?”

    I think this is where we differ. My point in saying that prayer to the saints is prayer to God is that when we pray to the saints we are entering into communion with God (because Christian prayer unites us with Christ and His Body) is precisely that we are not abandoning prayer to God when we pray to the saints, but rather embracing a different a rich way of entering into communion with God. This is why I reject the ‘either/or’ for the ‘both/and,’ because as long as prayer to the saints unites us in communion with God, then to choose prayer to the saints is not to eschew prayer to God.

    As to why we’d do this– St. James is clear that “the prayer of a righteous man is very effective.” God’s ear is open to his saints, and the most righteous of his saints are living in heaven with Him.

    Thanks for your response. Grace, peace and blessings to you.

    -Rob

  12. Constantine says:

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks, again, for your thoughtfulness. I now have a greater appreciation for your understanding.

    Rather than prolong this, perhaps you will allow me to summarize our positions:

    You believe that prayers to the dead (i.e. saints, Mary, etc.) are warranted. That prayers so offered are offered simultaneously to God through the saints, insofar as the saints are part of the “Body of Christ”. That prayer to the saints “unites us in communion with God.” The saints then deliver these prayers to Christ, who in turn, offers them to the Father. You further believe that the Catechism, taken in its entirety, supports the practice despite the wording of Paragraph 2564 because of other sections that support it. (I hope I’ve stated that fairly.)

    My position would be that prayers to the dead are unwarranted, for the following reasons: Jesus, when asked to teach His disciples to pray, never mentioned praying to the dead, only to pray to “Our Father”. This is reflected in the universal statement of Paragraph 2564, which states that prayer is “wholly directed to the Father”. Given the law of non-contradiction prayer cannot be “wholly directed to the Father” and partially directed elsewhere. And our communion with God, foretold in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34) and affirmed in the New (John 6:37) was perfect in its creation and is perfect in its execution by the will of the Father, who is in no need of our help in that regard. (In Peter’s own words, it “can never perish, spoil or fade”).

    I’m enticed by your quote of James and interpretations of other parts of the Catechism but I fear to pursue them would be an imposition on our Webmaster and readers.

    So let me conclude by thanking you, Rob for your kind and thoughtful responses. I have very much enjoyed our interaction and have learned greatly from you. Perhaps, we will do this again.

    I wish you every blessing.

  13. Robert says:

    Constantine,

    The point of this website is for dialogue between the Catholics writers and people who disagree with them. That you’re interacting in such a pleasant way is a gift and a joy. If you’re finished with discussion, I bid you well and may God bless you. But if you’d like to continue, we’d all like to hear more.

    “The saints then deliver these prayers to Christ, who in turn, offers them to the Father.”

    I think this is accurate, but we must bear in mind that characterizations of temporality have only a limited and analogous application to the saints. In the Apocalypse the saints do exactly what you describe as my position.

    It states that, “Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones” (Revelation 5:8). And again it says, “Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne” (Rev 8:3). So while I do agree with you characterization of the saints offering the prayer to God (which seems to be clearly biblical), I do wonder about how literal it means to be– for in time there is no temporality, and hence no succession of events one after the other. But this is a mystery.

    I would note that this is a very interesting piece of evidence that I’m wondering how you reconcile with your position. You seem to think that no intermediary prayer in heaven ever exists, but the Apocalypse portrays the saints in heaven offering prayers as incense to God.

    “My position would be that prayers to the dead are unwarranted, for the following reasons: Jesus, when asked to teach His disciples to pray, never mentioned praying to the dead, only to pray to “Our Father”.”

    Because something is not explicitly mentioned, it is therefore forbidden? I’m not sure I follow your reasoning on this.

    “This is reflected in the universal statement of Paragraph 2564, which states that prayer is “wholly directed to the Father”. Given the law of non-contradiction prayer cannot be “wholly directed to the Father” and partially directed elsewhere.”

    There are a number of ways to disagree with this. The first is to deny that it’s making a strict logical statement of such a sort. But perhaps the better way would be to locate God the Father as the ultimate end of prayer. And this would be accurate. Hence, prayer directed to the Spirit or the Son is legitimate because it also includes in its scope the entire Trinity (Christian prayer is Trinitarian). Now, if prayer to the Son is legitimate for this reason, then I don’t see why prayer to the saints cannot be legitimate for this reason (indeed, prayer to the saints is just an extension– prayer to the member of the body, which unites one with the Son, and thus the entire Trinity).

    It doesn’t say that God the Father is the *immediate* receptor of every prayer, merely that all prayer is directed to Him. So there is no contradiction.

    But if you think that God the Father must be the immediate receptor of every prayer, then you need to explain how prayer to the other two Persons of the Trinity is legitimate.

    “And our communion with God, foretold in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34) and affirmed in the New (John 6:37) was perfect in its creation and is perfect in its execution by the will of the Father, who is in no need of our help in that regard. (In Peter’s own words, it “can never perish, spoil or fade”).””

    Surely it needs no help. No one would dare argue that God needed creatures or that He currently needs them. Rather, we argue that God saw that it was fitting to include creatures in His plan of salvation. God doesn’t need my prayers, my evangelical witness, or your (or my) pastor’s prayers, witness or preaching to convert sinners and unbelievers. But He uses them. He is such a wonderful God that He decided to include human beings in an integral way in salvation history. God decided to go through human beings like Abraham and Moses, and even to center His Incarnation on the ‘fiat’ of a lowly Jewish girl. Does He need us? No. But has God definitively shown that He has chosen to include us in the accomplishing of His plan? Absolutely!

    So for whatever reason God thought it was more fitting for our communion with Him to be perfected with our communion with others. That’s why the different members of the Body of Christ, as they practice love of neighbor, come into greater love of God. That’s why John says that love of God is to keep His commandments and to love your neighbor. I suspect it is Trinitarian– when man is in a close, intimate and loving relationship with his brothers he most closely resembles the Trinity in Whose Image he was created. And God wants us to most perfectly resemble Himself, and He is Trinity.

    So does God do it because He needs help? Not at all! God does it because He is wonderful, loving and gracious.

    God bless.

    (And by the way, we *really* *really* appreciate your comments. Don’t feel like your are imposing!)

    -Rob

  14. Robert says:

    I wrote, “for in time there is no temporality” which is quite silly. It should read, “for in eternity there is no temporality.”

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