On Thursday, Sept. 15, we will celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. Among other things, this reminds us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, who shared so intimately in the passion of her Divine Son, as our spiritual mother also shares in our sorrows as well. She, and the other saints and angels in heaven, identify with and pray for the Christian faithful who are still on their earthly pilgrimage, and stand ready to assist us in our struggles through this valley of tears. The Church encourages all the faithful to call on them for help in our time of need.
From its beginning, the Church has embraced the invocation of angels and saints, a practice both implicit and explicit in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and thus a constituent part of Divine Revelation. Through its understanding of the communion of saints, which is the spiritual union of all the baptized redeemed, the Church asserts a holy conversation between Christians living and departed. The Church militant (the faithful on earth), the Church penitent or suffering (the souls in purgatory), and the Church triumphant (the souls in heaven) are all united and conversant in Christ, and are companions and confidants in the mystery of faith.
Over the centuries this understanding and practice, which is both doctrinal and liturgical, has been noted in the Church Fathers, and developed and unfolded in Church teaching, through a perfecting of the understanding of the same. The Council of Trent taught that “. . . the saints who reign together with Christ offer up their own prayers to God for men. It is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, and help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Who alone is our Redeemer and Savior.”
In the present day, the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents the ancient roots of this practice in this way: “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . So, by their fraternal concern, our weakness is greatly helped.”
Over time, our elder brothers and sisters, the saints in heaven, came to be associated with particular aspects of intercession. They became heavenly “patrons,” or “advocates,” of places, activities, nations, or particular causes or intentions. This is sometimes true because a specific saint was involved in or associated with a certain place (e.g., because they lived there, were born or died there, or their relics are there); or a certain condition (e.g., St. Peregrine as the patron of those who suffer from cancer, because he had a cancerous tumor on his leg from which he was healed).
Asking for the intercession of the saints and angels, and especially of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is preeminent among the saints and Queen of the Angels, is a time honored tradition in the Catholic Church, a tradition that was upheld and recommended by many of the canonized saints themselves during their lifetimes.
So, let us commend ourselves to our heavenly intercessors, seek their help, and listen now to their counsel as we try to emulate their holiness in this life, and hope to meet them face to face in the life that is to come.
Fr. Richard Ballard