My wife came home yesterday with a beautiful little book she found in a local secondhand book store called “Angels are my Friends”. You might be surprised to find that this is a Lutheran production, from Concordia Publishing House, and Cathy was attracted by the fact that it has Luther’s Morning Prayer inside it. (For those who don’t know Luther’s beautiful morning and evening prayers, see here).
As she was going out last night, she left me with directions to use this book as our bed-time devotion with the kids, which I was happy to do. Before reading the book, we read the prayer of Luther, although the kids are more familiar with his evening prayer. I told them that perhaps we could paste the evening prayer into the front cover too, and put in the back cover one of Mia’s favourite prayers “Angel of God, my Guardian dear” and the Prayer to St Michael.
Anyway, we read through the book, which is littered with little bible references to everything about angels all the way through (though without directly quoting the passages).
All was going swimmingly until, towards the very end, we came to this:
As Grandmother closed her bible, she added, “Of course, even though angels are wonderful and we thank God for our good angel friends, we should never worship or pray to them. We worship and pray to God alone” (Matthew 4:10).
Ah, I said, here is one point in “The difference between Lutherans and Catholics 101”). We looked up the bible passage to which Grandmother refers, which reads:
Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’
I pointed out that the passage says we must not worship anyone except God, and that it did not say anything about praying to the saints and angels, which is something that I regular do with the girls (Mia is on a rosary kick at the moment, asking for me to say a decade of the rosary with her each night before she goes to sleep – she uses a little knotted rosary given to her by one of the Dominican Sisters from Nashville at World Youth Day). I said that it is a common mistake of Lutherans to think that when Catholics pray to the saints and angels they are “worshipping” them.
“That’s silly,” piped in Maddy, “praying just means talking to.” Right you are my dear.
And yet this confusion between prayer as an expression of worship and prayer as an expression of communion and intercession is probably the most common reason why protestants object to the traditional practice of Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and why they fail to understand what we are doing when we pray to saints and angels. (Mind you, I am not discounting the fact that many Catholics may not make the proper distinction either in popular practice.) But if Maddy – at 10 years old – can understand the difference, surely it ought not be too difficult for theologians to understand this?
Looking at the Catechism, there isn’t a lot there about prayer to saints and angels. Of course, since it is based on the traditional catechism structure of Creed, Sacraments, Lord’s Prayer and 10 commandments, it focuses more on the “communion of the saints” and prayer as an expression of trust and worship of God. But it does regularly refer to the practice of “asking the intercession” of the saints and angels, eg.
2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom41 [cf. Heb 12:1], especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were “put in charge of many things” [cf. Mt 25:21]. Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.
As Maddy rightly points out, this practice of intercession has more of the character of “talking to” than “worshipping”, and should be distinguished from what we are talking about when we speak of prayer to God.
So we crossed “or pray” out in the above quotation from Grandmother. I told Cathy about this afterwards, and I think it is probably safe to say she wasn’t completely happy. However, as I pointed out, the text cited does not prohibit prayer to the angels, and therefore it was not completely honest of Grandmother to use the text in a polemical way like this. After all, if Lutherans wish to rely on the bible alone for their teaching, it isn’t really fair to add to what it doesn’t say, is it?