Do only Catholics pray to saints?

The practice of praying to saints is most commonly associated with the Catholic Church. However, praying to saints is also practiced in some other Christian denominations as well. In this article, we’ll examine the history and theology behind praying to saints, look at which Christian groups engage in this practice, and explore some of the criticisms and objections that have been raised.

What is prayer to the saints?

Prayer to the saints, also known as hagiolatry or saint worship, is the act of praying to deceased Christians who have been declared “saints” by a church. When Catholics and other groups pray to saints, they are asking the saint to intercede with God on their behalf. For example, someone might pray to Saint Anthony to intercede in finding a lost item or to Saint Jude when praying for a hopeless cause. Prayers are not viewed as being addressed directly to the saint, but rather asking the saint to take the prayers to God.

Praying to saints in the Catholic Church

The practice of praying to saints is an ancient tradition in the Catholic Church dating back to the early centuries of Christianity. The Catholic Church teaches that saints, having died in God’s grace and friendship, are with God in heaven and can intercede with Him on behalf of people here on earth. Praying to saints is seen as a way of asking for their intercession.

According to Catholic doctrine, prayer to saints is understood as asking for their intercession, not worshiping them. The Church teaches that prayer to saints is acceptable and even encouraged as a means of growing closer to God. However, God is the only one due religious worship and adoration.

Some key points about prayer to saints in Catholicism:

  • Saints are seen as models of holiness and friends of God who can pray with and for those on earth.
  • Asking saints for their prayers is no different than asking someone on earth to pray for you.
  • Catholics only pray to canonized saints – people officially recognized for their holiness.
  • Prayers ask saints to intercede on a person’s behalf, not to act on their own.
  • Prayer to saints is not required but encouraged as a spiritual practice.

The Catholic Church has an extensive process called canonization for recognizing saints. Canonization is the official declaration by the Church that someone practiced heroic virtue during their life and is with God in heaven. Once canonized, that person is given the title “Saint” and public veneration, including prayer to the saint, is authorized.

Praying to saints in Eastern Orthodoxy

Like the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches – such as the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches – also have a long tradition of praying to saints. In Orthodoxy, saints are seen as being “alive” in Christ even after physical death. Prayers asking for their intercession are seen as an important part of spiritual life and developing a relationship with God.

Orthodox prayer to saints has many similarities to Catholic practice – saints are asked to pray on behalf of the living, and only canonized saints are prayed to. However, there are some differences:

  • Orthodox saints haven’t gone through as formal of a canonization process.
  • Prayers may be addressed directly to the saint, rather than just asking for intercession.
  • Orthodox Christians pray for the deceased to become saints, while Catholic saints are assumed to be in heaven.

Overall, prayer to saints is an integral part of the spiritual traditions of both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Both share the belief that the saints can hear prayers and intercede with God.

Praying to saints in other Christian denominations

While not as widely practiced today, praying to saints has also been part of the spiritual practices of some Protestant Christian groups.

Lutherans – Martin Luther initially condemned prayer to saints, but later Lutheran theology allowed asking saints for prayers and assistance. Some modern Lutheran churches still include prayers to saints and veneration of their images and relics.

Anglicans/Episcopalians – In the Anglican tradition, prayer to saints declined after the Protestant Reformation but never fully disappeared. Some Anglo-Catholic churches continue to pray to saints and venerate relics today.

Methodists – Early Methodists largely rejected prayer to saints due to their Protestant beliefs. However, the 19th century Oxford Movement brought renewed interest in saints. Some Methodists today pray to saints or spiritual heroes.

Others – In addition, some Reformed churches and high church Evangelical congregations occasionally include prayers to saints or reference their intercession.

Criticisms and objections to praying to saints

While prayer to saints is practiced by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants, it has also been met with criticism since the Reformation. Some of the main objections include:

  • Not Biblical – Critics argue that praying to saints has no basis in the Bible and detracts from direct communion with God.
  • Unnecessary – Some say that saints’ intercession is not necessary as believers can pray directly to God.
  • Takes focus off Christ – Others believe praying to saints lowers Christ’s unique role as sole mediator between God and humanity.
  • Could lead to polytheism or idolatry – Some critics feel veneration of saints borders on worship of someone other than God.

Defenders of prayer to saints counter that asking saints for prayers is no different than asking fellow Christians on earth. They also point out Biblical verses like Revelation 5:8 that speak of angelic intermediaries presenting the prayers of saints.

Do only Catholics pray to saints?

Based on the evidence, it is clear that prayer to saints is practiced not only by Catholics but also Eastern Orthodox, some Lutherans, Anglicans, and members of various other denominations. However, among modern Christians, the practice is much more widespread among Catholics.

Statistics suggest that prayer to saints is a regular spiritual practice for a majority of Catholics worldwide. Surveys indicate that 50-75% of Catholics in America and Europe report praying to saints. In contrast, just 10-25% of mainline Protestants and Evangelicals say they engage in any form of prayer to saints.

So while not exclusive to them, praying to saints is clearly a defining religious practice of the Catholic Church today. The tradition goes back to earliest centuries of Christianity and continues to be widespread in modern times.

Reasons for praying to saints

There are various theological reasons given in support of the practice of praying to saints.

  • Saints are alive in heaven – Death is seen as transforming a saint’s life, not ending it. They remain connected and concerned with those on earth.
  • Saints are part of the communion of saints – All Christians, living and dead, are unified in one church. Saints can pray for other members.
  • Saints are near to God – Heavenly saints stand in God’s presence and can directly intercede with Him.
  • Saints retain compassion – Saints are believed to still feel compassion and pray for those in need.
  • Saints are role models – Saints exemplified lives of heroic virtue and can serve as models.

These kinds of theological explanations are given by defenders of prayer to saints across the denominations that practice it. The exact reasoning expressed differs somewhat between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestant groups.

Veneration vs worship of saints

A common rebuttal to accusations of polytheism is to distinguish between the veneration paid to saints and the worship that is properly only given to God. Veneration indicates deep respect and admiration, while worship implies an act of religion offered only to God.

Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican defenders all emphasize this distinction. They argue that pious devotion shown toward the saints in prayers, hymns, art, etc. is veneration, not worship. Though sometimes resembling worship, veneration does not imply the saints are divine.

However, critics contend this is a meaningless distinction. In their view, the degree of honor and attention given to saints, even if called veneration, is excessive and constitutes worship in practice if not in terminology.

Patron saints

Patron saints are particular saints that have been assigned to watch over and intercede for specific persons, occupations, churches, cities, or countries. The tradition of adopting patron saints emerged in the 4th century CE but flourished in the Middle Ages. Patron saints were seen as heavenly advocates and protectors for their charges.

Here are some well-known patron saints:

Person/Group Patron Saint
Children Saint Nicholas
Animals Saint Francis
Flyers/pilots Saint Joseph of Cupertino
France Saint Joan of Arc
Lost articles Saint Anthony

Patron saint traditions are still widely popular today, though more among Catholics than Protestants. Many churches have patron saints, and people often choose a confirmation saint when they come of age in Catholicism.

Famous saints

Over 10,000 saints have been formally canonized by the Catholic Church. However, a much smaller subset are widely known, popular, and frequently prayed to by name. Some of the most famous Catholic saints include:

  • Mary – Mother of Jesus. Revered for her virtue, motherly protection, and intercession.
  • Joseph – Husband of Mary. Invoked as a fatherly guardian and protector of the church.
  • Peter – Considered the first pope. Seen as holder of the keys to heaven.
  • Therese of Lisieux – French nun known as the “Little Flower.” Popular for her simple spiritual wisdom.
  • Francis of Assisi – Patron saint of animals. Known for poverty and love of nature.

These and many other canonized saints from church history remain renowned for living lives of heroic virtue and closeness to God. Their legacies make them widely appealed to saints for intercession among Catholics worldwide.

Miracles attributed to saints

Many miraculous events have been attributed to the intercession of saints over the centuries. Reports of miracles are often key evidence during the canonization process. Some miracles associated with famous saints include:

  • Saint Patrick – Drove the snakes out of Ireland.
  • Saint Teresa – Reportedly levitated during prayer.
  • Saint Catherine of Siena – Had visions and stigmata.
  • Saint Francis Xavier – Could be in two places simultaneously.
  • Saint Pio – Alleged to read people’s souls and bi-locate.

Such miraculous events are understood as signs of God’s power working through a saint. Modern skeptics often dismiss reports of miracles as fanciful legends or misunderstood natural events rather than actual supernatural occurrences.

Relics of saints

Many Catholics and Orthodox also venerate relics connected to saints. Relics are objects associated with a saint, typically parts of their physical remains or items like clothing or books connected to them. Some types of relics include:

  • First class – Physical remains of a saint such as bone, hair, or ashes.
  • Second class – Items a saint personally owned or frequently used.
  • Third class – Objects that have touched a first or second class relic.

Relics are considered sacred due to their connection to a saint. The practice of preservation and veneration of saints’ relics has been part of Christian history since the early church. Many cathedrals enshrine relics of their patron saints.

Critics argue honoring relics conflicts with the Christian belief in bodily resurrection and sometimes slips into idolatry. Defenders claim relics remind us of the saint’s holy life and miracles, not magical properties. Veneration shows deep respect for the person, not worship of an object.

Saints in other religions

Prayer to heavenly beings for aid and intercession is not unique to Christianity. Similar practices appear in other major world religions:

  • Buddhism – Prayer to bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who vow to assist others in reaching nirvana.
  • Hinduism – Devotion to deities such as Ganesh, seen as accessible divine intermediaries.
  • Islam – Seeking intercession from prophets, martyrs, and pious men and women.
  • Sikhism – Meditation on historic gurus and saints as models of enlightenment.

In these faiths as well, such heavenly beings are not worshiped as gods. Prayer is offered only to one supreme God. But these other enlightened figures are seen as accessible providers of blessings and aid.


Prayer to saints is a practice deeply ingrained in Catholic and Orthodox spirituality, though some Protestants also share this spiritual tradition. Critics see it as unbiblical, unnecessary, or distracting from focus on Christ. Defenders view asking saints for intercession as no different than asking fellow Christians for prayer. While clearly more identified with Catholicism today, the tradition of praying to saints remains an integral part of many Christians’ experience of their faith.

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