Christians who pray to Mary and saints in heaven to intercede for them sometimes say that praying to Mary and the saints is no different than asking living fellow believers to pray for them. They say that the Scriptures tell us to uphold each other and intercede for each other in prayer (Matthew 5:44; Ephesians 6:18; James 5:16).
Though Scripture doesn’t affirm it, it is conceivable that friends and loved ones who have preceded us to heaven are able to pray for us. But when Christians ask living friends and loved ones to pray for them, they don’t worship or attribute godlike qualities to them. They don’t assume they have unique intercessory abilities and special influence with the Savior. They don’t approach particular strangers and ask for their prayer support. Above all, they don’t “pray” to living friends. They ask them to share the burden of their prayer concerns with the Lord.
Christians who pray to Mary and the saints are assuming much more, believing that Mary and the saints are in a position to help in unique and specific ways: St. Anthony helps locate lost objects; St. Anne combats infertility; St. James the Greater heals arthritis; St. Jude offers hope to “lost causes”; St. Sebastian protects athletes; and many other “saints” are reputed to do specific things for many other categories of needy people.
The pagans of the Roman Empire once prayed to specific gods for help relating to the problems and challenges of life; and when Theodosius I officially outlawed pagan worship in ad 380, many people transferred their devotion from pagan gods to the saints. Thus, prayer to saints came to parallel devotion to the pagan gods of popular Roman religion.
Scripture doesn’t support the idea that “specialist” saints in heaven share with God the ability to hear thousands of prayers simultaneously. Nor does Scripture imply that particular people in heaven are able to intercede with God in a unique way in the case of particular kinds of needs. By attributing such abilities to these saints, we detract from the centrality of Jesus Christ as our divine and human mediator. We project the Savior’s unique qualities (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:26-28; Hebrews 9:24; 1 John 2:1-2) on fellow believers who share our own sinful tendencies and frailties. Instead of honoring the Son of God who gave His life for us, we glorify the needy creatures He came to save. (See the ATQ article Why don’t Protestant Christians worship Mary and the Saints?)