Those who disapprove of asking the intercessions of those saints who have departed to be with Christ seem to have no problem with asking the intercessions of those saints who still remain in this mortal flesh with us. Those who balk at the invocation, “St Benedict, pray for us,” will not hesitate a moment to send out a prayer request via email or call a friend and say, “Please pray for me.” If one believes in the Resurrection of Christ, there is an inescapable inconsistency here.
But let us first take a step back and trace out a certain principle, what we might call the logic of the Incarnation. The fact of the Incarnation carries within it certain unavoidable inferences. If God took on a human body in the Person of Jesus, then the material human body is good and is part of God’s salvation. Indeed, beyond this, matter itself is good. We know this from the creation accounts, of course (God saw that it was good), but it reaches its summit in the Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Further, if God took on a human body, then he must have received that body from his Mother, Mary. If Christ is God, if Mary is his Mother, then Mary is the Mother of God. If human nature is united to divine nature in Christ’s Person, then it must be that the essential factor of human existence is communion with God.
We could do more with this logic of the Incarnation. But let’s now speak of the logic of the Resurrection (and by way of shorthand, I am assuming Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven). If we are united to Christ’s death and resurrection in our baptism (as St. Paul speaks of in Romans 6), then it follows that in Christ all of us are alive and death has no hold on us. We know, of course, from 1 Corinthians 15 that our mortal bodies do die, and, like a seed, will be raised the same yet transfigured, no longer mortal. Like Christ (Luke 24:39) we will be handled and touched, we will have flesh and bones, we may even eat (Luke 24:41-42), but we will also transcend physical boundaries, such as closed and locked doors (John 20:19). But for us, as creatures who experience time, between the moment of our death and our resurrection, we will not lose existence. As St. Paul says in Philippians 1:23, when we depart (die) we are with Christ. And Hebrews 12:1, Revelation 19:1ff, and Luke 16:19ff all appear to indicate not merely a consciousness after death, but a conscious awareness of things occurring among those living still in this mortal life. That is to say, while for us on this side of the grave death appears to be the final barrier to fellowship with our loved ones until the Resurrection, in reality, in Christ all are made alive, and this communion is not ended at death.
So whatever else we may say about the saints who have departed from us to be with Christ, we may not say that they are dead or unaware. It follows then, that if life for the Christian does not end at death, then the same obligations we have to pray for one another do not cease when we die, but remain for us as we are with Christ.
Therefore, the logic of interceding for others applies not just to those of us still living in this mortal life, but also for those who have gone before us into Christ’s presence. That is to say, if we truly believe in the Resurrection of Christ, the notion of the departed saints interceding for us will follow simply and joyfully.
But there is a bit more to say. Let’s first consider what the Lord’s kinsman tells us:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16
The Greek for “as it is working” is not easy to render into English. “Working” is related to the word energeo and also energeia, which carries with it activity, in the New Testament, frequently divine activity. Another translation renders it somewhat awkwardly: is powerful when it is energized. Philippians 2:12-13 contains related words and carries the idea: work out your salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that God both works in you to will and to do his good pleasure. Here in James, what is at work is the prayer of a righteous man. Clearly in the New Testament righteousness has to do with our union with Christ, our transfiguration into his likeness. A righteous man, then, is one united to Christ and doing his will. To amplify a bit what I think James is getting at: our prayers are powerful and effective because of our union with Christ, a union which is not hindered by death. Our prayers are energized by our cooperation in prayer with God.
Thus, the basis of the intercessions of the saints is not their state relative to death, but their dynamic union in Christ. Our prayers for one another are not powerful and effective because we haven’t died yet. Nor are the prayers of the departed saints powerful and effective because they have departed and are with Christ. Rather, the prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective because they are prayed in Christ, in his name, out of our union with him.
It is in our union with Christ that we pray. It is out of that union with Christ that our prayers are heard and answered and we are transformed. Our communion with one another is based on his Resurrection, not on our state relative to death. If death is no barrier to us, in Christ, then neither is geography, time, or any other limitations we have based on our creatureliness and our mortal nature because none of these are barriers to Christ. We may pray and intercede boldly with and for one another. Both here and hereafter.