Thursday, March 12, 2009

To Whom Can Roman Catholics Pray?

That is to say, is it permitted by the sources of authority of Catholicism for the members of Catholicism to pray to anyone beyond God, Mary, and the saints? For some background, James Swan has been discussing this issue at his own blog (Can you pray to whoever you want to?).

Book IV, Part II, Title IV governs "The Veneration of the Saints, Sacred Images, and Relics." The Title includes the following canons:
Canon 1186 To foster the sanctification of the people of God, the Church commends to the special and filial reverence of the Christian faithful the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, Mother of God, whom Christ established as the mother of all people, and promotes the true and authentic veneration of the other saints whose example instructs the Christian faithful and whose intercession sustains them.

Canon 1187 It is permitted to reverence through public veneration only those servants of God whom the authority of the Church has recorded in the list of the saints or the blessed.

Canon 1188 The practice of displaying sacred images in churches for the reverence of the faithful is to remain in effect. Nevertheless, they are to be exhibited in moderate number and in suitable order so that the Christian people are not confused nor occasion given for inappropriate devotion.

Canon 1189 If they are in need of repair, precious images, that is, those distinguished by age, art, or veneration, which are exhibited in churches or oratories for the reverence of the faithful are never to be restored without the written permission of the ordinary; he is to consult experts before he grants permission.

Canon 1190
§1. It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics.

§2. Relics of great significance and other relics honored with great reverence by the people cannot be alienated validly in any manner or transferred permanently without the permission of the Apostolic See.

§3. The prescript of §2 is valid also for images which are honored in some church with great reverence by the people.
As you can see, a lot of the title is taken up with the issue of the idolatry of relics and images. For the issue at hand, the two relevant canons are 1186 (which promotes the veneration of Mary) and 1187 (which prohibits public veneration of non-canonical people).

Now, as a preliminary matter, from what I have read, there is no single global list in reality. Nevertheless, the basic of the idea is that "public veneration" of uncanonized/beatified people is not permitted.

Here's the question: can someone within Catholicism legitimately pray to (religiously venerate) just anyone?

The answer that is typically given in popular circles today is, "As long as you have a good faith belief that the person is in heaven, you can pray to them," or occasionally, "As long as you don't think that the person is in Hell, it's ok to pray to them."

The problem I have with that is two-fold:

1) Obviously, the Scriptures don't tell us that.

2) There does not appear to be any other authoritative source within Catholicism that tells people that they can pray to anyone other the canonized or the blessed.

Now, I can anticipate one argument:

Argument: "Since canon law doesn't prohibit it, as long as it is not 'public,' it's ok."

This is a sort of "if it is not prohibited, then it is permitted" mentality. I understand this mentality, but it does not seem consonant with other of Rome's canon law. For example:
Canon 214 The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life so long as it is consonant with the doctrine of the Church.
So then, the question is whether this particular practice is, objectively, "consonant with the doctrine of the Church" or not.

I liken the arguments that because canon law doesn't specifically address it, people can do what they like, to the argument of the modernists (at Catholic Answers and elsewhere) against the historic practice of prayer veils, a practice clearly mandated in Scripture.

So, for now, I pose this as a question to my readers. What authoritative source out there tells you that you can pray (as Mr. Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers seems to think) to your dead mother, who has not been beatified and really has no real likelihood of being either beatified or canonized, ever?


For those who would prefer the main title discussed above in the authoritative Latin language (I think it still is the authoritative language in canon law) ...

Can. 1186 — Ad sanctificationem populi Dei fovendam, Ecclesia peculiari et filiali christifidelium venerationi commendat Beatam Mariam semper Virginem, Dei Matrem, quam Christus hominum omnium Matrem constituit, atque verum et authenticum promovet cultum aliorum Sanctorum, quorum quidem exemplo christifideles aedificantur et intercessione sustentantur.

Can. 1187 — Cultu publico eos tantum Dei servos venerari licet, qui auctoritate Ecclesiae in album Sanctorum vel Beatorum relati sint.

Can. 1188 — Firma maneat praxis in ecclesiis sacras imagines fidelium venerationi proponendi; attamen moderato numero et congruo ordine exponantur, ne populi christiani admiratio excitetur, neve devotioni minus rectae ansa praebeatur.

Can. 1189 — Imagines pretiosae, idest vetustate, arte, aut cultu praestantes, in ecclesiis vel oratoriis fidelium venerationi expositae, si quando reparatione indigeant, numquam restaurentur sine data scripto licentia ab Ordinario; qui, antequam eam concedat, peritos consulat.

Can. 1190 —

§ 1. Sacras reliquias vendere nefas est.

§ 2. Insignes reliquiae itemque aliae, quae magna populi veneratione honorantur, nequeunt quoquo modo valide alienari neque perpetuo transferri sine Apostolicae Sedis licentia.

§ 3. Praescriptum § 2 valet etiam pro imaginibus, quae in aliqua ecclesia magna populi veneratione honorantur.

P.S. Let me be clear about one other thing. It is wrong to religiously venerate anyone but God. This is a clear teaching in Scripture ("Him only shalt thou serve"). My question in the post, however, is not about that issue - but rather about one apparently unfounded practice that is prevalent in modern Romanism of religiously venerating folks that are not canonized saints, and have no immediate prospects of becoming such.


Ben Douglass said...

Dear Francis,

There is a reason Canon law specifies public veneration. While public veneration of non-beatified persons is prohibited, private veneration is permitted. No one gets beatified unless people are privately venerating him in the first place. I don't have a source for this off the top of my head but I am sure I could find one.

Ben Douglass said...

From the Catholic Encyclopedia: "It must be obvious, however, that while private moral certainty of their sanctity and possession of heavenly glory may suffice for private veneration of the saints, it cannot suffice for public and common acts of that kind."

Kyle said...

This is also interesting in light of the idea, often used by Roman apologists in my experience, that praying to saints is really analogous to asking living Christian friends to pray for us. I always thought that strange considering that the saints are just any other Christians.

Turretinfan said...

I see that Mike has expressed what I can only describe as confusion over this post (link).

The issue that this post raises is best viewed in the context of an ongoing discussion at Beggars All Reformation (link). I'll try to improve the introduction to that post to help make that clear, lest others be similarly confused.


Turretinfan said...

Dear Ben,

The "private veneration" argument is one I was trying to address with the "if it is not prohibited it is permitted" comments in the blog post.

While the encyclopedia is better than nothing, it's not quite authoritative as a matter of faith/morals within the theology of Catholicism, as you are doubtless aware.


Mike Burgess said...

I wasn't confused at all. I think you've made egregious errors. By all means, come over to comment and I'll elaborate at length.

Turretinfan said...


I'm open to the possibility that I've made some egregious error in analyzing the canons in question. On the other hand, your post (when I looked at it earlier) did not identify any errors - it just complained about shifting ground and employed an elaborate analogy that is probably more clear to you than to me.


Mike Burgess said...

I have a new post up which addresses and elaborates on the issues you raised and with my objections to your post. It also briefly touches on one egregious error, but that's a different ball of yarn.

Turretinfan said...

Well, I still haven't spotted the egregious error, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled. Would you condescend to simply tell me straight what you think it is?

I would guess it is the public/private distinction issue, which seemed very important to you, but which was somewhat glossed over in my original post.


Mike Burgess said...

I would like to seek further elucidation from you (as I asked in the combox of my "Elaboration" post) as to what distinction you are drawing between "prayers to and prayers from."
As to the others, I've labeled them. Primary among the errors to which I referred was the use of an incorrect rule of faith on your part and then an illegitimate appeal to that authority, but also the misdirection, the conflation, and so on.

Turretinfan said...

Hi Mike,

I'm working on a new post that should help clarify the distinction amongst for, through, and to.


Mike Burgess said...

Excellent. I see I mistakenly typed "from" above instead of "through." Sorry about that.