Q. Sometimes when I pray, I ask for the intercession of certain well-known saints. But at other times I pray instead to departed people whom I have known, loved and respected — my grandmother, for example, or my aunt.
On occasion I even ask for the help of someone who wasn’t a Catholic or whom I didn’t know personally. (Today, for example, I found myself praying to a famous author whom I never met but who once wrote something which affected me deeply and which relates to a struggle I’m now experiencing.) I don’t consider any of this wrong, but I’m wondering what your thoughts are about it. (Superior, Wis.)
A. I think that what you are doing is reasonable, appropriate and, I’m sure, productive. Some might be inclined to say that the "safest" course is to pray only to those saints who have been officially canonized, since by canonization the church declares with the fullness of its authority that a person is in heaven and worthy of veneration.
But there are plenty of people whom we have known personally and who we sense instinctively must be with God because they lived lives that were so decent and faith-filled.
To me it makes sense to ask them to intervene on our behalf, especially since we have already experienced their concern for us. (I pray often to my mother, particularly when faced with a difficult decision or challenge.) Interestingly, you felt it necessary to apologize for praying "even" to non-Catholics. I think you should keep doing that. If only Catholics are with God, then heaven is a far smaller place than I envision.
The practice of asking the saints to intercede on our behalf dates to the earliest years of Christianity and is shared by Catholics, Orthodox and some Anglicans. In Revelation 5:8, John depicts those in heaven as bringing our needs before God under the form of "gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones."
Q. My wife and I are in our mid-70s and have bought cemetery plots and made our funeral arrangements. We selected immediate burial, without any rites, ceremony or embalming. But after talking to family members, we are worried that perhaps, in not having a Catholic funeral Mass, we are sinning gravely and making an irrevocable mistake. Please advise us about this decision, which now weighs heavily on our hearts. (McCamey, Texas)
A. First, to relieve your burden: You are not sinning. A funeral Mass is not an absolute requirement for the burial of a Catholic, and so if you proceed with your present plan, you may do so without guilt. But you might want to give this some further thought.
The Eucharist is the center of Catholic life. It is there that we celebrate the dying and rising of Jesus, there that we celebrate our own hope of resurrection; and it is there, at the time of death, that family and friends gather to pray for the deceased and to commend that person to the mercy of God.
Maybe this is selfish, but when I die I want as many people as possible to gather to say for me the strongest prayer they know — and that prayer is the Mass.
Questions may be sent to Father Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.