If you know much about Roman Catholics, you know they pray to deceased Christians, and especially to Mary.
It seems to me this practice is demonstrably unchristian—in fact, pagan. It turns an ostensible form of Christianity into an obvious kind of spiritist polytheism or ancestor worship. Here are three broadly independent reasons for thinking so:
1. By definition, prayer to saints is a form of occultism
When we pray, we intend to communicate with the person we are praying to. When Christians pray to God, they are communicating to God. Equally, when Catholics pray to deceased saints, they are communicating to the dead—or they think they are. So for instance, if you want Jesus to look kindly on you, you ask Mary to intercede on your behalf. If you need to find your keys, you ask Saint Anthony to help you.
In other words, prayer to the saints is an effort to contact the dead in order to influence God or the world. By definition, this means that anyone who prays to Mary, or Saint Anthony, or any other deceased person, is a medium.
Medium: A person thought to have the power to communicate with the spirits of the dead or with agents of another world or dimension.* Also called psychic. (www.thefreedictionary.com/medium)
It should go without saying that mediumship, and all other forms of occultism, are taken extremely seriously in the Old Testament. For example:
A man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist must be put to death. They are to be stoned; their blood is on their own hands. Leviticus 20:27, HCSB
This isn’t to say we should stone Roman Catholics, of course—we are not living under the laws of ancient Israel. But it illustrates the point that not only is this kind of practice not approved by God, but it is so disapproved that when he instituted his covenant nation, he insisted they eliminate this kind of evil from among them, and prevent it spreading, by executing the perpetrators.
Why so serious?
I won’t develop this idea here—it needs a post of its own—but I believe the harsh penalties for occult practices are because they violate the first commandment. The gods of other nations were not false in the sense of being imaginary, but false in the sense of being real spiritual beings with supernatural power who craved the worship owed to Yahweh. Occultism did, and still does, connect people with these beings. If the occult were merely impotent nonsense, the laws about it seem disproportionately strict and hard to explain. As I say, I won’t develop this idea here, but if you’re in the mood for some careful Bible study, go to something like FaithLife or Lumina, where you can access the translation notes, and check out Ps 82:1-8; Ex 7:10-13, 20-22; 8:6-7, 17-19; 12:12; Num 33:4; Deut 4:33-40 (cf Isa 47:8, 10 on “none besides me”); Deut 32:17.
Suffice to say, if I am right, this makes Roman Catholicism not merely an occultic heresy of Christianity, but a demonic religion in its own right.
2. By definition, prayer to saints is a form of worship
Worship, simply put, is when we treat something or someone as a deity. Needless to say, prayer implicitly treats its object as a deity. While Catholics certainly deny treating the saints as gods, what they say is contradicted by what they do. For example, when Catholics pray to Saint Anthony to help them find their lost keys, this is treating Anthony as someone with power over the domain of lost objects. Protestations notwithstanding, this is functionally indistinguishable from polytheists praying to patron gods who have similar kinds of powers over similar kinds of domains.
Some Catholics I’ve spoken to deny this by saying that they are only asking saints to pray to God for them. This is no different, they say, than asking a friend to pray for them. But when we examine some common Catholic prayers we find this is simply false. This prayer to Saint Anthony explicitly claims his “special power of restoring lost things”, and goes so far as to indicate that this gift extends to ensuring that the person praying “always remain[s] in possession of the true good that is God”! Similarly, consider how this prayer to Mary is worded:
O Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of all the goods which God grants to us miserable sinners, and for this reason, he has made thee so powerful, so rich, and so bountiful, that thou mayest help us in our misery. Thou art the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to thee. Come, then, to my aid, dearest Mother, for I recommend myself to thee. In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul. Count me among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy protection, and it is enough for me. For, if thou protect me, dear Mother, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them; nor from the devils, because thou art more powerful than all hell together; nor even from Jesus, my Judge himself, because, by one prayer from thee, he will be appeased. But one thing I fear; that, in the hour of temptation, I may neglect to call on thee, and thus perish miserably. Obtain for me, then, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace always to have recourse to thee, O Mother of Perpetual Help. Amen. source
These prayers simply do not ask Mary to pray for us as a sister in Jesus; they use language that in any other religion would be explicitly reserved for a deity. Moreover, they ascribe to her roles which in Christianity are explicitly reserved for deity—namely Jesus! Notice, Mary is the one in whom the person praying—a “devoted servant”—trusts for salvation. She is the one who obtains pardon for sins; she protects against demons; she stands between us and the wrath of God. Needless to say, this openly perverts the gospel, where Jesus is not a judge we need saving from through the mediation of a created being, but in fact is the one who does the saving by mediating between us and the Father.
Even if this prayer didn’t accurately reflect Roman Catholic doctrine (although I believe it does), the fact remains that praying to Mary as a deity is commonplace in Roman Catholicism. Not only is she treated as a god by any standard, but she replaces the role of the God. Indeed, in terms of both iconography and worship, the Mary of Roman Catholicism seems to have developed largely from Roman goddess cults. For instance, you probably assumed the statue on the right is Mary. It’s not—it’s a Roman depiction of Isis, originally an Egyptian mother goddess who came to be identified with major Greek and eventually Roman goddesses following the hellenization of Egypt. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome and Isis-worship was outlawed, syncretists just swapped her and baby Horus out for Mary and baby Jesus. Even the title “Queen of Heaven” was retained.
3. Prayer to the saints implies that deceased humans are god-like in power
Catholics defend their practice of prayers to the dead by appealing to the “communion of the saints”. Even those who have passed on, they say, are still part of the same body of Christ—so we can still legitimately speak to them as we would to any other Christian.
But this is bogus for an obvious reason: Catholics do not speak to dead saints as they would to any other Christian! Catholics do not telepathically direct requests to living brethren. Neither do they speak out loud to someone not physically present. It is absurd to imagine doing such things. But if it is absurd to try to communicate with living humans in this way, why is it not also absurd to use these methods to communicate with dead ones?
For the practice of praying to the dead to be sensible, human beings must gain some kind of telepathic powers (whether direct or mediated) upon death. But what evidence, aside from mere question-begging assertion, do Catholics have for this?
Not just telepathy
A further problem: not only can someone like Mary hear prayers in general, but she can presumably hear thousands of them—sometimes perhaps even millions—simultaneously! And not only can she hear them simultaneously, but she can surely act on them simultaneously, since otherwise praying to her would be pointless.
No doubt this explains why, in the prayer I quoted earlier, she is indicated to be more powerful than all the created spiritual beings (elohim) combined. She is vastly more powerful even than an archangel.
How do Catholics explain this while maintaining her essential humanity, and denying that they have elevated her to godhood? In what way is believing that at least some deceased humans have these kinds of supernatural powers any different from deifying them? Functionally speaking, praying to the saints in general becomes indistinguishable from a kind of ancestor-worship; and in particular cases is identical to the most overt forms of polytheism.
* Catholics also pray to angels, which means they fully conform to every part of this definition; but that’s beyond the purview of this article.