With Angel and Archangels and All the Company of Heaven. . .
I’ve chosen to address the Invocation of the Saints (a bit of a repost, to be honest) because I was reminded of this topic by Father Chad's fine post on Saints and the Liturgy:
How to address this contentious issue, the issue of the "Invocation of the Saints"? Do Anglicans accept this practice? Many do, but think that the Articles are thereby opposed to “Catholicism” as they see it because it denounces the "Romish Doctrine of Invocation." As with some of the other issues we’ve addressed, we must not equate the Roman practices of the Reformation era (or the 19th century, which many Anglicans chose to mimic) with Catholicism proper.
We’ve seen that Purgatory is not a Catholic doctrine (rejected as it is in the Eastern Church and without foundation in the ancient Church), but a Roman one. Here too we must distinguish the Roman from the Catholic, for they are not identical. We can still pray for the departed (as we do in the 1549 and 1928 Eucharists) and have no need to embrace the Roman justification for engaging in the practice by making recourse to the concept of Purgatory. So, do we Anglican believe that the saints pray for us? Yes, for we pray with “all the company of heaven” in the Holy Eucharist (whether one uses the 1549, the 1662, or the 1928 variations). I’ve read pieces by C.S. Lewis and the Rev’d Dr. Toon supporting the notion that as we can ask the saints on earth for their prayers (“oremus”), so too can we ask the Saints in heaven for theirs. However, are there objections to the practice? I must admit that there are, if we engage in this practice after a certain way, namely phrasing the prayers to the saints without reference to God the Father or Christ Jesus. Can the objections be overcome? I believe they can, in a manner commensurate with the thinking of the Caroline divines of Anglicanism and the practice of the ancient Church. On this issue I will first turn to a favorite English Catholic text of mine—Vernon Staley’s The Catholic Religion, for I believe Canon Staley addresses this issue in a concise, honest, and forthright manner:
“That the saints who have gone before pray for us, has always been the belief of the Church. We believe that they join in prayer for us on earth with a power which was not theirs whilst in the flesh—the mother for her children, the priest for his flock, friend for friend. And it is lawful to ask God to grant us a share in their intercession. In what way, or to what extent, the saints are conscious of our needs, has not been revealed to us. The Church of England, in Article XXII condemns “the Romish doctrine concerning invocation of the saints,” that is to say, that system of prayer to the saints which led to their being regarded otherwise than as exalted supplicants. Before the Reformation serious abuses had arisen. It was supposed, for instance, that the saints had power with God because of their own merits, and that they were kinder, and had greater sympathy for sinners than Christ our Saviour. Upon this subject we quote the words of Dr. Pusey—
“The exclusive address of unseen beings has an obvious tendency at once to fall into a sort of worship; it is too like the mode in which we address almighty God to be any way safe; the exclusive request of their intercession is likely at once to constitute them intercessors in a way different from God’s servants on earth, and to interfere with the office of the Great Intercessor;”
and again ,
“For members of the English Church, who desire the prayers of the departed, it has to him ever seemed safest to express the desire for those prayers to God ‘of whom and through whom and to whom are all things.’”pp 130-131
Here we are actually left with a solution to any perceived problem with “invoking the saints,” which we will come back to shortly. In summary of the points above, Canon Staley notes that the Roman practice was tied up with the saints having merits of their own, something that is rejected in the Articles when they reject the works of supererogation: “whereas Christ saith plainly When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants.” The only merits we can rightfully plead are the merits of Christ. So this element of the practice must be left by the theological wayside. We must also reject the notion that the saints are, in a sense, replacements for Christ as a mediator—that Christ is too far off, too fearfully awful that we must come to Him through another channel. The is a notion of the Middle Ages that Staley rightfully notes as erroneous. This idea must be countered, for Christ is our only Mediator and Advocate who intercedes with the Father on our behalf. That Christ is too remote or unsympathetic is no justification for invoking the Saints: We do not come to Christ through the Saints; rather we have communion with the Saints in and through Christ.
The last issue that Staley notes it the idea that the Saints in heaven may not be conscious of our needs. This issue must be addressed. Pusey remarks that “The exclusive address of unseen beings has an obvious tendency at once to fall into a sort of worship; it is too like the mode in which we address almighty God to be any way safe.” Pusey is not rejecting prayers to the Saints—he is commenting that prayers composed in a manner in which they are exclusively addressed to the Saints comes too close to the form of prayer we use to address God alone. What then is the remedy to this and to the criticism that we have no assurance that the Saints even hear our requests? Pusey provides the suggestion that addresses both of these issues, that
“. . .for members of the English Church, who desire the prayers of the departed, it has to him ever seemed safest to express the desire for those prayers to God ‘of whom and through whom and to whom are all things.”
Here we have a conclusion that was arrived at also by the Caroline divines, one that is illustrated by reference to the old Roman Mass itself. For in the old Roman Mass, we have a prayer addressed to God Almighty, but within this prayer there is a request for the prayers of the saints. Again, note that this is not initially a prayer addressed to the Virgin, St. Andrew, or St. Agnes—it is addressed to God and concluded “through Christ.” What many Anglo-Catholics rejected (see Pusey, Staley, or Westcott’s Catholic Principles) were long prayers addressed to the saint alone and giving the saint (especially the Blessed Virgin) titles usually reserved for Christ. But the prayer in the old Roman Mass is different. Within it is a petition that the saints may pray for us. Several other prayers of the old Missals resemble this prayer. Consider this prayer on the Vigil of the Feast of St. Andrew:
“Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God: that as we do prevent the festival of Thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, so he may implore Thy mercy for us; that we being delivered from all our iniquities, may likewise be defended against all adversities. . .”
At this point it should be clear that this older manner of requesting the prayers of the Saints addresses the main concerns that usually arise. In that we are addressing the prayer to God through Christ, we have the assurance that the Saints in heaven are being commanded by God. We do not pray to the saints to bypass Christ because He is too stern and the saints more merciful—the mercy of God is implored and His omnipotence is rightly assumed. Also, we do not use titles and manners of address reserved for God in Trinity. As Pusey rightly states, those who desire the prayers of the saints ought address this desire to God, in whom are all things.