Why Praying to the Saints Is Not Necromancy

The Saints Are Alive

“And everyone that liveth, and believeth in Me, shall not die for ever” (John 11:26).

An insult sometimes lobbed against Catholics, largely from Protestants, is that the invocation of saints, including the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the form of necromancy condemned in Deuteronomy 18:10-11. Necromancy is defined as a form of black magic whereby someone summons the dead in apparitions, visions, or bodily form for the purpose of divination. Divination may include the foretelling of future events, the discovery of hidden knowledge, bringing someone back from the dead, or using the dead as weapons. Such an accusation by Protestants is nothing less than complete and utter blasphemy.

Have Protestants forgotten that the saints are truly alive in Christ? While their bodies may be in the ground,[1] their souls are not dead, and they live now with Christ in Heaven. In a very real sense, we could accurately say the saints are more alive than us here on earth. Why? Because they behold the face of the Living God (Beatific Vision) and are so much closer to Him.[2] They are intimately and deeply united with the Source of All Life – in a way we can’t even imagine right now (cf. 1 Cor 2:9).

This is not true of the souls in hell. While the souls of all men are immortal, those in hell are “eternally dead.” Even at the Last Judgment (see Apoc 20:11-15), these souls will be judged according to their works and “cast into the pool of fire” for all eternity. As St. John writes, “This is the second death” which we might paraphrase as “the eternal death.”

What Is Death?

In general, we use the word “death” to refer to the moment in which the body and soul are separated. The body no longer has life because it has been separated from its animating principle (the soul) and so the body begins to physically decompose.

However, in the Scriptures we find different meanings to the word “death,” which include the aforementioned definition and also the death of hell, or we might say the “death” of the soul. Because of this confusion of terms, St. Paul will at times use different terminology. He will speak of those who are “asleep” in Christ (cf. 1 Thess 4:12-15), though clearly these are people who are not ‘sleeping’ but have suffered the separation of body from soul. He also calls them “the dead who are in Christ.” Similarly, St. John uses the curious term of “second death.” Interestingly, this is a punishment that even death itself undergoes. Scripture reads: “And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire” (Apoc 20:14).

The human soul is immortal and cannot die. And if that is the case, which it is, then the souls in Heaven are alive. And through the power of God, our petitions can be made known to the saints. We know this is the case by the untold number of petitions granted by God through the intercession of various saints. This would surely not be allowed by God if He disdained the invocation of the saints. Even the Sacred Scriptures show the effect of intercession through saints.

Divination Is a Mortal Sin

Divination and all forms of magic are evil and have no place whatsoever with the Catholic Faith as they are directly contrary to the First Commandment.

Sins against the First Commandment include: failing to pray, failing to study the Faith, neglecting spiritual duties, taking part in the worship of non-Catholic religions, despair, presumption, idolatry, consulting fortune-tellers, and observing superstitious practices like horoscopes. The Baltimore Catechism #3, Q. 1151 likewise clearly expresses this prohibition against spells and charms: “Those who make use of spells and charms, or who believe in dreams, in mediums, spiritists, fortune-tellers, and the like, sin against the first Commandment, because they attribute to creatures perfections which belong to God alone.”

However, contrary to the accusations of the Church’s enemies, Sacramentals are not charms and do not violate the First Commandment, as the Baltimore Catechism,

Q. 1153 further clarifies: “Agnus Deis.[3] medals, scapulars, etc., which we wear about our bodies, are not charms, for we do not expect any help from these things themselves, but, through the blessing they have received from the Church, we expect help from God, the Blessed Mother, or the Saint in whose honor we wear them. On the contrary, they who wear charms expect help from the charms themselves, or from some evil spirit.”

Notice the critical difference. What is the source of the power that men are seeing help from? One must address if the power comes from God, the Author of all Life, or if it comes from those in hell (eternal death). These are the only two sources for power greater than the natural world we know.

Contrast Necromancy with the Invocation of the Saints

The Church has unequivocally condemned all such divination without exception for Her entire existence. Simon the Magician, the namesake for the sin of simony, desired to use magic for his own perverted ends. Ancient sources of tradition also indicate that this same Simon Magus employed satanic preternatural power to curry Emperor Nero’s favor. Simon became part of the imperial court. He even claimed he could rise into the heavens, mimicking Christ’s Ascension. Saint Peter was present at this spectacle and commanded the diabolical powers to cease. Simon fell to his death. Nero was infuriated. It was on account of this incident that Nero determined to have Saint Peter executed.

The command against Necromancy in the Book of Deuteronomy was imposed on the Jews who sought the use of various mediums like sorcerers and wizards who could be used to gain knowledge from God. We see this in 1 Kings 28:7 where the witch of Endor makes the ghost of Samuel[4] appear to Saul. This practice of using the dead and forcing them to do our bidding comes from demonic powers. Contrast this with the pious practice of Catholics who ask the saints to come to our aid. There is no coercion or summoning! A clear comparison would immediately dispel such an accusation.

Those who claim Catholics engage in necromancy lob such a claim that is utterly and completely baseless. The Catholic does not claim to be able to use any powers to foretell the future, use the dead as our weapons, or coerce them to serve us. The saints are alive now in Heaven. And through the power of God, they hear our prayers and God can present our requests to them. And we pray that they will intercede for us and pray for us to God, Who they see right now in Heaven face to face.

Prayer for the Conversion of Protestants through the Intercession of St. John the Baptist

O most zealous messenger of God, Saint John the Baptist, while thou didst work no miracles on others, thou didst draw after thee crowds, to prepare them to receive Our Savior worthily and to listen to His heavenly teaching. This thou didst do solely by the example of thy holy life and the practice of every good work. Pray that we also may receive the grace to lead many souls to God, but, above all, the souls of those who are still outside the One Fold in our own beloved country. Amen.

[1] An important exception to this is the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was assumed into Heaven with Her soul at the end of Her mortal life. This is the Catholic dogma of the Assumption. See https://fatima.org/news-views/catholic-apologetics-129/ for more information on this necessary dogma of the Faith.

[2] Likewise, the holy souls in Purgatory are “more alive” than those on earth. Their souls are immortal. And although they are suffering terribly, they are in the state of grace and will never offend God again. The holy souls will never sin and are more closely united to God than we are. Those of us here on earth still have the potential of sinning mortally and suffering the eternal death (i.e., hell).

[3] The name Agnus Dei has been given to certain discs of wax impressed with the figure of a lamb and blessed during the Easter season by the Pope. The last Pope to have consecrated them was Pope Pius XII.

[4] At this moment in salvation history, Samuel’s soul would have been in the Limbo of the Fathers. He would only be able to enter Heaven once Christ died, rose, and ascended and opened the Gates of Heaven. It is Catholic teaching that Christ’s glorified humanity entered Heaven before any other human. This is, of course eminently fitting. However, the issue that makes this a case of necromancy is not whether Samuel was a holy soul and will live forever in Heaven with God, but rather because calling his soul forth was coerced and against the active Will of God.