I just finished writing a column for The Wanderer. In this week’s burnt offering I was looking at the intercessions made after the consecration during the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer. Here is something of what I wrote:
There is one mediator between God and man, the man God Jesus Christ our Savior (cf. 1 Tim 2:5). When we speak of intercession, we give the greatest prominence to what Christ has done and is doing for us now.
Nevertheless, because we in this vale of tears (the Church in its Militant guise) belong to a Church which includes the angels and saints (the Church in its Triumphant aspect), we also ask the intercession of other members of the Church, those yet living in this world, those who have gone before us, and those persons without material being, the holy angels. We therefore call upon their help from our confident trust in the solidarity of their charity toward us. From charity they desire what is best for our salvation and, in that love, they are willing to help us according to God’s will.
The great translator and sometimes irascible St. Jerome (+420) has a succinct explanation of why we call on the saints for help and why they respond to our prayers. Jerome is carrying on a polemic against a priest named Vigilantius, who had provoked Jerome on a number of fronts. Vigilantius claimed that once we are dead we cannot pray for the living. Jerome responded:
If Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, when they ought still to be anxious for themselves, how much more must they do so when once they have won their crowns, overcome, and triumphed? A single man, Moses, oft wins pardon from God for six hundred thousand armed men; and Stephen, the follower of his Lord and the first Christian martyr, entreats pardon for his persecutors (Acts 7:59-60); and when once they have entered on their life with Christ, shall they have less power than before? The Apostle Paul says that two hundred and seventy-six souls were given to him in the ship (Acts 27:37); and when, after his dissolution, he has begun to be with Christ, must he shut his mouth, and be unable to say a word for those who throughout the whole world have believed in his Gospel? Shall Vigilantius the live dog be better than Paul the dead lion? (Contra Vigilantium 6).
There’s one in the eye for poor Vigi. What might St. Jerome have been like in the age of the weekly newspaper columns, cable news, and the blogosphere?
The affirmation of one mediator between God and man does not exclude that we beg help from the saints and angels.
Whatever merit we have for our salvation is from Christ, who, as St. Augustine (+430) explains, crowns His own merits within us (cf. ep. 194, 19 and, in the 2002 Missale Romanum, the Preface “de sanctis”).
However, even when we pray in our liturgical worship for the intercession of one or more of the “elect” in heaven, we raise the prayer through Christ Jesus our Lord.