I know that the Church encourages the faithful to pray for the intercession of Saints and those who are on the path to being canonized. However, what does the Church teach in regards to praying to the deceased who are not known to be in heaven? For example, I’ve had friends and relatives who have prayed to dead relatives or priests whom they have personally known and believed to have lived holy lives.
From the earliest times, Christians have sought the intercession of their beloved deceased. It was apparent to our ancestors that, because of Christ, death did not sever the relationship we have with our Christian brothers and sisters.
Over the centuries, the process of canonization developed to draw attention to particularly holy persons who were both powerful intercessors and also solid role models for Christian life and death.
The Church allows in her public official liturgies only the invocation of those who have been officially canonized or, limited to specific areas or religious orders, those who have been beatified.
That doesn’t prevent us from seeking the intercession of family members and friends known to us who lived holy lives and are, presumably, in purgatory or heaven.
If they are in purgatory, there remains some doubt as to whether they can intercede on our behalf.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that they cannot (Summa Theologiae II-II. 83.11). St. Robert Bellarmine disagrees (De Purgatorio, lib. II, xv) saying that the souls of the departed can pray for us in purgatory just as much as we can pray for each other on earth. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, St. Catherine of Bologna, and St. Teresa of Avila also say souls in purgatory can pray for us.
All the saints and orthodox theologians, most certainly, endorse the notion that we should pray for our beloved dead. In purgatory, they cannot earn any more indulgences on their own effort, and so rely on us to quicken their release and entrance into paradise.
Of course, souls that are damned to hell cannot pray for us.
If we ask the intercession of someone we THOUGHT was holy but who, instead, is now in hell, then I’m sure that God in His Mercy, will assign our request to another intercessor.