Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Bible and the Mass, Part II

“And I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”

Did you ever have someone accost you after church and regale you with their tale of woe? They have an uncle with a kidney infection, Aunt Stella has the gout, Gabriella ran off with a Gandhi impersonator, and their breasts have suddenly become too big. In order to get to the Big Boy before the brunch buffet closes you just tell him, “Oh, I’m sorry. Look, I’ll pray for you.” Then you disappear into the sunset, leaving him in the dust, and an hour later the only thing you are praying for is the sweet release from the clutches of gluttony.

My point in the preceding paragraph is not that Gandhi impersonators aren’t worthy of love and devotion, but that we never think twice about asking someone to pray for us. Regardless of whether we believe in the efficacy of prayer or not, as soon as we have a need we are usually asking for prayer.

In this particular portion of the Penitential Rite, after they have confessed that they are sinners in thought and in deed, Catholics are recognizing that they can’t walk the highway of holiness alone. They are asking for the prayers of their Christian brothers and sisters; not only that, they are reaching a step higher and asking the men and women of virtue who have gone before us to intercede for them; not only that, they are asking Mary, the one person on Earth who had a relationship with Jesus unique in all of human history, to pray for them as well. As dark as events on this earth can get we need all the help we can get.

Penalty flags are being thrown all over the field at this point by Christians who believe this is heresy. And I would lay cash money that the first verse on their lips is 1 Timothy 2:5:

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”

Hmm. The impenetrable fortress? The verse that has wooed more than a few unsuspecting Catholics away from the Barque of Peter? I don’t believe that this verse can mean what people are intending it to mean. Let’s take a look.

I looked up the phrase “pray for” in my handy QuickVerse Bible program, New King James Version, and found 24 references. Here are a few:

Matthew 5:44- “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Now why is Jesus even suggesting this? He’s the one mediator, right? Why would he say that we should act as an intercessor for people who hate us? He’s perfectly capable, even more capable than us, of doing such a thing.

Colossians 1:9- “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Why doesn’t Paul just tell the Colossians that they can go to the Lord themselves? After all, he was the one who wrote the “one mediator” verse in the first place. He’s violating his own counsel now.

Hebrews 13:18- “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.” There he goes again. Doesn’t Paul ever read the Word? Hey there, Paul, 1 Timothy says…. Something tells me Paul already knows.

I believe the “one mediatorship” of Christ means something other than intercession. He certainly lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), but Christ’s role as mediator also refers to His priesthood and His sacrifice. Take a look at Hebrews 8:3-6:

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

Look at the contrast. The priest is a mediator because he offers the gifts and sacrifices. Every priest needs something to offer; Jesus also needs something to offer. If Christ was a priest on Earth He would have nothing to offer, because the offerings are a shadow of the heavenly things. So… if Christ is a priest, and He can’t be one on Earth, He must be one in heaven, the Mediator of a better covenant.

I won’t quote the entirety of chapters 8 and 9 of Hebrews; the comparison continues to be made between the earthly priests and our heavenly High Priest. Let’s pick it up in chapter 9, verse 11:

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:11-16)

Bingo. (Catholics like to say that.) Christ’s role as mediator is referring to the offering of His Blood as a sacrifice. He is the mediator of a new covenant.

So Christ’s role as mediator doesn’t exclude the possibility of others interceding for us, acting as mediators of sorts, their ability to intercede based totally on Christ’s offering of Himself having already opened the way for us. People on earth can pray for us. The angels and saints in heaven can’t. Or can they? I propose that it is not impossible for them to intercede. Let’s take a look at Revelation 5:8 for a second:

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (emphasis mine)

The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders were offering bowls of incense which were the prayers of the saints, the word “saints” being used as a reference to all believers at that point in church history. Why wouldn’t the prayers of the saints rise directly to Jesus, so He could offer them to the Father?

Let’s now jump to Revelation 8:

When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:1-4, emphasis mine)

So in this picture of heaven we have the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, and an angel all offering the prayers of the saints upon the altar before the throne. Kind of leads me to believe that God has allowed others, both on earth and in heaven, to participate in the act of intercession. He isn’t jealous that the glory is being taken away from Him.

It is from that groundwork that the doctrine of the intercession of the saints arises. I have no issue with this. That doesn’t mean that Catholics go to the saints to the exclusion of Jesus; not at all. I personally don’t ask the intercession of many saints; St. Jerome the Scripture master, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Maria Goretti are the ones I am particularly fond of. I do pray the Rosary as well. In the plan of salvation Mary had a unique role. A role which I will expound upon next time.


Blogger Yesu's Girl said...

Very beautiful. It will serve as another link in my armor when I explain my Catholic faith.

7:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home