Fr. Joseph Sergott, O.P., Director – July-August 2018, Vol 71, No 4 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
INTERCESSION: AN ESSENTIAL ASPECT OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
by Fr. Joseph Sergott, OP
Intercession is a part of everyday Christian life—but do we fully understand it? What does it mean to intercede on another’s behalf and who is capable of such intercession?
Merriam-Webster defines “intercede” as “to intervene between parties with a view to reconciling differences.” In the secular world this happens all the time. Diplomats act as mediators between nations in conflict with each other. Court-appointed attorneys will sometimes meet with opposing parties to hammer out an agreed-upon resolution. Health advocates speak on behalf of infirm patients who cannot speak for themselves. Parents act on behalf of their children. Intercession in society is commonplace and actually keeps the structures of society intact.
In regard to Jews and Christians, intercession works in a similar way. God’s people have often needed intercessors to speak on their behalf in instances where they could not help themselves or save themselves; or, God himself has chosen to use mediators between himself and his people.
Recall some of the great leaders of the Jewish faith, e.g., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the prophets. All of them—chosen by God—were mediators between God and his people. At times God spoke directly to these leaders with the intent that they would deliver his message to the people. They in turn spoke to God to intercede on behalf of the people. One can recall the intercession or mediation of Moses during the Exodus, as he led the Israelites through the desert, when he told the Lord of the complaints of the people who were hungry and thirsty. God heard Moses’ pleas on their behalf and provided food and water for them.
For Christians, there is one unique intercessor that stands alone, Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. Perhaps we don’t see Jesus in the role of intercessor. But think about it for a moment: when Adam and Eve had betrayed the Lord and sinned, there was as a result, a great chasm created between God and man. So, God, in the fullness of time sent his Son to save us. Jesus’ death on the cross was the greatest act of intercession in human history. Recall the words of St. Paul, “there is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.” (1 Tim 2:5-6)
When we pray the Sorrowful Mysteries, we meditate on that sacrifice of Jesus and how he reconciled all of humanity with God through his passion and death. Ever since Jesus’ death, the Christian people have looked to our Savior as Mediator to intercede on our behalf.
As Christians we believe that Jesus Christ actively continues to be our Savior. We pray in the penitential rite of the Mass, “You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us: Lord, have mercy,” as inspired by the words of St. Paul, “It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” (Rom 8:34) As Our Lord himself says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6)
Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters challenge the Catholic belief of intercessory prayer, questioning that if Jesus is all we need, then why do we look to anyone else? They ask, “Isn’t it saint-worship to ask a saint to pray for us?” But, let’s refer again to the Old Testament: couldn’t we ask: “Why didn’t God just speak to the Israelites directly, why did he use Abraham, Moses or the prophets?” Moreover, in the Christian life it is natural to ask someone else to pray for you. I hope that every Jewish, Protestant and Catholic congregation has intercessory prayer as a part of their worship. It is clear that God answers the prayers of diligent, faithful people—why would he not listen to the pleas of the saints who are already with him in heaven? Consequently, we should seek the prayers of those people who are closest to the Lord, whether they are on earth or in heaven.
Perhaps the key point here is that when people make petitions to God, the Lord responds in the way he chooses, whether it is directly or through an “ambassador” who represents him and acts on his behalf. No matter how the Lord responds, it is his grace that is the active agent. Thus, when we say that a saint “has worked a miracle,” what we are really saying is that God has answered a particular prayer through a saint’s intercession. There is no saint in heaven that would want us to think that he or she answers our prayers independent of God. They would have us recognize that any prayer directed to God through any mediator will be answered by God through his grace.
Along with the Our Father, the Hail Mary is the most well-known intercessory prayer in the world, which includes, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” I wonder how many people have prayed the Hail Mary in desperation when a loved one was dying—even if they had not said the prayer before . . . The Blessed Virgin Mary has a preeminent role as intercessor. As Mother of the Church she prays on our behalf. As one who is “full of grace,” she listens to the prayers of all who come to her. However, she would be the first one to tell you that it is Jesus’ grace that flows through her and that it is his will that she as Mother of the Church intercedes on our behalf. Lumen Gentium states, “Mary’s function as mother . . . in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. [Her] salutary influence on men originates not in any inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all power from it.” (LG #60; CCC #970)
St. Louis De Montfort says, “Let us implore without fear the help and intercession of Mary, our Mother. She is kind, she is tender, and there is nothing harsh or forbidding about her, nothing too sublime or too brilliant. When we see her, we see our own human nature at its purest. She is not the sun, dazzling our weak sight by the brightness of its rays. Rather, she is fair and gentle as the moon, which receives its light from the sun and softens it and adapts it to our limited perception. She is so full of love that no one who asks for her intercession is rejected, no matter how sinful he may be.” (True Devotion, #85)
In the Third Glorious Mystery, we find Mary in the upper room with the disciples, no doubt seeking communion with God and praying for the nascent Church. Ever since then intercessory prayer has been a common practice in the Church. It is always part of the Eucharistic Prayer in the Mass in various forms. In addition, following the creed or the homily, the community together makes petitions to God for various needs in the Church or the world (Cf. CCC #1349). Normally, we call these the “prayers of the faithful,” following the inspiration of St. Paul, “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” (1 Tim 2:1-2)
Finally, don’t forget that each one of us can pray for anyone. Even when we are infirm and bed-ridden, we can offer up our sufferings for those who are in need, including for the faithful departed. So, let us be reminded of the power of intercessory prayer, let us call upon the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and seek the Lord’s grace that flows freely toward those who ask for help.
Blessings & Petitions Corner
Please pray for the complete and Divine healing of my brother, Tahsin,who had hip-bone surgery recently. Pray also for me and my father, Mehmet, and for all my brothers and sisters, and for the soul of my mother, Nedime, and for all my departed family members. God Bless you for all you do for us. Cecilia
Please pray for my grand-nephew, Nicolas, as he is being treated for serious illness. Also, please pray for his mother and grandmother that they become true instruments of healing in this young man’s life. Billie, Portland, Oregon
I have two grandsons with Cystic Fibrosis (CF). Your prayers have helped them, even averting a surgery, for which I am extremely grateful. I ask for prayers for all who suffer from this illness. Calvin, Oregon
The Name of Jesus was first spoken by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His Name came down from heaven along with the promise that Jesus would be “great, the Son of the Most High, sitting on the throne of David and ruling over the house of Jacob in an eternal Kingdom.” (cf. Lk. 1:32-33)
Mary was the first one given the exact name of the Son of God. All other names about Jesus were descriptive: “Emmanuel (God-with-us), Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father forever, Prince of Peace.” (Is. 7:14; 9:5) The Name “Jesus” means “Savior.” “Jesus” is the Latin form of the Greek Name, “Iesous” which transliterated the Hebrew name Joshua or Jeshua.
The first person to be named Joshua in the Bible is Joshua, the son of Nun, who himself received the name from Moses. (Num. 13:16). In the Book of Numbers, Moses renames Heshua, Joshua. “Heshua” means “Salvation” while “Joshua” means “God saves.” Moses added the divine prefix to his name. Joshua, coming from the promised land, describes the land that the Israelites are to take as “a good land, a land which flows with milk and honey.” (Num. 14:7, 8) Joshua is also the one to lead the Israelite people into the promised land across the Jordan River and to say to the Israelite people: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Jos. 24:15)
The name “Jesus” is also a family name for the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the genealogy of Jesus according to Luke, one of Jesus’ ancestors is “Joshua, son of Eliezer.” (Lk. 3:29) Elizabeth was asked about the name John, because it was not a family name. Mary does not have to ask the question that was asked of Elizabeth, because Jesus was a family name. The plan of salvation comes through a woman, and was started long ago. The very name of Jesus was given at the beginning with Joshua, son of Nun, continues in the line of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Joshua, son of Eliezer, and finds its completion with the Name pronounced first from heaven by the angel Gabriel, Jesus, the son of Joseph. (Lk. 3:23) The Blessed Virgin Mary knows that this Jesus, her son, is the new Joshua, who comes from our heavenly home and so can tell us of it. He receives the name “God saves,” a family name. He leads his people across the new Jordan by baptism to enter into the promised inheritance of the Son of God.
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