Rorate Caeli

Guest Op-Ed: Praying to the Saints in the Confiteor

By Veronica A. Arntz

The Great Cloud of Witnesses:

Praying to the Saints in the Confiteor

In the older form of the Confiteor, which is prayed three times in the 1962 liturgy, specific saints are invoked: the Blessed Mother, St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Paul, and then all the Saints. While the listing of these saints in the Confiteor was not retained in the liturgical changes after the Second Vatican Council, this ancient tradition is vital for the spiritual growth of the members of the Body of Christ, for a number of reasons. Indeed, praying for the intercession of the saints while we are on our journey toward the heavenly patria is essential for our sanctification, for these individuals have come before us and are now worshipping before the heavenly throne of God.

The Confiteor is the prayer that asks the Lord to pardon of us of our sins. We admit that we have sinned against our Lord, and we recognize that we are in need of His mercy, of which we are certainly not deserving. How fitting, then, for us to pray to the saints when asking for the Lord’s mercy. Indeed, the Psalms of David reveal a saint who prayed to the Lord for mercy, because he was aware of his deep and profound sinfulness: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1).

If the saints themselves begged for the mercy of God, then surely we too must follow in their example, by asking for the mercy of God. Therefore, when we invoke the saints in the Confiteor, we are asking for their intercession for the Lord’s mercy. We acknowledge the fact that they are in Heaven, and at one time, they, too were in need of mercy. As Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, in his book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness, explains, “When one confesses to St. Michael, to St. Peter and St. Paul, one invokes particular real historical and heavenly patrons, patrons with a special authority and role in the variegated drama of salvation. In spite of our lowliness, we are in communion with them as fellow members of the Mystical Body of Christ” (p. 217). The personal invocation of the saints gives us this hope that we also will join them in the Beatific Vision.

Furthermore, invoking the saints reminds us of the great humility we need when praying to God, especially when praying for His mercy. As we read in Humility of Heart by Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo:

In Paradise there are many Saints who never gave alms on earth: their poverty justified them. There are many Saints who never mortified their bodies by fasting or wearing hair shirts: their bodily infirmities excused them. There are many Saints too who were not virgins: their vocation was otherwise. But in Paradise there is no Saint who was not humble (p. 1).

In other words, while there are many vocations and paths to sanctity, only those who were humble in this life are in Heaven. Even though the paths to humility are diverse—some through poverty, others through hair-shirts, still others through the daily care of children—we are all in need of the virtue if we wish to attain Heaven. But to be humble, we must recognize our own sinfulness and our own human weakness. We must recognize our total dependence on God for everything—and the saints in Heaven have already done this.

It is for this reason that we pray to the saints in the Confiteor: as Dr. Kwasniewski continues, “They [the saints] are hearing our humiliating confession; they, personally, are going to pray for us” (p. 217). By humbling ourselves before the saints, we are preparing ourselves to ask for the intercession of the merciful Father. Humility must be our first step in the spiritual life if we want to be with the saints in Heaven. In the letter to the Hebrews, we read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, RSV).

The saints in Heaven are our “great cloud of witnesses.” They surround us with their prayers and petitions before the heavenly throne, because they have already won the race that we are now enduring. They have already humbled themselves before God, recognizing their deep sinfulness, and begging the Lord for His grace of forgiveness and the grace to amend their lives. In this passage from Scripture, we are reminded that the saints can help us to “lay aside … sin which clings so closely.” Thus, when we pray to the saints in the Confiteor, we should remember that they can help us to put aside our sins, because they have already lived in this vale of tears, and are now in Heaven with God. The saints point us to Christ, who endured the Cross for our sake, and offers the Resurrection of the Body to us, if we should reject our sins and live entirely conformed to Him. Let us then take up our crosses and follow after Christ, praying to the saints for their help, and protection from sin.

Finally, the first saint invoked in the Confiteor is Mary, the Blessed Virgin. This is most fitting, because she was entirely without sin during her life. She was “full of grace,” and for this reason, she can help us to overcome our own attachments to sin. As Co-Redemptrix, she is able to intercede for us with her Son, that we might be given the grace to reject sin and choose to follow God. Mary is our model for living the virtuous life: She was perfectly humble, as exemplified in her Fiat. She submitted herself to the Lord, and now reigns as Queen of Heaven. We should also submit ourselves to the Lord, recognizing the ugliness of our sin, so that our souls may be transformed to be more like Mary, who was perfectly full of grace. She is a loving Mother, who stood beneath the Cross of her Son—she will assist us in all our needs, if we pray for her intercession.

In short, the fact that the Confiteor invokes the saints should give us great hope for the life to come, and for the Resurrection of the Body. They have gone before us, and they have won the race. When we pray to them, we are given the hope that we too might someday be sitting before the heavenly throne of the most Holy Trinity, worshipping the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with Mary and all the saints. Let us, in all humility, recognize our faults, failings, and sinful habits, so that we might have the hope of worshipping our Lord in Heaven.