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“Ask a Priest: What About Mariology, Prayers to Saints and Absolution of Sins?”
Q: I have been raised Protestant and have held Protestant views for nearly my entire life. Recently, I have felt as though something is missing from it all. I have felt a pull from Catholicism, but there are parts of it that I still am unsure of, particularly Mariology, prayers to saints, and priests being able to absolve sins (although I find no other issue with the sacrament of confession). How can I know if Catholicism is the true church as it claims? Any guidance would be much appreciated. -Z.W.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Thanks for your note. I can’t give you proof about the veracity of Catholicism. If I could, then there would be no need for faith. It takes faith to accept any creed. But I could offer a few points that might help you with your doubts.
Nothing in Catholicism contradicts Scripture. You mention a difficulty with Mariology. Catholics venerate, but not worship, Mary as the Mother of God. Our veneration of her is certainly in line with Scripture, for Mary says, “From now on will all ages call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). And, indeed, we call her the Blessed Mother.
Regarding prayers to the saints: It is normal for Christians to ask one another for prayers. We do it all the time. The intercession of fellow Christians — which is what the saints in heaven are — doesn’t interfere with Christ’s role as the unique mediator between God and man. St. Paul emphasizes that point: “There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Notice, however, in the preceding verses that St. Paul also praises the practice of intercessory prayer. “First of all, then, 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. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
As for priests being able to absolve sins, Scripture itself indicates that this is a power God has chosen to delegate. “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ — he then said to the paralytic, ‘Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.’ He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings” (Matthew 9:6-8). Notice that plural, human beings — the passage isn’t just referring to Jesus’ power to absolve. And later on, in the Gospel according to John, Jesus explicitly delegates this power to his apostles: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained'” (John 20:22-23).
The idea of a person being an instrument for the wiping away of sins should be familiar to Protestants. After all, baptism takes away all sin — and baptism is routinely administered by Protestants to people entering their denomination.
What might be helpful is for you to start looking more closely at the teachings of the Church.
A good place to start could be the Compendium of the Catechism; it has references to specific numbers in the heavier Catechism of the Catholic Church. You also might like the series of books edited by Patrick Madrid under the title “Surprised by Truth.” These books consist of short chapters written by men and women who have come into the Catholic Church after long journeys of study and discernment.
Beyond that, take all this to prayer. Ask Jesus for guidance, and have confidence that the Holy Spirit “will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13). I hope some of this helps. God bless.