We Do Not Pray To (Fill in the Blank)

Reliquary of St. Lawrence

If you have spent any time at all browsing web sites where Catholics and Christians interact, you surely would have observed Romish apologists adamantly declaring that they do not worship Mary. These same champions of Romanism will also declare that Catholics do not pray to the spirits of any of the dead people they call saints. They generally are quick to inform that, when they may appear to be praying to one of their saintly demigods, in reality they are only seeking that spirit’s intercession in their behalf before God. Sure they are.

While surfing the Web for Catholic teaching on Fatima, I came across a site operated by the Shepherds of Christ, one of those nondenominational Catholic denominations. Catholic apologists sometimes point to the number of Christian and other denominations that they group haphazardly under the umbrella of Protestantism. They might make reference to the influence of Ellen G. White on the doctrine of the Seventh Day Adventists; to Mary Baker Eddy’s inspiration in the doctrine of Christian Scientists; to Charles Taze Russell’s influence on the Jehovah’s Witnesses; to John Calvin’s important contributions to the doctrines of the Reformed Church; and so on. After heaping ridicule on all the thousands and thousands of so-called Protestant denominations, they then point out that the doctrine of the Catholic Church is preserved free from error by the Holy Spirit, and that the Catholic Church is marked by unity, not denominationalism. Oh, boy!

Now that I no longer bear the crushing burden of Catholic doctrine on my shoulders, I view the Shepherds of Christ as a Catholic denomination, based on the inspiration of a Jesuit priest, Edward Carter, who “got the word” straight from Jesus. The Shepherds refer to their organization as an apostolate—a Catholic word that in actuality refers to a Catholic denomination.

In an overview of the Shepherds of Christ ministry, the manual provides this information concerning its origins:

Our movement is a Catholic apostolate which strongly supports our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. As you explore this manual, you will find there are three main levels of commitment in Shepherds of Christ Ministries. All three levels are important to the functioning of the ministry. To assist you in exploring this manual, this brief overview may help. All three commitment levels were defined by Jesus in messages either given through Fr. Edward J. Carter, S.J. or through the visionary/locutionist Rita Ring.

Jesus revealed these levels over a period of three years as He built the ministry…-- Shepherds of Christ Apostles Manual, Copyright © 1997 Shepherds of Christ Publications

Those interested in learning the details of the Shepherds’ seven levels of commitment might wish to surf on over to the denomination’s home page. While there, you could take advantage of the opportunity to see the “magic window” where incredibly pious and imaginative people claim Catholic Mary occasionally appears. The Shepherds also claim to have seen the image of Jesus on windows.You will also be treated to plenty of pictures of Edward Carter in action, in retirement and in his coffin. Sure enough looks like a personality cult to me, though the cult founder died a few years ago.

Those who may doubt the authenticity of the the claims that Shepherds of Christ visionaries enjoy a one-on-one relationship with heavenly beings need only surf down this page, past the magic window images and musical scores until they come to the image of the handwritten "marriage certificate" of Rita [Ring] and Jesus. O! Yeah!

The Shepherds of Christ’s Apostles Manual is online as an e-book. In a section entitled Meeting Format, detailed instructions are given concerning the precise ways that chapter meetings of Shepherds of Christ Associates are to be conducted. As you read through the list of formatted prayers, I invite you to recall the words that Almighty God Himself placed on tablets of stone:

1 And God spake all these words, saying,
2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
– Exodus 20:1-6 (KJV)

According to the instructions, 16 prayers or sets of prayers are to be offered during these meetings. The words printed in bold face below, unless otherwise indicated, are quoted from this web page. At the head of the laundry list of prayers to be offered at the meetings is a comment that everything that follows should include the intention [I am fascinated by the Catholic use of that word] of “praying for all the needs of priests the world over.”

The first item on the list is “Hymns,” which may be sung at any time during the prayer segment of the meeting. Catholics make the same use of hymns in their worship as do evangelicals—though they often sing them in praise of beings other than the Lord God Almighty.

This is followed by a prayer to the Holy Spirit. It’s not a bad prayer, as Catholic prayers go:

Come, Holy Spirit, almighty Sanctifier, God of love, who filled the Virgin Mary with grace, who wonderfully changed the hearts of the apostles, who endowed all Your martyrs with miraculous courage, come and sanctify us. Enlighten our minds, strengthen our wills, purify our consciences, rectify our judgment, set our hearts on fire, and preserve us from the misfortunes of resisting Your inspirations. Amen.

The Rosary, that ritualized set of prayers to Catholic Mary interrupted only occasionally by a token prayer to God, is next on the list. This is to be followed by the Salve Regina, another of those prayers that supposedly do not have Catholic Mary as the intended ultimate recipient and which are not to be considered as Marian worship:

Hail Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, our mourning, our weeping in this vale of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

The fifth item in the prayer segment order is a clear statement that Catholics indeed do pray directly to Catholic Mary in the expectation that she herself can and will respond to their supplications. This prayer, The Memorare, reads as follows:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but, in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.

Compare the words of this petition to a pagan deity with these words of Scripture:

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.--1 John 5:13-15, KJV

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.-- Romans 8:26-27, KJV

Catholics I have encountered have tried to convince me that, when they pray to the spirits of the dead, the so-called saints of Catholicism, they are doing no more that seeking that spirit’s intercession in their behalf before God. That seems so strange to me, given that all believers have ready access to the Lord, as we are informed in Scripture. Perhaps the idea is that, by causing a few spirits to take their prayers and petitions before the Throne of God, they will sway His judgment and cause Him to accede to the petitioners’ requests. As if Almighty God could be swayed by necromancy. Our Heavenly Father made His feelings on such things clearly known to the Hebrew children:

When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.-- Deuteronomy 18:9-12, KJV

I have been told, by many of those who would defend the yellow and white banner of the pagan Romish cult, that their offering of prayers and other communications with the spirits of the dead they call saints is not necromancy and, therefore, is not bothersome to God. Here’s what my dictionary has to say about necromancy:

1 : conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events -- Miriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Ed., "necromancy," (C) 2001 Miriam-Webster, Inc,

When I was active in the pro-life movement, I sometimes made presentations in Catholic high schools, usually in the sophomore theology classroom. Invariably, these sessions would begin with a brief prayer session during which students were invited to make known the intentions they wished the group to pray for. I recall prayers [intentions] for the outcome of basketball games, a couple’s first date, a student’s performance in a coming exam, etc. These prayers usually were offered to the Catholic Jesus who, it would seem, has a keen interest in the outcomes of Catholic high school basketball games and such. Sometimes, Catholic Mary was called in to help, as were the occasional other spirit being, such as Saint Jude in the case of the coming exam.

The students’ prayers [intentions] often sought spirit support to influence the course of events at the local level—win a ball game, have a pleasant first date, etc. More advanced necromancers conjure up visitations from Catholic Mary’s ghost or other spirit visitors for information and guidance of a more global nature. Examples of these are the closed sessions—the public were not privy to the interactions between the Catholic mediums and Catholic Mary’s spirit—involving Catholicism’s supreme deity and the contact persons at such places as Fatima, Medjugorje, Conyers and Emmitsburg.

At this point, some Catholic reader might charge that these and other Marian apparitions were not conjured up by those visited but were initiated by Catholic Mary. How do we know that? How do we know that one, or all, of the visited did not first utter some Catholic prayer or incantation to the spirit of Catholic Mary? For that matter, how does anyone know that the ghost du jour actually made an appearance? Perhaps we have their word on it, and that surely should be sufficient. Isn’t it interesting the way Catholics are so ready to accept what Catholic people say while on the other hand often rejecting the clear teaching of the Scriptures?

There will be those Romish apologists who would choose to rebut what I have written above by appeals to semantics. No one is conjuring, or using magic, in their communications with the spirits of the dead they sometimes pray to or visit with. That may be true, or not. Check the pertinent definitions my dictionary has to offer about the verb conjure:

transitive senses
<1 : to charge or entreat earnestly or solemnly
2 a : to summon by or as if by invocation or incantation
b (1) : to affect or effect by or as if by magic…

intransitive senses
1 a : to summon a devil or spirit by invocation or incantation b : to practice magical arts…
-- Miriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Op. cit.

Sixth in the order of business for these meetings is a series of “Seven Hail Marys in honor of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.” Catholic Mary reportedly has promised to reward those who perform this ritual recitation of prayers to her greater glory:

Mary has promised very special graces to those who do this on a daily basis. Included in the promises of Our Lady for those who practice this devotion is her pledge to give special assistance at the hour of death, including the sight of her face. The seven sorrows are:

(1) The first sorrow: the prophecy of Simeon (Hail Mary).
(2) The second sorrow: the flight into Egypt (Hail Mary).
(3) The third sorrow: the loss of the Child Jesus in the temple (Hail Mary).
(4) The fourth sorrow: Jesus and Mary meet on the way to the cross (Hail Mary).
(5) The fifth sorrow: Jesus dies on the cross (Hail Mary).
(6) The sixth sorrow: Jesus is taken down from the cross and laid in Mary's arms (Hail Mary).
(7) The seventh sorrow: the burial of Jesus (Hail Mary).

Did you notice that one of the rewards Catholic Mary will give to those who perform this ritual is the sight of her face when one is dying? I wonder how comforting that will be to those who die having entrusted their eternal fate to the practices and promises of the Catholic Church. Will they cling to that image as they are flung into the eternal flames of Hell? Small comfort indeed.

Next in the list of repeated prayers to the true god of Catholicism, the Catholic Mary, who is sometimes known as Ishtar, Anahita, Semiramis, Aphrodite, Tonantzin and other names, is something called the “Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” This begins with a series of six responsorial pleas for mercy to the Godhead, followed by a laundry list of 51 of the names by which Catholic Mary is known. After each of these names is pronounced, the faithful Associates are to complete the ritual by responding, “Pray for Us.” Then come three responsorial prayers to Jesus and another to Catholic Mary.

The Litany closes with these prayers:

Let us pray: Grant, we beseech You, O Lord God, that we Your servants may enjoy perpetual health of mind and body and, by the glorious intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever virgin, be delivered from present sorrow, and obtain eternal joy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and Blessed Virgin. [My emphasis]

The highlighted words clearly imply that those who pray them believe Mary to have the god-like power to “deliver us always from all dangers.”

Next comes a prayer to Saint Joseph, asking for his protection, a Litany of the Sacred Heart, Promises of the Sacred Heart and a list of 12 Promises of Our Lord to those devoted to His Sacred Heart. These are followed by a Prayer for Priests, a Prayer for all members of the Shepherds of Christ Associates, a Prayer for the spiritual and financial success of the priestly newsletter and a Prayer for all members of the human family.

The next segment of the meeting involves a couple of prayers to St. Michael and our Guardian Angels, followed by personal, silent prayer. The final event in the prayer portion of the Associates’ meeting is an Act of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The very ordered worship described in the foregoing paragraphs, while not to be found in the Missae Romano, does have the Imprimi Potest of Rev. Bradley M. Schaeffer, the Provincial of the Chicago Province of The Society of Jesus, and the Imprimatur of the Most Rev. Carl K. Moeddel, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and, as such, should be considered as having been officially reviewed and approved by Catholic authorities. However, since the above prayer service is not included in the Missae Romano, should not those who have committed to the Shepherds of Christ group be considered members of a Catholic denomination? Furthermore, it appears to me that the Shepherds amount to a personality cult built around the person of the founder, Jesuit Edward Carter.

It seems to me that, were one to look closely at the many so-called apostolates and similar groups within the Catholic Church, he surely would discover that there are nearly as many ‘denominations’ within the framework of the Catholic Church as are to be found in Protestantism.

Something to think about.

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