When at the St. Sebastian Catacombs in Rome, I placed a veil over my head and knelt in prayer before the altar in the chapel where the body of St. Sebastian lie. After rising, I noticed we were alone except for an American couple. They had glanced at me when I removed the veil.
I felt impressed to started a conversation.
They were nice and Protestant, so naturally--for me anyway--I began a discussion about religion. They, of course, were quite dumbfounded as to why we, who had been Fundamentalist-Protestant-Born-Again-Believers (and claim to have a vibrant relationship with our Savior Jesus Christ), would ever become.... (gulp) C... C... Catholic (wheeze!). The response is both typical and expected, after all, Protestants believe Catholics stubbornly ignore the plain teaching of the Bible--right?
They were knowledgable about scripture, so they graciously took some time from their vacation to “reason together” with us about Christianity and faith and scripture.
Most likely in response to my praying in front of the tomb of St. Sebastian, the woman gently pointed out that Jesus’ parable of Lazarus proves there is no communication between earthly Christians and saints who have died. She referred to this verse:
"And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot ; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence."
There was no time for a full Catholic response to them at that moment, so I thought I would explain it briefly here (and link this to their email address):
In fact, the parable solidly supports four basic Catholic doctrines--including the doctrine of the communion of saints repeated since the fourth century by Christians in the Apostle's Creed. But first let's read the parable in Luke 16:
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
Please note: I am not saying Protestants will agree with the Catholic interpretation of Jesus’ parable, but at least Protestants should admit that Catholics (rightly or wrongly) use the Bible to support these doctrines.
Point 1 Addressing Church Leaders as “Father”
Jesus addresses Abraham as “Father.” Why would Christ address him thus in light of His command:
“And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” Matthew 23: 9 KJV?
Since Christ clearly calls Abraham "father" in His parable, is He contradicting Himself? Do a Bible search for how many times Christ and scripture uses the word "father" to describe our male parent. If it was wrong to do, why would He do it? See Rom. 4:1, 11-18, 9:10; Phil. 2:22; Thess. 2:11; I Tim. 5:1.
Without a lengthy explanation as to exactly what Jesus meant, suffice it to say it was not a command about technically calling someone "father" as Catholics refer to their pastors. It was more meaning that Israel should not claim the "fathers" (the Patriarchs) as their proof for God automatic favor anymore than a Catholic can point to Father Peter as proving their automatic favor with God. So this text cannot be used by Protestants to claim it is wrong to call a priest "father" for Christ entitled Israel's leader Abraham "Father."
Point 2 Purgatory
Neither Abraham nor Lazarus in this parable are understood to be in heaven, yet they are clearly not in hell. This parable speaks of another place, called by the Jews “Abraham’s Bosom” and later by the Catholics “Purgatory.” It is a place of purification we go to for sins we were not repentant for, sins we clung to in this life. That is where both Father Abraham and Lazarus were awaiting heaven.
This statement by Father Abraham, “between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot ; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence,” is used to support the Protestant idea that petitioning the saints in heaven to pray for us is not possible because of this fixed gulf.
In fact, this passage does not address communication, as there is proof by the rich man speaking to Father Abraham that communication is possible past the fixed gulf. Father Abraham’s response is not about communication but about Lazarus, in Abraham’s Bosom before the cross and the New Covenant, who cannot physically returning to the earth to warn the rich man’s brothers.
Point 3 Oral Tradition
Nowhere in the Old Testament is the doctrine of “Abraham’s Bosom.” It is not found in written scripture before Christ refers to it as if it is well-known. Abraham’s Bosom is part of the Hebrew’s oral tradition. Jesus several times in His earthly ministry refers to the oral tradition, citing it as truth.
Point 4 Praying to Saints in Heaven
Even if a dead saint is up in heaven – he or she has no power to answer a prayer. Maybe, at best, they could pray for you but... come on...? Why waste your time praying to a dead saint when you can go straight to God? Jesus directed His prayers to God and told us to pray "our Father." Nowhere in scripture does it say we can pray to a saint or they can listen to us.
Catholic Biblical response:
Notice in this parable that Lazarus is praying (petitioning) someone who is supposedly dead (Abraham)! And the dead rich man is asking something of Father Abraham which is assumed that Abraham can actually do for him!
"Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house."
Why would Christ use such a parable if it taught such an abominable practice such as praying to the dead? Of course He wouldn’t use a devilish practice to make a heavenly point! It is because those who die in Christ or in the favor of God do NOT go to hell. They are not technically dead but asleep as Christ said about Abraham in Matthew 22: 32:
“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
Catholics petition those saints in heaven who are there interceding to God in our behalf. That is their heavenly “job” until Christ comes again. They are actively participating in the salvation of mankind in the same way we are on earth today! They pray for us in the same way that our brothers and sisters in Christ pray for us. Why would Christ tell us to pray for each other, intercede for each other, if it were a “waste of time” as Protestants suggest?
The NT is full of Christians and non-Christians asking for the believers’ prayers, even as a direct command from Christ! And please note that it is not just an empty ritual, prayer by Christians is assumed to have great power!
Pray for me to the Lord... Acts 8: 24
...pray for them which despitefully use you...Matt. 5:44
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him... James 5: 14
...we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. 2 Cor. 5: 20
Pray for me. Pray strenuously with and for me. Rom. 15: 30
... pray for me that when I speak... Eph. 6:19
Pray for me...this will all turn out for my deliverance. Phil. 1:19
...pray for me... Col. 4: 18
Brethren, pray for us. I Thess. 5: 25
Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified. 2 Thess. 3:1
Pray for us.... Heb. 13:18
When Catholics petition saints in heaven for things, Jesus Himself gives credence to this practice in His parable of Lazarus. It is assumed that the patriarch Abraham can and will be able to perform a task asked by someone in torment.
None of these four doctrines have anything to do with the point of Christ’s parable, which is prophecy of Israel remaining in disbelief even after Christ raises Lazarus from the dead later in His ministry. Yet, the parable does have doctrinal issues that are assumed and these need to be pointed out as backing up Catholic doctrines.