Sherlock Holmes an Idolater – Praying to People?

by Steve Ray on January 7, 2019

Last night my wife and I were watching an episode of Sherlock Holmes on TV. He has always been one of my favorite characters and I can remember reading all the stories to our kids as they grew up. On TV I think Jeremy Brett does the best portrayal and it is always a delightful evening to cuddle up and watch another episode.

Last night we were watching “The Copper Beeches” and Sherlock was interviewing a young lady. Her case bored him. But as her story developed, Sherlock became intrigued. He leaned back and said, “Pray, continue.” 

SherlockPrays.jpgMy wife hit the pause button! “What did he say?” We listened again. Sure enough, the Great Sherlock used the word pray when talking to a woman.

But doesn’t “pray” mean worship? In our old Evangelical Protestant days we assumed PRAY was synonymous with WORSHIP. But that was because we were ignorant of our own English language (blame the public schools). 

In the English language, the word pray is much less ostentatious than we Evangelicals blew it up to be. Here is what Wiktionary says,  

1. To petition or solicit help from a supernatural or higher being.
2. To humbly beg a person for aid or their time.
3. (Christianity) to talk to God for any reason.

The least significant usage of the word is to “talk to God” which is still a far cry from falling on one’s face in adoration and worship—an action reserved for the Trinity alone. 

It primarily means to ask of a higher being—which could certainly mean a superior in business, or law or in heaven—for a favor or for their help. It means to ask any person for aid or for their time.  

What was Sherlock Holmes asking when he “prayed” to this woman? He was saying, “Please, I ask you to continue.” Did he worship the woman? Of course not. 

But if we earthy humans ask the assistance and intercession of those who have preceded us to heaven, are we worshiping them or somehow giving them glory that belongs to God alone? CommunionofSaints.jpg

Well let’s ask this—if I ask my brother or sister in Christ on earth to “pray” for me, am I taking away from the glory of God by “praying” or asking them to “pray” or ask God to help me? Of course not, because prayer (talking and asking) and worship are two very different things. 

If I ask a saint who is already in heaven to petition God for me, am I committing idolatry? What foolishness, or course not. I am simply acknowledging that I am not the only Christian in the universe and that the Church is not just made up of me or many earthlings.

Christians, such as Mary and the Apostles, are not dead and gone. They are very much alive before the throne of God. It is made up of all of us still waiting for heaven, but it is also made up of those who have gone on before us with the sign of faith.

You may get asked, “Where in the Bible does it say we should pray to dead saints?” And my answer is always the same, “Where does the Bible say that saints are dead? We Catholic believe in Eternal Life!” 

Again, it is the Evangelical who not only misunderstands spiritual things, but also the English language. I was the most guilty of all, but I had ears to hear (thanks be to God) and I now understand the cosmic reality of the Church and the Communion of Saints. I am much the richer for it. 

Like Sherlock, I can pray to or ask any human creature for information or intercession or help. But it is God alone that I worship. I will ask or pray to any of his people, on earth or in heaven—asking them to intercede or pray for me to the Lord our God. We are after all a big family and the God whom we worship is the Father of us all.

I am so glad I found the Catholic Church and escaped the muddle of mucked up ideas I used to call “Bible-only Christianity.”

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara April 13, 2007 at 9:30 AM

As a law student, I discovered another usage of “pray” that would also make the “Bible-only Christians” uncomfortable. (I know this because before this Easter, I was one of them :) ) It’s very common in the ritual language of legal documents. You ask the court to hear your prayer and to grant you relief.

Cara April 18, 2007 at 8:05 AM

Hello Steve, I have read your book, Crossing the Tiber. You may or may not be personally familiar with the Church of Christ. Our understanding of the Eucharist and Baptism is very much the same. In your book you were able to provide a multitude of scripture and early church writings to support the Catholic position on these subjects. I’m curious, could you do the same for intercessionary prayer to those “who have fallen asleep in Christ”? Christ’s disicples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and Jesus taught, “Our Father, who art in Heaven”… I consider our mutual understanding of Baptism and the Eucharist to be sound, BECAUSE the theme throughout the entire written scripture is consistent. No one ever prayed to Abraham for intercession, and God buried Moses himself so that the people would not worship or pray to Moses. I revere the saints asleep in Christ and Mary, our Lord’s mother too, but they are asleep in Christ, safe until his return. My “alive” brothers and sisters cannot pray for me in their sleep.

I am still learning and will keep trying to understand the road you’ve traveled. Like you said in your book “I want to challenge reality, ask questions, and find answers; I want to know and understand.” But more so, like Paul said, “I want to know Christ”. May each of us be blessed with wisdom from above and strive to be peacemakers with each other.

Mahsheed April 29, 2007 at 9:07 PM

That’s very interesting. I should add that the corollary to that is that worship is more than prayer. worship = prayer sacrifice.
One of the problems is that we post-moderns forget the part about sacrifice. And sacrifice is what is missing from the protestant services, in more than one sense.


Mahsheed April 29, 2007 at 9:07 PM

I don’t know if the plus sign showed up in my comment,
worship=prayer plus sacrifice

Tom Nourse October 9, 2008 at 4:30 PM

You say that no-one prayed to Abraham for intercession? What about in the story of Lazarus and the rich man? Please look at Luke 16:20-31:

20 And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores,

21 Desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table, and no one did give him; moreover the dogs came, and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell. 23 And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: 24 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, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. 25 And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazareth evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented.

22 “Abraham’s bosom”… The place of rest, where the souls of the saints resided, till Christ had opened heaven by his death.

26 And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither. 27 And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father’s house, for I have five brethren, 28 That he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. 29 And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance.

31 And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.


bill912 October 11, 2008 at 3:59 PM

Maybe St. John just thought he saw the saints in heaven offering up to God the prayers of the Christians still in this world that he wrote about in Revelation.

Viona September 3, 2010 at 6:47 AM

Thank you for this write up…it’s what i’ve said it well :)
while we discussing the details of faith- we ought to ask more to pray for the souls in purgatory..

Tom January 13, 2016 at 6:13 PM

@Cara – Hi, I have been studying the Bible myself and have noticed some things that touch on the issues you brought up.

First, you brought up Moses as an example of someone who is “asleep in Christ,” so we shouldn’t pray to him for intercession since someone who is asleep obviously can’t intercede for us with the Father. This made me think of when I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Steve Ray (a life-changing experience!) and we went to Mt. Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration. There in the church there were two side chapels, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Why? Because when Christ was transfigured on Mt. Tabor, these two prophets appeared there and talked to Him! It tells us what happened in Matthew 17:1-3:

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.”

Moses is not asleep here, he is active. In fact, he’s talking to Jesus, who is God. So Moses is alive, active, and talking to God. Why shouldn’t we ask him to intercede for us with God? He talks to Him directly, as do all the saints in heaven.

Christ’s white garment in the Matthew passage makes he think of the Book of Revelation where there are at least two more passages that are relevant to your question of whether or not the saints can intercede for us with God.

One is the passage that Bill912 was referring to, Rev 5:8

“When he (the Lamb) took it (the scroll), the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.”

The twenty-four elders are seated around God’s throne. In other words they are with God in heaven. There are twenty-four of them because there are 12 representing the Old Testament and 12 representing the New Testament people of God, and they are holding gold bowls filled with the prayers of the holy ones. Like a lot of Revelation this is hard to understand, but I see it as the prayers of the holy ones are the ones still alive. So our prayers are in the hands of the elders, representing the Hebrew people and the Christian people who have triumphed and are now with God. These elders can communicate these prayers to God, or intercede for us.

Another passage that shows that the saints in heaven are not “asleep in Christ” until the second coming of Christ is Rev. 7:9-17:

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb”
All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshipped God, and exclaimed:
“Amen. Blessing and glory,
wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever.
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the one who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“For this reason they stand before God’s throne
and worship him day and night
in his temple.
The one who sits on the throne
will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst
nor will the sun or any heat
strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the
center of the throne will
shepherd them
and lead them to springs of life-
giving water,
and God will wipe away every
tear from their eyes.”

This is the elect in heaven, the saints, before the second coming of Christ. They are before the throne of God actively worshipping him. We can pray to them to intercede for us because they are with God. God listens to them because they are the ones that have overcome the world, they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb – in other words, they have remained faithful to Christ and have resisted the temptations of the devil and are the victors. They are not asleep, they are not passive, they are with active, with God.

I can also add on a personal note that I have prayed to St. Jude (the patron saint of impossible causes of which I was once one) and he has interceded with God to bring about powerful miracles in my life and the life of people around me. I’m talking about my wife going to the ER, being diagnosed with a stroke, and then 5 hours later being completely better as if nothing had happened. I’m talking about my daughter getting off meth.

Vincent January 16, 2016 at 5:23 PM

I remember a story of a foundress of a religious sisters in Cebu, Philippines. According to the story she died one day. While at the gate of heaven she was facing St. Peter who look at her name in the book of life. With her was the Blessed Virgin Mary who is according to her very beautiful and you cannot look at her directly due to her most beautiful face. Also around her were all the saints whom she had a devotion while still on earth. All the saints we ask for intercession while we are still on earth will be there during our judgment including of course the Blessed Virgin Mary. She said that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints as our brothers and sisters will intensify their prayers once we are facing the judgment of God. She was prepared for her judgment but St. Peter told her that it is not yet her time as directed by God. She was allowed to go back to the world to found a religious sisters. Thus, she relates this story. The sister of my first cousin’s wife is in this congregation.

CJ Phaedrus January 9, 2019 at 2:32 PM

For some reason I am compelled to comment on a Steve Ray post for the third time in one day.

Jeremy Brett is the definitive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

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