Marie from North Carolina asked: “When we pray, who are we supposed to pray to? Growing up I was taught to ask the Holy Spirit for “enlightenment.” When Jesus was on Earth, he taught us to pray the “Our Father.” In the Old Testament, God reveals himself as Yahweh. And what about the Catholics that pray to the saints?
Thank you, Marie, for your question.
Prayer is a remarkable experience, because every member of the Trinity is directly involved in our prayers. I want to talk about each member’s role, but let’s start by answering your question directly.
You correctly brought up Jesus’s instruction on prayer and telling us to pray to, “our Father in heaven...” (Matthew 6:9). in our prayers we are to address the Father. Nowhere are we instructed to entreat any other member of the Trinity. James describes how every good gift on earth comes from above, from the Father, so we ought to go directly to Him, since He longs to give generously (Matthew 7:11; James 1:5). And since we are not directed to pray to the Son or the Spirit, we certainly should not be praying to various saints, as Catholic tradition has done for centuries.
But just because we pray to the Father does not mean the other Trinity members aren’t involved. Our access to the Father is only through the Son (John 14:6) and He actively intercedes for us in the heavenly court. During the Last Supper, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray in His name—according to His will and on account of His work. Jesus intercedes for us not by bringing our requests to the Father but by asserting our relationship to the Father as sons and daughters through His own finished work. Our access to the Father in prayer is only possible because of the working of the Son.
What then of the Holy Spirit? His role is in guiding us in the ways of God and helping us understand His mind as well as sealing our redemption. Paul writes, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). When we are at a loss for words and do not know what exactly to pray for, the Holy Spirit takes our hearts and God’s will and translates them together into the prayer presented to the Father.
We pray directly to the Father. We can give thanks to the Son and the Spirit, but our requests should be addressed directly to the Father. However, we are to pray to Him having believed in the Son and being adopted into the family of God through Jesus’ work. We can also rejoice that the Holy Spirit helps us as we pray so that we pray according to God’s will!