Derived from the Latin inter (between) and cedere (to go or pass), intercession is the act of reconciling the differences between two parties. This article considers:(1) the theological notion of intercession; (2) the intercession of Christ; (3) the intercession of Our Lady, the angels, and saints; and (4) the intercession of a wayfarer.
Theological Notion. From the theological viewpoint, intercession is the act of pleading by one who in God's sight has a right to do so in order to obtain mercy for one in need. In this definition the term "pleading" is used because intercession is a species of prayer—in the strict sense of the word, excluding adoration, thanksgiving, and propitiation. Prayer so considered is the act of the practical intellect seeking divine benefits (cf. St. Thomas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 83). Intercession, however, differs from all other species of prayer because the benefit sought is for another. Further, the intercessor must have standing before God, just as defense attorneys must have standing before the court in which they are pleading. The intercessor is taking the position of an advocate for another with God and consequently must have some claim upon the divine benefaction. Christ's right to plead is based on the Hypostatic Union and His Sacrifice on the cross; Mary's right is that of the divine maternity and her association with Christ's sacrifice; the angels and saints have a basis in their participation in the divine life through the beatific vision; a wayfarer can intercede by reason of his friendship with God produced by sanctifying grace and charity. The definition's "one in need" should not be restricted to those in mortal sin, for those in the state of grace need divine mercy since they bear the effects of original sin and forgiven actual sins, and are capable of future sins.
Intercession of Christ. Christ's intercession is part of His mediation. First, the Scriptures explicitly affirm that Christ actually prays for us in heaven (Rom 8.34; Heb 7.25; Jn 2.1). Second, Christ acts as intercessor according to His human nature, for only thus can He stand between God and man.
Intercession of Mary, the Angels, and Saints. A Catholic may entertain no doubts about the fact of their intercession, since the Council of Trent clearly defined this dogma—"the saints, reigning together with Christ, offer their prayers to God for men" (Enchiridion symbolorum 1821). Further, this dogma is contained in both the Old and New Testaments (2 Mc 15.11–16; Tb 12.12; Rv5.8, 8.3). Our Lady's intercession differs from that of the angels and saints because the basis of her intercession, besides her participation in glory, is the divine maternity and her unique cooperation in Christ's sacrifice; moreover, the result of her pleading brings all graces to all men—a point affirmed by many modern popes.
About the nature of the intercession of the blessed two questions arise: (1) How do they know man's needs? and (2) Are their requests always fulfilled? The angels know man's needs through concepts infused in their minds by God and through the supernatural gift of the beatific vision, in which they see the divine decrees dealing with man. The blessed souls have no natural means of knowing those still in via (until the general resurrection), but as in the case of the angels they have knowledge through the beatific vision. In regard to the second question, it can be affirmed that their prayers are always fulfilled in this sense: knowing perfectly the divine decrees, they never request that which God does not intend to give, since their wills always conform to the divine will.
Intercession of Wayfarers. Those in this life are able to pray for others and, indeed, are obliged to do so because of fraternal charity. Although one is not obliged to pray explicitly for a particular individual, unless he is in extreme spiritual need, one may never exclude anyone from his prayers for all. It is useless to pray for the damned in hell and unnecessary to pray for the blessed in heaven. All others, those in the state of grace or not, should be the object of prayer.
Some Christians may object to the doctrine here described, because they see in it a diminution of Christ's mediation. Uneasiness about the doctrine, however, can result from a failure to appreciate a fundamental principle of the divine governance: in the execution of the divine providence God makes use of creatures to produce desired effects. This notion permeates the Scriptures: the role of the Jewish race before the Messiah's coming, Christ's redemptive activity, the Apostles' mission, the writings of the Evangelists, each is an application of the principle. In the same vein the blessed in heaven have a role to play in the sanctification of men; they participate in the divine causality through their intercession. Catholic doctrine in this matter does not diminish the role of Christ the Mediator, for the prayers of each member of His Mystical Body are channeled through the Head.
See Also: saints, intercession of.
Bibliography: f. l. b. cunningham, The Christian Life (Dubuque, Iowa 1959). j. douillet, What Is a Saint?, tr. d. attwater (New York 1958). thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 3a Suppl.,72. r. guardini, Prayer in Practice, tr. prince leopold of loewenstein-wertheim (New York 1957) 184–199. j. de baciocchi, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet (Paris 1947–) 5:1870–73. p. sÉjournÉ, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 14.1:870–978.
[p. j. mahoney]
in·ter·ces·sion / ˌintərˈseshən/ • n. the action of intervening on behalf of another: through the intercession of friends, I was able to obtain her a sinecure. ∎ the action of saying a prayer on behalf of another person: prayers of intercession. DERIVATIVES: in·ter·ces·sor / ˈintərˌsesər/ n. in·ter·ces·so·ry / -ˈsesərē/ adj.