It is a fairly common practice to speak to deceased loved ones. Most of us, when we visit the graves of those who have died, tell them that we miss them and ask them to watch over us. In fact, Catholics have a long tradition of “talking” to those who have died, in the sense that we entrust our prayers to the saints and ask for their intercession before God.
There are important distinctions. The Church has a process of canonization in which certain individuals are recognized as saints in heaven due to the holy lives they led. This process occurs in several stages, including one in which the pope declares them “venerable” for having lived a life of heroic virtue. The intercession of the venerable can be invoked in private prayer. Public and liturgical veneration is only permitted once the person has been beatified (declared “blessed”), which is the stage before canonization. For that reason, when we are praying a litany of saints and blesseds, we don’t add other people to the list — no matter how holy they were.
So what about speaking to a loved one who has died? What about the widowed mother who visits the grave of her deceased husband and talks about their kids? There is no harm in it, as long as it is understood that this is very different from the veneration reserved for the saints. It is also important to remember that we should pray for our deceased loved ones on a regular basis. We do a disservice to them when we presume that they were so holy they have no need of our prayers. We don’t canonize people on our own.
Finally, all of this is vastly different from attempting to communicate with the dead via seances, Ouija boards or mediums. Any use of the occult is spiritually dangerous and opens the door to the demonic. Devotion to the saints — or even telling grandma we miss her on her death anniversary — ultimately points us to God, the source and focus of our worship. Occult and New Age practices do the opposite. They cloud our vision and rob us of our connection to our deceased loved ones, which is always to be grounded in Christ.
Father Scott Jones is episcopal vicar for the Northern Vicariate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.