- Catholic beliefs on the power of prayer
Prayeris a central theme in the common Bibleof the Abrahamic religions, where various forms of prayer appear; the most common forms being petition, thanksgiving and worship. When people pray as a form of petition, they hope for a certain outcome either in the physical world, e.g. the recovery of a person from an ailment, or in the spiritual world, e.g. the repose of a soul via a prayer for the dead. However, not all prayers include direct petitions, for they may be " Acts of Reparation" which do not involve a petition for a living or deceased beneficiary, but aim to "repair the sins of others", e.g. as Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ. [Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12775a.htm]
Catholic tradition has had a long history of making specific promises to those who pray and emphasizing the power of prayer to change the world. Prayer has been used as a method, and a tool for strengthening the Church, and its members at the individual level, both before the
Protestant Reformationin the 16th century and thereafter in the Catholiccontext.
Belief in Prayer
The belief in prayer is central to Christianity. In the
Gospel, Jesusoften encouraged prayer and offered prayers. In the Gospel of John, after "looking towards heaven", in Jesus prayed to The Father for his Apostles and followers:
:"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one"." [ [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john%2017;&version=31; BibleGateway.com - Passage Lookup: John 17 ] ]
New Testamentmakes several references to the extraordinary power of prayer. For instance, in Jesussaid to his Apostles:
:"Truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you" [ [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2017:20&version=9; BibleGateway.com - Passage Lookup: Matthew 17:20 ] ] .
Yet the Bible does not simply depict prayer as a "channel for submitting petitions" to God, but at times portrays it as a method of obtaining personal strength. For instance, when
Jesusprayed during his Agony in the Gardenin Gethsemanejust before he was betrayed for Crucifixion, states:
:"An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him" [ [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2022:43 BibleGateway.com - Passage Lookup: Luke 22:43 ] ] "
Almost 2,000 years later Catholic figures continue to reinforce the belief in prayer and emphasize its importance. For instance, in his book "An Invitation to Prayer"
Pope John Paul IIemhasized prayer as the cornerstone of Catholic life [Pope John Paul II "An Invitation to Prayer" ISBN 0743449061] . Similarly, in her book "Everything Starts from Prayer" Mother Teresaof Calcuttastressed the importance of prayer in every aspect of life to Catholics, from multiple perspectives [Mother Teresa, "Everything Starts from Prayer" ISBN 978-1883991258] .
From the viewpoint of the "psychology of prayer", in their book Ann and Barry Ulanov, suggest that belief in prayer has deep roots in the human
psycheand although it may be suppressed by rational and scientific debate, it often resurfaces at times of distress for it is a primary language for communicating with the supernatural world [ Ann and Barry Ulanov, "Primary Speech: A Psychology Of Prayer": ISBN 978-0804211345] .
Despite the promises associated with the power of prayer, the direct measurement of its effect is often discouraged in the
Abrahamic religions, e.g. Deuteronomy6:16 states: "You shall not test the Lord thy God" [ Deuteronomy6:16 [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=deuteronomy%206:16;&version=49;] ] .
Promise of prayer
The 1,189 chapters of the
Bibleinclude 1,260 promises, a number of which relate to prayer [Bible statistics http://agards-bible-timeline.com/q10_bible-facts.html] . But long after the last book of the Biblewas written, Christian leaders, be they saints, preachers or popeshave continued to make further promises to the faithful who prayed.
Christian tradition holds that fifteen specific prayers and twenty one promises were revealed to
Saint Bridget of Sweden (also known as Saint Brigitta) by
Jesusin Romein the 14th century [Prayers of Saint Bridget http://medjugorje.org/pieta.htm] . Pope Pius IXapproved these promises in 1862 and Pope Benedict XVagreed with them [ [http://www.catholictradition.org/Passion/bridget.htm The Passion Of Christ ] ] . The Holy Seepublished the prayers and promises by decree of November 18, 1966, in volume 58 of Acta Apostolicae Sedis[ [http://www.holysouls.info/stbridget.php Holy Souls Online - Purgatory Resources ] ] . According to Saint Birgitta, Jesusmade twenty one specific promises to anyone who recited the fifteen prayers for a whole year. The promises range from the deliverance of other souls from purgatory, to the salvation of the person performing the prayers and their avoidance of sudden death [ [http://www.holysouls.info/stbridget.php Holy Souls Online - Purgatory Resources ] ] [Saint Brigitta web site http://www.saintbirgitta.com] .
aint Marie Alacoque
From 1673 to 1675 Saint Marguerite
Marie Alacoquereported a series of "visions of Christ" speaking to her which led to her founding the Devotion of the Sacred Heartof Jesus [Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09653a.htm] . Initially, her life, actions and writings became the subject of extreme scrutiny by the Catholic Church, but she was eventually declared a saint in 1920 and the Feast of the Sacred Heartis now officially celebrated 19 days after Pentecost. As part of her visions of Jesus and Maryshe stated that Jesus gave her twelve specific promises [Promises reported by Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoquehttp://www.sacredheartapostolate.com/SHA_DevotionPromises.htm] . The promises were directed towards those who pray and practice the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus[Twelve promises for the Sacred Heart of Jesushttp://www.catholicculture.org/liturgicalyear/prayers/view.cfm?id=875] . The promises range from receiving all the graces necessary for their state of life to the grace of final repentance provided they receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months [Fr John Croiset, S.J. "The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus" ISBN 0895553341] .
Holy Face of Jesus
Contemplation of, and prayers to, the
Holy Face of Jesusare believed by some Catholics to have a positive spiritual effect, based on the Catholic devotionapproved by Pope Leo XIIIin 1885 [Dorothy Scallan. "The Holy Man of Tours." (1990) ISBN 0895553902] . According to Sister Marie of St Peter, a Carmelitenun who lived in Tours France, in 1844 she had a vision in which Jesustold her:
:"Those who will contemplate the wounds on My Face here on earth, shall contemplate it radiant in heaven."
She reported that she saw
Saint Veronicawiping away the spit and mud from the face of Jesuswith her veil on the way to Calvary. According to Sister Marie of St Peter, in her visions Jesus told her that He desired devotion to His Holy Face in reparation for sacrilege and blasphemy. She wrote The Golden Arrow Holy Face Devotion (Prayer)which she said was dictated to her by Jesus. She quoted Jesus as saying in her visions:
:"Oh if you only knew what great merit you acquire by saying even once, Admirable is the Name of God, in a spirit of reparation for blasphemy."
The devotion was promoted by the Venerable
Leo Dupontand was later extended, when decades later an Italian nun, Sister Maria PierinaDe Micheli associated the image of the Holy Face of Jesusfrom the Shroud of Turinwith it in 1958 and made the first Holy Face Medalbearing the image of the Holy Face of Jesus. The Holy Face Medalwas already referred to in the writings of Sister Marie of St Peter, as a "Holy Face Coin" almost 90 years earlier. Sister Marie of St Peterwrote that Jesus told her:
:"As in a kingdom they can procure all that is desired with a coin stamped with the King's effigy, so in the Kingdom of Heaven they will obtain all they desire with the precious coin of My Holy Face." [Catholic Tradition on the
Holy Face Medalhttp://www.catholictradition.org/Christ/golden-arrow.htm#ABOUT]
Holy Face Medalwas offered to Pope Pius XIIwho accepted it and approved of the devotion [ Joan Carroll Cruz, OCDS. "Saintly Men of Modern Times." (2003) ISBN 1931709777] .
Among the many Catholic prayers, the Holy Rosary is one of the most prominent, and most often recited prayers. Of course, since the words to the rosary include the words to the
Our Fatherand the Hail Maryprayers, the frequency of the Our Father and the Hail Mary by definition exceed that of the rosary.
There are no exact data on the number of daily rosaries prayed around the world, but to get an idea of the spread of the rosary within Roman Catholics, it is worth noting that literally hundreds of millions of rosaries have been reportedly made and distributed free of charge by volunteers worldwide. A number of rosary-making clubs exist around the world for the purpose of making and distributing rosaries to missions, hospitals, prisons, etc. free of charge. The largest such non-profit organization in the United States is
Our Lady's Rosary Makerswhose 17,000 members annually distribute roughly 7 million free rosaries [Our Lady's Rosary Makers http://www.olrm.org] .
The significance of the rosary is widely emphasized in Catholic teachings, e.g. in his 1981 apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio"
Pope John Paul IIsaid:
:"The rosary should be considered as one of the best and most efficacious prayers" [Catholic Register http://www.catholicregister.org/content/view/1402/857/] ["Familiaris Consortio" http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio_en.html] .
Louis de Montfort's widely read book The Secret of the Rosarydiscusses the religious and mystical views on the rosary from multiple perspectives [Saint Louis de Montfort"Secret of the Rosary" ISBN 978-0895550569] . Interestingly, Pope John Paul IIwas influenced by de Montfort's writings, in that he singled out de Montfort in his "Redemptoris Mater" encyclical and in an address to the Montfortian Fathers, said that reading one of the saint's books ["True Devotion to Mary" online http://www.catholictreasury.info/TrueDevotion/Default.htm] ["True Devotion to Mary" text format http://www.legionofmarytidewater.com/aids.htm] had been a "decisive turning point" in his life [ Pope John Paul IIon Saint Louis de Montforthttp://www.catholicregister.org/content/view/1402/857/] [ Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Redemptoris Mater" http://www.cin.org/jp2ency/jp2mot.html] .
The rosary has also been mentioned as a source of inspiration by a number Roman Catholic figures. For instance, in his encyclical "Rosarium Virginis Mariae"
Pope John Paul IIdiscusses the inspiration of the rosary and how his motto "Totus Tuus" was inspired by the writings of Saint Louis de Montfort[ Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Rosarium Virginis Mariae" http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae_en.html] .
Some Roman Catholics sources suggest that through
Saint Dominicand Blessed Alan de Rupethe Blessed Virgin Mary made fifteen specific promises to Christians who pray the rosary [Dominican Fathers on the Rosary http://www.rosary-center.org/nconobl.htm] , although other sources argue that the rosary and these promises have their roots in the preaching of Alan de Rupebetween 1470-1475 and not Saint Dominic [Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13184b.htm] . And there are sources which try to seek a middle ground to these two views [History of the Rosray http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/ROSARYHS.htm] . Patrick Cardinal Hayesof New Yorkprovided his imprimaturin support of these promises and the first viewpoint [Rosary promises http://www.catholic.org/clife/mary/promises.php] . The fifteen rosary promisesrange from protection from misfortune to meriting a high degree of glory in heaven [Holyrosary.org http://www.theholyrosary.org/power.html] .
The promises attributed to the rosary continue to appear and be extended in the reported
visions of Jesus and Mary. For instance, the Carmelitenun, sister Lucia dos Santosstated that she was told in the Our Lady of Fatimamessages:
:"There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary." [The Holy Rosary http://www.theholyrosary.org/power.html]
The rosary was also featured in the reported visions of Saint
Bernadette Soubirousat Our Lady of Lourdes. In his book The Power of the RosaryRev. Albert Shamon discusses the promises attributed to the rosary in various reported visions such as Our Lady of Fatimaand Međugorje[Rev. Albert Shamon "Power of the Rosary" ISBN 1877678104] .
Other prayers and promises
In the twelfth century
Pope Eugenius IIIapproved of the promises with regards to the Prayer to the shoulder wound of Jesuswhich according to Saint Bernard of Clairvauxwas the wound that inflicted the most pain on Jesusin Calvary[Prayer to the Shoulder Wound of Jesus http://www.olrl.org/pray/shwound.shtml] . The modern version of the prayer bears the imprimaturof Bishop Thomas D. Bevan [Prayer to the Shoulder Wound of Jesus http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=31] .
Prayer as a source of strength
In the Christian tradition personal prayer has been positioned as a source for personal strength, just as
Jesuswas strengthened during prayer in Gethsemanein , i.e. in "first person prayer". And it has been used in "second person prayer" to provide encouragement to others. Moreover, prayer performed corporately in the presence of fellow believers has been encouraged.
First person mental prayer
Mental prayeris a form of prayer recommended in the Catholic Church whereby one loves God through dialogue with him, meditating on his words, and contemplating him. It is a time of silence focused on God and one's relationship with him. It is distinguished from vocal prayers which use set prayers, although mental prayer can proceed by using vocal prayers in order to improve dialogue with God.
Mental prayer is recommended in the Catholic Church as a source of "spiritual strength" and according to Saint
Alphonsus Liguori"all saints have become saints by mental prayer" [Selected Writings of Saint Alphone Liguori ISBN 0809137712] .
econd person prayer
Prayer has been used in the Catholic tradition to provide a sense of hope, perseverance and strength to others, knowing that they are being prayed for. In this case, the person performing the prayer notifies the beneficiary that the prayer is taking place. For instance,
Pope Pius XIIsaid of the Venerable Gabriele Allegra’s attempt to translate the Bibleto Chinese: :“Tell this young priest that he has my special blessing and that I will pray for him every day. He will meet with many difficulties, but let him not lose courage. Nothing is impossible for him who prays, wills and studies. I shall not live to see this work completed, but I shall pray for him in heaven” [Catholic Archives Hong Kong http://archives.catholic.org.hk/memory/G-Allegra.htm] .
Gabriele Allegra40 years to complete the translation of the Bible (given two wars and a revolution while he was in China), but he finished it a few years before he died in Hong Kong[Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Hong Kong Archives http://www.sbofmhk.org/] .
Biblesuggests that group petitions and prayers are different from individual requests. In Jesus said:
:“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." [ [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2018:19;&version=31; BibleGateway.com - Passage Lookup: Matthew 18:19 ] ]
Power of prayer
Bibleattributes effectiveness to prayers performed by the faithful. Building on the statement in that:
:"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." [ [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=66&chapter=5&verse=16&version=31&context=verse BibleGateway.com: Search for a Bible passage in over 35 languages and 50 versions ] ]
Catholic tradition has for centuries continued to attribute power to prayers performed by believers.
Beyond the physical
The belief in the power of Christian prayer to change the world beyond physical efforts has been emphasized in the Catholic tradition over the centuries. The statement in that:
:"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." [ [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2COR+10:4-5) BibleGateway.com - Passage Lookup: 2COR 10:4-5) ] ]
reflects the belief that prayer has more power than physical force. Similarly, 2,000 years later, according to
WikiQuote, Mother Teresasaid:
:"When I was crossing into
Gaza, I was asked at the checkpost whether I was carrying any weapons. I replied: Oh yes, my prayer books."
Mother Teresadid not perceive prayer as a threatening force, but as a force for service, love and peace, for she wrote:
:"The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace. [ [http://www.writespirit.net/authors/mother_teresa/mother_teresa_prayers Mother Teresa Prayers — ] ]
Similarly, as the starting words to the
prayer of Saint Francissuggest:
:"Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon ..."
Catholic tradition positions prayer primarily as a force for seemingly non-physical effects such as peace, forgiveness and pardon.
Long term prayer
In the Christian and Catholic traditions, there are many legends about the power of long term prayer. In the fourth century, Saint
Monica of Hippois said to have prayed for the conversion of her son Augustine for fourteen years [Saint Augustine "Confessions" ISBN 978-0385029551] and he eventually became an influential figure in Christian thought.
Another example of long term prayer often mentioned in the Roman Catholic tradition is that of the
Venerable Leo Dupont, also known as the Holy Man of Tours. Dupont was said to have prayed for 30 years for the public release of messages from sister Marie of St Peterin 1844 regarding the Holy Face of Jesus[Joan Carroll Cruz "Saintly Men of Modern Times" ISBN 1931709777] . Shortly before Dupont's death in 1876, Charles-Théodore Coletwas appointed as the Archbishop of Toursand allowed the records to be made public. Dupont's followers attribute this to Dupont's 30 years of prayer, 10 years of which consisted of almost constant prayer before a candle burning before an image of the Holy Face of Jesus[Dorthy Scalan. "The Holy Man of Tours" ISBN 0895553902] . In 1885 the Devotion to the Holy Face of Jesuswas approved by Pope Leo XIIIand in 1958 Pope Pius XIIdeclared the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus as Shrove Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) for all Roman Catholics [Holy Face Devotion http://www.holyfacedevotion.com/timeline.htm] . Dupont eventually became known as the Apostle of the Holy Face.
Prayer as reparation
Roman Catholictradition includes specific prayers and devotions as " acts of reparation". These prayers do not involve a petition for a living or deceased beneficiary, but aim to "repair the sins of others", e.g. when the name of Jesus Christ is taken in vain, or for the repair of the sin of blasphemy. Some such prayers are provided in the RaccoltaCatholic prayer book, approved by a Decree of 1854, and published by the Holy Seein 1898. [Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12620a.htm]
Some prayers focus on reparations for insults and blasphemies against
Jesus Christand the Holy Name of Jesus. Other prayers are as " Acts of Reparation to the Virgin Mary".
Specific Catholic organizations with the purpose of promoting prayer as reparation have been formed. For instance, the "Archconfraternity of Reparation for blasphemy and the neglect of Sunday" was founded by Msgr.
Pierre Louis Parisisin 1847 and the "Archconfraternity of the Holy Face" was founded in 1851 by the Venerable Leo Dupont, the "Holy Man of Tours". [Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12775a.htm]
Learning to pray
Although many promises are associated with prayer, in his book "The Way to Christ"
Pope John Paul IIwarned against "mechanical prayer" and the need for self reflection before prayer [Pope John Paul II "The Way to Christ" ISBN 978-0060642167] . And in his message for the 42nd "World Day of Prayer" he said:
:"We have to learn to pray: as it were learning this art ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master himself, like the first disciples: 'Lord, teach us to pray!' (Lk 11:1)." [Vatican Message of Pope John Paul II on Prayer http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/messages/vocations/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_20040811_xlii-voc-2005_en.html]
In his book The
Secret of the RosarySaint Louis de Montfortwent into significant detail on how to prepare to say a single rosary. He emphasized "purity of intention" before the rosary begins, the need for "attention", "focus" and "reverence" during the prayer and the necessity of "fighting distractions" [Saint Louis de Montfort"Secret of the Rosary" ISBN 978-0895550569] .
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