101: Prayer Introduction

Published by S.D. Cason Admin on What is Prayer? A Comprehensive Course



1. Please read the question carefully. 2. Think of an answer. 3. Click to check the answer.

šŸ¤” Who Should We Pray to?

We should only pray to Divine persons (God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.)

šŸ¤·šŸ½ā€ā™€ļø Who Can Pray (intercede) for Us?

Any soul that is not in hell can pray for us. Angels, saints, friends, family, and even souls in purgatory can pray for us and intercede for us.

šŸ™ What Should We Pray for?

Spiritual gifts, temporal needs, and protection from evil.

Full Text

Continue to read this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia to expand your knowledge on this subject!


(Greek euchesthai, Latin precari, French prier, to plead, to beg, to ask earnestly).

An act of the virtue of religion which consists in asking proper gifts or graces from God. In a more general sense it is the application of the mind to Divine things, not merely to acquire a knowledge of them but to make use of such knowledge as a means of union with God. This may be done by acts of praise and thanksgiving, but petition is the principal act of prayer.

The words used to express it in Scripture are: to call up (Genesis 4:26); to intercede (Job 22:10); to mediate (Isaiah 53:10); to consult (1 Samuel 28:6); to beseech (Exodus 32:11); and, very commonly, to cry out to. The Fathers speak of it as the elevation of the mind to God with a view to asking proper things from Him (St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith III.24); communing and conversing with God (St. Gregory of Nyssa, "De oratione dom.", in P.G., XLIV, 1125); talking with God (St. John Chrysostom, "Hom. xxx in Gen.", n. 5, in P.G., LIII, 280). It is therefore the expression of our desires to God whether for ourselves or others. This expression is not intended to instruct or direct God what to do, but to appeal to His goodness for the things we need; and the appeal is necessary, not because He is ignorant of our needs or sentiments, but to give definite form to our desires, to concentrate our whole attention on what we have to recommend to Him, to help us appreciate our close personal relation with Him. The expression need not be external or vocal; internal or mental is sufficient.

By prayer we acknowledge God's power and goodness, our own neediness and dependence. It is therefore an act of the virtue of religion implying the deepest reverence for God and habituating us to look to Him for everything, not merely because the thing asked be good in itself, or advantageous to us, but chiefly because we wish it as a gift of God, and not otherwise, no matter how good or desirable it may seem to us. Prayer presupposes faith in God and hope in His goodness. By both, God, to whom we pray, moves us to prayer. Our knowledge of God by the light of natural reason also inspires us to look to Him for help, but such prayer lacks supernatural inspiration, and though it may avail to keep us from losing our natural knowledge of God and trust in Him, or, to some extent, from offending Him, it cannot positively dispose us to receive His graces.

Objects of Prayer

Like every act that makes for salvation, grace is required not only to dispose us to pray, but also to aid us in determining what to pray for. In this "the spirit helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings" (Romans 8:26). For certain objects we are always sure we should pray, such as our salvation and the general means to it, resistance to temptation, practice of virtue, final perseverance; but constantly we need light and the guidance of the Spirit to know the special means that will most help us in any particular need. That there may be no possibility of misjudgment on our part in such an essential obligation, Christ has taught us what we should ask for in prayer and also in what order we should ask it. In response to the request of His disciples to teach them how to pray, He repeated the prayer commonly spoken of as the Lord's Prayer, from which it appears that above all we are to pray that God may be glorified, and that for this purpose men may be worthy citizens of His kingdom, living in conformity with His will. Indeed, this conformity is implied in every prayer: we should ask for nothing unless it be strictly in accordance with Divine Providence in our regard. So much for the spiritual objects of our prayer. We are to ask also for temporal things, our daily bread, and all that it implies, health, strength, and other worldly or temporal goods, not material or corporal only, but mental and moral, every accomplishment that may be a means of serving God and our fellow- men. Finally, there are the evils which we should pray to escape, the penalty of our sins, the dangers of temptation, and every manner of physical or spiritual affliction, so far as these might impede us in God's service.

To whom may we pray?

Although God the Father is mentioned in this prayer as the one to whom we are to pray, it is not out of place to address our prayers to the other Divine persons. The special appeal to one does not exclude the others. More commonly the Father is addressed in the beginning of the prayers of the Church, though they close with the invocation, "Through Our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end". If the prayer be addressed to God the Son, the conclusion is: "Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end"; or, "Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity, etc.". Prayer may be addressed to Christ as Man, because He is a Divine Person, not however to His human nature as such, precisely because prayer must always be addressed to a person, never to something impersonal or in the abstract. An appeal to anything impersonal, as for instance to the Heart, the Wounds, the Cross of Christ, must be taken figuratively as intended for Christ Himself.

Who can pray?

As He has promised to intercede for us (John 14:16), and is said to do so (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25), we may ask His intercession, though this is not customary in public worship. He prays in virtue of His own merits; the saints intercede for us in virtue of His merits, not their own. Consequently when we pray to them, it is to ask for their intercession in our behalf, not to expect that they can bestow gifts on us of their own power, or obtain them in virtue of their own merit. Even the souls in purgatory, according to the common opinion of theologians, pray to God to move the faithful to offer prayers, sacrifices, and expiatory works for them. They also pray for themselves and for souls still on earth. The fact that Christ knows the future, or that the saints may know many future things, does not prevent them from praying. As they foresee the future, so also they foresee how its happenings may be influenced by their prayers, and they at least by prayer do all in their power to bring about what is best, though those for whom they pray may not dispose themselves for the blessings thus invoked. The just can pray, and sinners also. The opinion of Quesnel that the prayer of the sinned adds to his sin was condemned by Clement XI (Denzinger, 10 ed., n. 1409). Though there is no supernatural merit in the sinner's prayer, it may be heard, and indeed he is obliged to make it just as before he sinned. No matter how hardened he may become in sin, he needs and is bound to pray to be delivered from it and from the temptations which beset him. His prayer could offend God only if it were hypocritical, or presumptuous, as if he should ask God to suffer him to continue in his evil course. It goes without saying that in hell prayer is impossible; neither devils nor lost souls can pray, or be the object of prayer.

For whom may we pray?

For the blessed prayers may be offered not with the hope of increasing their beatitude, but that their glory may be better esteemed and their deeds imitated. In praying for one another we assume that God will bestow His favours in consideration of those who pray. In virtue of the solidarity of the Church, that is, of the close relations of the faithful as members of the mystical Body of Christ, any one may benefit by the good deeds, and especially by the prayers of the others as if participating in them. This is the ground of St. Paul's desire that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men (Timothy 2:1), for all, without exception, in high or low station, for the just, for sinners, for infidels; for the dead as well as for the living; for enemies as well as for friends.


ST. THOMAS, II-II, Q. lxxxiii; SUAREZ, De oratione, I, in De religione, IV; PESCH, Praelectiones dogmaticae, IX (Freiburg, 1902); ST. BERNARD, Scala claustralium, attributed to St. Augustine under the title of Scala paradisi in volume IX among his works; ROOTHAAN, The Method of Meditation (New York, 1858); LETOURNEAU, Methode d'oraison mentale du seminaire de St-Sulpice (Paris, 1903); Catechism of the Council of Trent, tr. DONOVAN (Dublin, s. d.); POULAIN, The Graces of Interior Prayer (St. Louis, 1911); CAUSADE, Progress in Prayer, tr. SHEEHAN (St. Louis); FISHER, A Treatise on Prayer (London, 1885); EGGER, Are Our Prayers Heard? (London, 1910); ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, Treatise of the Love of God (tr. London, 1884); ST. PETER OF ALCANTARA, A Golden Treatise on Mental Prayer (tr. Oxford, 1906); FABER, Growth in Holiness (London, 1854). Among the many books of meditation, the following may be mentioned: AVANCINI, Vita et doctrina Jesu Christi ex quatuor evangeliis collectae (Paris, 1850); DE PONTE, Meditationes de praecipuis fidei nostrae mysteriis (St. Louis, 1908-10), tr., Meditations on the Mysteries of Holy Faith (London, 1854); GRANADA, Meditations and Contemplations (New York, 1879); LANCICIUS, Pious Affections towards God and the Saints (London, 1883); SEGNERI, The Manna of the Soul (London, 1892); ST. JOHN BAPTIST DE LA SALLE, Meditations for Sundays and Festivals (New York, 1882); BELLORD, Meditations (London); LUCK, Meditations; CHALLONER, Considerations upon Christian Truths and Christian Doctrines (Philadelphia, 1863); CLARKE, Meditations on the Life, Teaching and Passion of Jesus Christ (New York, 1901); HAMON, Meditations for all the Days in the Year (New York, 1894); MEDAILLE, Meditations on the Gospels, tr. EYRE (New York, 1907); NEWMAN, Meditations and Devotions (New York, 1893); WISEMAN, Daily Meditations (Dublin, 1868); VERCRUYSSE, Practical Meditations (London).

About this page

APA citation. Wynne, J. (1911). Prayer. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York:
Robert Appleton Company. MLA citation. Wynne, John. "Prayer." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to Fr. Jim Poole, S.J.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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