Why Should We Pray For Priests?
Fr. John Hardon, SJ in his biography of Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of the Servants of the Paraclete and the Handmaids of the Precious Blood gives us an eloquent, and we could even say an unmatched, explanation of the reasons why the faithful need to pray for priests. The following are excerpts from his chapter on "Praying for Priests" in the biography, which is titled, A Prophet for the Priesthood." These excerpts are a little long, but they deserve to be quoted at length.
"St. Luke tells the story of King Herod's persecution of the early Church; how after he beheaded James the brother of John and saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well. He put Peter in prison, assigning four squads of four soldiers each to guard him in turn. Herod meant to try Peter in public after the end of Passover week. All the time Peter was under guard the Church of God prayed for him unremittingly (Acts 12:2-5).
In like manner, St. Paul, in what is considered his first inspired Letter, closed the Epistle to the Thessalonians with the earnest plea, 'Pray for us, my brothers' (1 Thess 5:25).
Here we have the revealed teaching of the Holy Spirit, as a practice (for Peter) and a petition (by Paul) that among the duties of a Christian is to pray for priests. Surely if Peter, the first Pope, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, needed prayers, how much more their successors in the papacy, episcopate and the priesthood.
And most recently, when Pope John Paul II was elevated to the papacy, the day after his election he preached at the Mass he concelebrated with the College of Cardinals. The highpoint of his homily was an urgent request for prayers. 'After praying to the Lord,' he said, 'we feel the need of your prayers to gain that indispensable heavenly strength that will make it possible for us to take up the work of our predecessors from the point where they left off.'
All of this and more is part of the Church's unbroken tradition, since the earliest Christian times. The faithful pray for their priests, from the Bishop of Rome to the least known curate in some mapless village on the other side of the world. They are all the 'anointed of the Lord.'
As we begin to ask ourselves, 'Why should the faithful pray for priests?', the first response is also the fundamental one. Since all the faithful, priests included, are members of the same Mystical Body, all should cooperate with one another for the up building of this Body and the greater glory of God.
Each of us has a different task to perform in the Church of Christ, and each has his or her own responsibility, according to their state of life. We should pray that fathers and mothers be good parents; wives and husbands good spouses; that children be good children; that the unmarried and widows serve God in their respective positions; that religious be good religious and faithful to their vocation.
So, too, priests deserve to be prayed for, just because they are priests and therefore part of the visible society, which is the Church. She is made up of many and different members, each needing the other and each depending on the others for prayerful support.
But priests have been chosen to serve a unique and especially exalted role in the Mystical Body. They are to perpetuate the sacrifice of Calvary in the Mass, make present the living Christ on earth in our day and, in the power given them by Christ, they are to absolve the contrite of their sins. Yet all the while they remain human, very human beings, and therefore in need of divine assistance in the form of actual grace. To obtain this grace and sustain them even in God's friendship, they themselves must pray, and no one can substitute for this primary law of our faith. Either priests pray, or, like anyone else, they will fall into temptation. Yet that is not enough. They also need the supporting prayers of others, and they have a special claim on this support because of what their ministrations mean to the people…
A moment's reflection, therefore, should tell a believer that the priesthood, as Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald puts it, is a 'terrifying exaltation.' And that is why, as he goes on to say, we 'can do nothing more consoling to the Sacred heart than to pray for his priesthood; for by the institution of the priesthood God has committed his stainless honor, his deepest interests, to the keeping of created clay.' Among the saints, St Teresa of Jesus knew this and that is why she made prayers for the priesthood the first duty of her Carmelite family…" (A Prophet for the Priesthood. Bardstown, KY., 1997, pp. 115-119).
It is clear, from the above, then, that the faithful have a duty to pray for priests. And so to facilitate this practice and increase the efficacy of the faithful's prayers, we are officially starting our "Adopt a Priest Program." Some of you have already signed up and with this letter will be receiving your adopted priest, bishop or seminarian. Others will receive an insert that can be filled out and sent to our Missions Office in Detroit. The program will operate as follows:
Each year on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the persons who have expressed a desire of participating in the program will receive the name of a seminarian, priest, or bishop to pray for. The adopters, however, make the commitment to pray daily for the individual that they have adopted, and they also offer up every Thursday for him. Besides this, if they have the opportunity, they may make a holy hour and pray the Litany of Jesus Christ Priest and Victim for him.
The program is be placed under the patronage of the Blessed Mother and she will be invoked under a different title each year. This year it will be "Mary, Living Temple of the Holy Trinity."
We would be very grateful if interested persons would send us the names of seminarians and priests, that they would like to have "adopted."