Of the other petitions.
The principal petition about which we have hitherto spoken, and which divides itself into two heads,—first, that in which we ask for justice and sanctity for ourselves; secondly, that by which we ask every thing that is just, — is also the principle which gives an order to all our other petitions. And indeed, the principle of justice, which, when considered in itself, is simple and indivisible, when applied to various circumstances produces consequences which become so many rules of conduct, in individual cases, to the followers of Christ, whose one only object and end is justice.
These special rules, which arise out of the great principle of justice, when applied to practice, may be reduced to the three following:
1. That we fulfil with punctuality all duties belonging to our own office.
2. That we follow the invitations of Divine Providence, or the will of God, manifested to us by external circumstances in the good work which we undertake.
3. That we labour to advance as much as possible in all that regards the contemplative life, or union with God.
From these three general rules arise three different classes of petitions: 1st, petitions in which that which we ask for is determined by the fixed duties of our calling and state of life; 2nd, petitions in which that which we ask for is determined by accidental manifestations of the Divine will in our regard; 3rd, petitions which arise spontaneously, and in which we ask of God whatever most pleases us, and in which we are free to ask whatever we feel most desirous of obtaining. We will say a few words on each of these three classes of petitions.
Of that which we ought to ask in consequence of our own particular state.
The first thing which we should ask of God, after our own justice and sanctification, and after every thing else which is just as regards ourselves, according to the rule laid down above, is the sanctification of those souls which are in any way confided to our care by God, if any have been so confided.
And this special prayer for others is contained implicitly, as we have observed, in the general petition for our own sanctification, and is itself also an act of justice; because if God has confided any souls to our care, it becomes our duty to pray for them, since to pray for them is the very best way we can take to do them good. Hence it is that the Church imposes on bishops and parish priests the duty of offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass every Sunday for the people committed to their charge. And this is according to the example given by our Blessed Lord, who in the prayer which He made at His last supper, before He went forth to Gethsemane, first of all prayed for Himself; but since He already possessed all justice, He needed only to ask of His heavenly Father the just effect and consequence of justice, namely, the glory which was its due, saying, "Father, the hour is come, glorify Thy Son." [John xvii. 1] And even this glory He asked out of love for trie glory of His Father, referring all His own glory, by an act of justice and perfect generosity, to that of His heavenly Father; since to the prayer, "Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son," He adds, "that Thy Son also may glorify Thee." Then, having thus prayed for Himself, He prays next for His Apostles, for those, namely, who held the nearest place amongst those which had been given Him hy His Father: "I pray for them;" and He adds as the reason, because they had been given into His hands by His Father: "Holy Father, keep through Thy name those whom Thou hast given Me." And for them He asks only spiritual blessings, but asks that these may be given in the highest possible, even as it were in an infinite degree; saying, in words as strong and expressive as the human language is capable of, "That they all may be one, as We are one." Having prayed for them who belonged to Him most nearly, and were more closely allied to Him in the spiritual order, He prays for them also who belonged to Him, but who were less nearly connected with Him: "And not for them alone do I pray, but for those who shall believe in Me through their word." Whereby He gives an example to all superiors, that they should pray not only for those who are at present under their charge, but for all those who may hereafter be committed to their care.
It is, therefore, a duty incumbent on every one, after having prayed for himself, to pray for the souls committed to his charge, for it is according to justice that he should do so, but in his prayer he must follow the order of the will of God, which he will the better under. stand by means of the following considerations:
Every one knows for certain that God wills his salvation, wills that he should he perfect as his Father who is in heaven is perfect; he knows also that his own free will, cooperating with Divine grace, is the cause of his salvation. But if he is able, by an act of his own free will, assisted by Divine grace, to effect his salvation, he cannot in like manner save the soul of his neighbour, unless the neighbour himself consents. Hence a man may be certain of having his petitions granted in all that regards his own salvation, if he co-operates with Divine grace; but he cannot be equally certain of obtaining the salvation of his neighbour. He ought, therefore, to pray for this conditionally,' submitting every thing to Him who, being under no obligation to any created being, has from all eternity, of His own free and gratuitous act, predestinated some to glory, and foreseen the damnation of others by reason of their own fault. All prayers, then, which we offer up on behalf of others should be offered in conformity with the eternal predestination of the elect; praying always for nothing else but that the most perfect, wise, holy, and most just predestination of the elect should have its fulfilment, according as it was determined before all ages in the will of the infinitely perfect Being, since nothing can be more perfect than that which has from all eternity been preordained by the will of a God of infinite goodness and perfection. When, therefore, we pray for our brethren, our prayer should be, that all the elect may realise their election, according to the good pleasure of our heavenly Father. Of this conformity with the Divine will, which is the high rule of all perfection, Jesus Christ gives us an example: "I pray not," He says, "for the world, but for those whom Thou hast given Me, because they are Thine;" for those, namely, whom Thou hast predestinated to eternal life, and hast given to Me. I pray for them not because they are Mine, but because they are Thine, and such is the good pleasure of Thy will; for these do I pray for the sake of that infinite and boundless love which I bear to Thee.
In regard of the prayers which the Church orders to be made by a positive command, we should enter into the spirit of the Church itself, and observe a due order in the petitions we make therein to God. It will, therefore, be useful to keep in mind that order and method which we have just laid down; and which method or order may be shortly comprised in the two following rules:
1. That in praying for others we always make eternal salvation the first object of our prayers, according to that maxim of our Lord, "Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them in like manner;" [Matt. vii. 12] and again, "What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" [Matt. xvi. 26.] Hence, whenever we ask for temporal blessings, we should always ask them conditionally, provided they will conduce to the good of the soul.
2. That when we pray for particular persons, we intend to pray implicitly for the good of the whole body of the Church, that the vine of Jesus Christ may produce the greatest possible fruit, and that each soul which belongs to the vine may render the greatest possible return to the Divine Master of the vineyard; since in this consists the glory of our heavenly Father, which it is the unceasing object of Jesus Christ to promote and increase; for "in this," says He, "is My heavenly Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and that you become My disciples." [John xv. 8.] So in the parable of the vine, Jesus Christ declares that the husbandman "purgeth it that it may bear more fruit." [John xv. 2.]
In the second place, it should be the prayer of every one, that God would be pleased to bestow His blessing on us in the performance of all the duties annexed to our particular state and condition, that they may tend to the salvation of our own soul, to His honour and glory, and the profit of the soul of our neighbour; begging of God light and strength to perform with perfection those particular duties, and asking Him to take under His divine protection all and each of our works, with all that belongs to them.
We have said, that they ma y tend to the salvation of our own souls, to the glory of God, and to the spiritual prosperity of our neighbour, because the spiritual order is always to be preferred to the corporal and visible; for nothing of this world has any value whatever, except in as far as it is a means tending to the salvation of our own and our neighbour's soul, and to the glory of God; and therefore, whatsoever we ask, even if needed for our own office and state of life, we should always ask for under condition, and inasmuch as it tends to the increase of our own justice and sanctity, to the greater glory of God, and to the salvation of the souls of others.
In the third place, all subjects and inferiors ought to pray for those placed over them; and first of all for the Supreme Pontiff and for all the governing body of the universal Church; next for the head of the state and for his government, considering how vast an influence, even for good, a temporal sovereign or government may exercise in regard of the holy Church of God, if God is pleased to enlighten the minds of rulers, and to move them to be His faithful servants in the government of His people. Afterwards we should pray for our own particular superiors, both ecclesiastical and civil, and all others on whom the salvation of our souls and the moral good of society in any way depend, that it would please Almighty God so to direct things, that all may tend to this one most important end.
In the fourth place, the law of nature and justice should move us to pray for all our benefactors, by reason of the benefits we have received from them, and in proportion to the part they have had in procuring them; and hence we should remember all who have benefited us, whether living or dead.
And amongst benefactors, we should pray in the first place for our parents, since from them we have received the gift of life and being, which is a necessary condition of all goods, whether spiritual or temporal; and after these we should pray for all such persons as have conferred spiritual blessings upon us; and lastly, for those to whom we owe temporal favours. We will now consider what things we should ask of God, as suggested by external circumstances.
Concerning those things which we ought reasonably to ask of God, on account of external circumstances.
There are two external circumstances which may direct us in praying to God in behalf of our neighbour. These are, in the first place, the spiritual, and in the second, the natural tie which may bind us to them.
As regards the spiritual tie, we ought to pray, in the first place, for those who are actually praying with us, since they have with us the most intimate spiritual connexion, being in the sight of God but one heart and one soul, and one voice of one body, raised up before the throne of the Divine Majesty. In this manner the priest prays very frequently in the Mass, as when, in the offertory, he says, ' Receive, Holy Father, Almighty and Eternal God, this spotless host, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer to Thee, my living and true God, on account of my innumerable sins, offences, and negligences (here the priest begs of God his own sanctification); and for all those here present (here he prays for those who are joined with him in prayer), and also for all faithful Christians, both living and dead (he here prays for those with whom the spiritual tie is less closely drawn), that both to me and to them it may be profitable to salvation unto eternal life.' The whole of this prayer is occupied with praying for justice and the eternal reward which follows it.
That which ought, in the second place, to move us to pray on behalf of our neighbour is, his own request that we should do so. We ought, then, in the first place, to pray for those who have recommended themselves to our prayers, receiving their request as an invitation from Divine Providence to the exercise of charity towards them, according to this their desire.
Besides this, there is also, as we have observed, the natural tie, which has its foundation in right reason, and is sanctified by grace, and which should move us to pray for others. Every movement of compassion, as also of every other reasonable natural affection, may be regarded as an impulse of Divine Providence urging us to the exercise of charity towards our neighbour, and especially to pray for him. And of this our Lord Himself gives us an example. Standing at the sepulchre of Lazarus, Jesus wept; and having prayed, and given thanks to His heavenly Father, He raised him from the dead. He did the same when He beheld the grief and tribulation of the widow of Nairn on the death of her son. A like tenderness and compassion to that of which our Lord gives us example is according to the spirit of Christianity; and the prayers which are thus called forth are an expression of sincere and holy charity most pleasing in the sight of God. Inasmuch, then, as this sensible compassion is excited at the view of visible and temporal misery, we may consider that this same compassion is a just motive for prayer on behalf of our neighbours, that these evils may be removed from them, however light they may be. With regard to things superfluous, the case is different; for about such we ought, according to the doctrine of the Gospel and the example of Christ, to entertain no desires.
And we may always pray for good in general, as a consequence of justice according to the will of God; and indeed, when we pray for justice, we are in fact praying at the same time for the fulness of every good.
Of those things which we may ask for spontaneously.
Lastly, every prayer whatsoever, provided it be made according to the order here laid down, either expressed or understood, is a holy act, forming part of that hidden life which ought to be dear to every Christian soul. To speak accurately, the duties of our state and external motives ought not so much to move us to prayer as to be considered the manifestation of the will of God as to the nature of our prayer. When, then, we pray spontaneously, and the matter of our prayer is not determined by either of the two principles or motives which we have laid down, how shall the order of our prayer be most in accordance with the will of God?
Besides the two motives which we have laid down, there is, generally speaking, no particular order or rule which we are bound to follow; but we should suffer the Holy Spirit of God, "which breatheth where it will," sweetly to move and guide us on all occasions.
We shall, however, never be wrong if we remain constant in our petition for things which are fundamental and necessary, whatever form we make use of; as, for example, if we pray for the good of the universal Church. This form of prayer is undoubtedly most excellent, provided, in using it, we understand what it is to pray for the Church; that is to say, that we intend to include in this general prayer all other particular prayers, according to the order which has been laid down. For is not he who prays himself a member of the Church? Wherefore, in praying for the Church, he prays also for himself, and prays according to that order and method which is most fitting for him. He prays also for all others in that order which accords best with the glory of God and His holy will, and which is best accomplished by the salvation of the greatest possible number of souls. Wherefore the Canon of the Mass begins with this universal prayer, in which we thus beseech our heavenly Father: 'Accept these gifts and sacrifices, which we offer first in behalf of the holy Catholic Church, to which we beseech Thee vouchsafe to grant the gift of peace, to keep, unite, and govern it throughout the whole earth, together with Thy servant our chief Pontiff, our Bishop, and all those who worship in the Catholic and Apostolic faith.'
We must also observe, that when we pray for ourselves in the words which Christ has taught us to use, we are praying at the same time for the whole body of the Church, since we are commanded to say, not "my Father," but "our Father," namely, Father of all those who are made of one body with Christ, Father of all members of the Church, Father of me and of all my brethren. And to this very prayer, the most essential and fundamental of all prayers, and at the same time the most sublime and exalted, we should most frequently lave recourse when we feel moved by spontaneous attraction to prayer.
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.