WDTPRS – 24th Ordinary Sunday: “Do our prayers make a difference?”

concierge bellThe Collect for the 24th Ordinary Sunday was not in pre-Conciliar editions of the Roman Missal but it has an antecedent in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary among the prayers used during September.

Respice nos, rerum omnium Deus creator et rector, et, ut tuae propitiationis sentiamus effectum, toto nos tribue tibi corde servire.

Propitiatio means “an appeasing; atonement”.  It can also mean the propitiatory sacrifice itself.

LITERAL RENDERING:

Be mindful of us, O God, creator and ruler of all things, and, in order that we may sense the effect of Your act of atonement, allow us to serve You with our whole heart.

CURRENT ICEL (2011):

Look upon us, O God, Creator and ruler of all things, and, that we may feel the working of your mercy, grant that we may serve you with all our heart.

St. Augustine (+430), in his autobiographical prayer the Confessions (3, 7), uses the phrase “unus et verus creator et rector universitatis”, very like the first line.  Augustine certainly knew the hymns of Milan’s bishop St. Ambrose (+397), which he heard sung in cathedral.  To my ear, this first line rings like Ambrose’s hymn Deus Creator Omnium, which is, in part, included in the Liturgy of Hours for 1st Vespers of Sundays during Ordinary Time.

Propitiation is a prayerful act of appeasement begging for God’s mercy.

Because we are sinners, we seek mitigation of the punishments we justly deserve for our sins both in this world and temporal punishment in the next.  Propitiation is distinguished from impetration (from Latin impetro, “to obtain, by exertion, entreaty”).  Impetration is an appeal to God’s goodness asking for spiritual or temporal well-being for ourselves or others.  By impetratory prayer we beg God for benefits. By propitiatory prayer we beg Him for mercy and forgiveness.

Throughout the ages people have wondered whether it makes any sense to pray to God at all.

After all, God is omniscient and eternal. He is not limited by past, present or future.  His being and will and knowledge are one and the same.  God, being perfect, is unchangeable. He orders all things to their proper end, which is what we call divine providence. What God knows will come to pass must necessarily come to pass.  God is utterly transcendent.  We cannot bend God to our will.

QUAERITUR: Does it make any sense or any difference to offer prayers to such a God?

Various solutions to this problem have been proposed.

Some ancient thinkers held that human affairs are not ruled by any divine providence and it is therefore useless to pray to or worship any god.  This renders prayer pointless. Others held that all things, including human affairs, happen from necessity, whether by reason of the immutability of divine providence, or through the compelling influence of the stars, cosmic or physical forces, etc.  This view similarly renders prayer pointless.  Others held that divine providence indeed rules human affairs and things do not happen of necessity, but they thought that God and His providence is mutable, and can be changed by rites and prayers. This view similarly renders prayer pointless, because, if the one we are praying to is mutable, it isn’t God.  God isn’t fickle or changeable.

In figuring out what to pray and how, and even why to pray at all, we Catholics must account for the usefulness and effectiveness of prayer in such a way as to avoid imposing fatalistic necessity on human affairs and also to avoid any suggestion that God is changeable, fickle, malleable.

In His earthly life Jesus, God with us, demonstrated that prayers are effective.  He was moved by His Mother at Cana to change water to wine, by the Syro-Phoenician woman to exorcise her daughter, by the Good Thief to remember him in His Kingdom, and by many others.  We know that saints can intercede for us and obtain favors from God.  Our Lord Himself prayed.  He Himself taught us to pray and to ask for things and to beg mercy.

St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) drills into the problem of whether it is useful to pray to God (STh II, IIae, q. 83, a. 2) saying,

“We pray not that we may change the divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers, in other words, ‘that by asking, men may deserve to receive what Almighty God from eternity has disposed to give’ (St. Gregory, Dialogues)…”.

The same applies to begging for God’s mercy (propitiatory prayer), which we can do with confidence.

Our prayer should be raised to God with humility and gratitude for what we know He has certainly disposed in His divine providence.

He grants favors according to what from all eternity He has known about us, our needs and disposition.  Our prayers are good for us.

Confidently but humbly, boldly but without presumption, raise your cares and petitions to God without treating Him as if He were a Cosmic Concierge.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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4 Responses to WDTPRS – 24th Ordinary Sunday: “Do our prayers make a difference?”

  1. jaykay says:

    Just looked at the “translation” in old ICEL: “Almighty God, our creator and guide, may we serve you with all our heart and know your forgiveness in our lives”

    Truly the decade that style forgot. That said, the new ICEL use of “of your mercy” for “propitionis tuae” doesn’t really, imho, cut it either. Maybe ” of your saving sacrifice”?

    But then, soooo much thanks that we’ve left the beige and flares decade, and its pernicious influence, behind, finally.

    Or maybe not. Quis scit?

  2. Absit invidia says:

    I’m pretty convinced God’s mind is always already made up. At least concerning big things. Maybe the little things he helps with.

  3. cwillia1 says:

    There is a huge distance between the prayer “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” and the prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” One goal of our prayer is to take us all the way from point A to point B. The advantage of praying for what we want is that we can pray with sincerity from the heart. And this is essential. God does treasure our most childish and primitive prayers and answers them, at times in the way that we want. God knows what we need and loves us but this truth cannot simply be apprehended as an intellectual proposition. It must be experienced.

    Traditional prayer books and liturgical prayer move us beyond our narrow personal preoccupations to the universal human condition and experience. They focus our prayer on our own transformation in Christ, which is what ultimately matters. Here is an example.

    Lord, grant that I may greet the coming day in peace. Help me to rely on your holy will at every moment. In every hour of the day reveal your will to me. Teach me to treat whatever may happen throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all is sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will. Teach me how to pray. Pray yourself in me.

    A prayer like this can be used in the morning or evening by almost anyone with confidence that God wants to grant us these gifts.

  4. JARay says:

    Did not Our Lady tell the three children at Fatima that many souls go to hell simply because there was no one praying for them? What better evidence is needed in support for the advocacy of prayer? After having been told of the need for such prayer, little Jacinta undertook many little acts of self-privation for sinners.