The power of intercessory prayer

I just heard a fascinating story about a medical doctor who, for his practice, has hired two people to pray for patients and for himself and the staff, to apply also intercessory prayer.  The doctor sees this as a necessary part of his practice.

We know that intercessory prayer works and there have been blind studies done about this.

I was terribly impressed.

When we talk about the apostolate of lay people, let’s get the image of people prancing about in albs out of our heads.

This is more like it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. KevinSymonds says:

    Fr. Z., now I have that image in my head!! :)


  2. DanW says:

    Payed for Prayers? How effective are they? How does one know the prayers are actually said after the exchange of cash?

  3. Praying for money? Gosh, I don’t know. I guess you could think of it more as a stipend. Do they get a w-2? How do you put a money value on prayer? Evaluate job performance? (I am a tax accountant, so I come at it from that perspective. I am not discounting the effects of prayer, just wondering how it meshes with the monetary aspects.) [Prayer is work. Workers are worthy of their wage. Priests get a salary for praying for you and they pay taxes on their salaries.]

  4. Paul says:

    Father, if you come across a citation for this story, could you share it? I would like to show this to some friends of mine. Thanks!

  5. We also give Mass stipends to a priest for his “service.” I’m reminded also of that scene in Henry V, where Henry is cataloging for God what’s he’s done to erase the sin of his father (killing Richard):
    “Five hundred poor I have in yearly pay… who twice a day their withered hands hold up toward heaven to pardon blood. And I have built two chantries where the sad and solemn priests sing still for Richard’s soul.”

  6. jarhead462 says:

    I think that is a wonderful idea.

    Semper Fi!

  7. Cathomommy says:

    Can I apply for that job? A true work-from home opportunity for stay-at-home Moms!

  8. benedetta says:

    That’s a smart physician. He clearly cares for the holistic well being of his patients.

  9. “Bedesmen” (prayer-people) used to be very common all across the world. It was usually a form of charity (ie, supporting someone frail, or someone who wanted to live a life of prayer or perhaps hermitage, or old soldiers who had become crippled or PTSD’d in the service of their lord) that allowed the object of charity to be charitable in return. A win-win situation, as it were.

    Sometimes bedesmen were supported by endowments left in wills; often they prayed for the family, including the dead, or all the people in a given area. (And of course, there was no restriction that one pray only for one’s benefactors.) Many of these people were also famous for giving good advice, or wrote little books; but it was a form of religious life that didn’t require any education (or anybody to like your company) in order to enter.

  10. Wikipedia has a good article about this. Apparently the last royal bedesman (“Blue Gown”) in Scotland died as recently as 1988!

  11. Philangelus says:

    I don’t know whether to be happy about this or to exclaim out loud, “The Church is okay with this?”

    It feels like prayer should be more like…I don’t know, you do it because you want to and because it’s a conversation between you and the Almighty. If someone is paying you for it, doesn’t it feel less genuine?

    I do pay for Masses to be said for my loved ones, but I figured that was part of supporting my parish priest’s work. I also happen to know that if I asked him for a Mass and I couldn’t pay for it, he’d do it anyhow. But prayer isn’t like a plug-in: Say one rosary, get 50 units of grace to be dispensed in the following fashion…

    I support the work of organizations who pray for their supporters. But that feels more as if they pray for me from gratitude that I gave them fifty bucks, not that I gave them fifty bucks because I knew they’d be praying for me if I did it. I pray for people who let me make a turn when there’s heavy traffic, but they don’t know that. :-)

  12. Disc-Thrower says:

    Reminds me of an example St Leonard used to demonstrate the benefits of daily mass. The story goes something like:

    A day-labourer, who had the pious habit of attending daily mass, one day attended two masses in a row, and missed on the opportunity to be hired. Feeling glum, he encounters a rich man along the way who inquires about the labourer’s misfortune, and upon hearing his missed a day’s wages to hear holy Mass, he hires the man to hear Mass once more for his own intentions. The labourer happily goes and hears all the Masses said that day for the man’s intentions and receives a day’s standard wages and goes along happily. On his way home, he meets an unknown person, whom St Leonard speculates is Christ, who is shocked to hear that he has received so little for such meritorious work and sends him back for an increase with the warning that if the rich man’s affairs will end disastrously if not given. The rich man consents to the request and gives him a few more coins, however the unknown man is not happy and sends the labourer back again, and this time the rich man, who undergoes an interior conversion, gives the labourer 100 soldi and new clothes.

    Christ later appears to the rich man in a dream and informs him that the labourers intentions had saved him from a sudden death that day that would have sent him to hell.

  13. jennieprater says:

    I have issues with conventional medicine, but THAT is a doctor I would trust.

  14. JKnott says:

    There is a blessed pro-life women’s center in Dallas where the Bishop has allowed a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament and periodic Masses. The program from its inceptioin in about 1985 has had volunteers praying in the chapel continuously as in ajoining rooms other volunteers counsel the women in the hopes of saving babies. Needless to say this has been very fruitful. Two sets of “workers” for the Lord complementing one another. It is a little different than the doctors because these people are not paid but prayers are prayers as long as they are genuine. The faith and humility of the doctors is admirable.

  15. Dan says:

    That is certaintly a laudible effort on the part of the physician. I think we all have to recognize that our own abilities can only carry us so far … when we contemplate God’s presence, it should help us to see that if left to our own designs we find only death (in the temporal and spiritual sense) while if we incorporate ourselves into the Mystical Body of Christ we have the promise of eternal life – life that elevates and dignifies all of our occupations here on earth. Here, it is great to see a doctor who acknowledges that in matters of life and death, God is in control and he is merely an instrument who needs to be ever mindful of channeling grace to others and uniting himself to God’s will.

    Nevertheless, I did raise my eyebrows at the thought of paying laypeople for their prayers. I wouldn’t equate this with the tradition of giving a mass stipend to a priest. We know that priests and religious have dedicated their lives to God and eschew temporal goods in order to serve us. When I give a Mass stipend, I don’t think I’m “paying” for the Mass or that I have “hired” the priest – I am giving an offering that is meant to support the priest in his life and work. After all, offerings that laypeople give to the Church are its sole means of support.

    On the other hand, you would think that a layperson (who does not have the same vocation as a priest/religious) would not need money to pray for someone they truly care about. If that person is a stranger, then someone who is asked to pray for them would probably take it up as an act of spiritual mercy and charity. I would personally not expect (nor accept) money for prayers…I’m not a priest, and I don’t need those offerings for my support. The true reward of prayer is discerning God’s will and uniting yourself to it. Having money enter into the equation risks creating mixed motives (or the preception of scandal) that are not germain to the subject.

    On the other hand, maybe starting a parish guild with the intention of praying for the sick, those involved in certain professions, clergy, etc. would be a good way to create an authentic lay apostolate without giving the impression that something other than true charity is motivating the prayers. Of course, its not for me to say that’s the case here- and that is not my implication – just say’n that when you mention money and prayer in the same sentence people tend to get the wrong impression.

    On a positive note, Father, this story has reminded me to pray for all those I know who could really use it due to illness, family problems, etc. In a day and age when we tend to forget about intercessory prayer, this story was good “wake up” call.

  16. Andreas says:

    Friends – I believe that Father Z. may be referring to Dr. David Levy, a California-based neurosurgeon and author. He has written a very well received book – ‘Gray Matter’; a review of which can be found at It appears that one can purchase this book on-line (as hard copy and as an e-book) from various outlets. If this is the physician of whom Father Z. has written, then perhaps he joins those many others through history who have found that science and religion are indeed complementary; the former asks ‘how’ whilst the latter answers ‘why’.

  17. acroat says:

    My former doctor had been know to pay for the trip & take patients to Lourdes in terminal cases when all her medical intervention had failed.

    I know prayer in fruitful. My husband was placed on hospice in 2004. Anyone looming at him could tell he was dying. Thanks to the prayers of many (my dear Carmelite sisters especially) he is still here!

  18. jfm says:

    The medical literature is mixed on the benefits of being prayed for. It’s very hard to study. The most commonly cited study showed no difference between patients prayed for and those not prayed for.

    Since then, as I understand it, the results are mixed – some show evidence, others none.

    I have been curious about prayers to specific saints vs. prayer to God directly and whether there is any evidence that one works better than the other. Also, do novenas tend to have more power than a one-time prayer or a recurring non-novena prayer (e.g. Rosary)? I know this sounds as though I am thinking about dosing and potency of antibiotics to deal with specific problems (e.g. a powerful broad-spectrum antibiotic [prayer to God] vs. a more narrowly-tailored antibiotic [prayer to a saint who is patron of something]; a one-time dose vs. three days vs. 9 day dose vs. recurrent dosing]. I realize this can seem weird, but I find my mind going there when thinking about trying to figure out a way to measure effectiveness. Then I remember that at the heart of prayer is faith, and that sets my mind at ease.

  19. newtrad says:

    I believe that any ministry of healing is best supported by a prayer team. I have belonged to Rachel’s Vineyard, a post-abortion healing ministry, for 12 years and have repeatedly told people that the reason Our Lord has provided so much deep and long lasting healing to so many, is because we have an amazing prayer team that sits before the Lord in Adoration for the entire weekend. They have literally done spiritual battle while we sit in the next room, with a priest and a therapist and do our human part to be His hands and feet. The power of prayer is ineffable.

  20. Mark01 says:

    Could we pitch this to Obama as jobs creation and get some federal funds for praying?

  21. benedetta says:

    With many therapeutic effects, if the person being prayed for notices some benefit or greater sense of well-being, that is a response that is significant even if the causation isn’t something we may tease out through studies and control group comparison.

    There has been study as well as of therapeutic benefits of meditation generally for the person who meditates (prays) in the ancient practices of whatever faith tradition they feel called to.

    The Church also adds to this research about prayer, the occurrence of miracles experienced by persons who pray for intercession or who are prayed for and whose healing cannot be explained through physicians who observe and document the presenting diagnosis and the subsequent healing.

  22. Genna says:

    Some time ago we were asked to offer up intercessionary prayers to Blessed Mother Teresa for the life of a little boy whose prognosis was not good. I wonder if there has been any more news about him.

  23. Dan says: Nevertheless, I did raise my eyebrows at the thought of paying laypeople for their prayers. I wouldn’t equate this with the tradition of giving a mass stipend to a priest. We know that priests and religious have dedicated their lives to God and eschew temporal goods in order to serve us. When I give a Mass stipend, I don’t think I’m “paying” for the Mass or that I have “hired” the priest – I am giving an offering that is meant to support the priest in his life and work. After all, offerings that laypeople give to the Church are its sole means of support.

    If you want someone to devote all his work-time to prayer for a particular intention, you must compensate him for that time, and for the opportunities to do something else that he is forgoing in order to pray. That person has still got to put food on the table.

  24. benedetta says:

    When we belong to various prayer teams or groups of course when one has an intention, one’s own or for someone who has asked or an intention one becomes aware of, it is true also that things wind up that everyone sort of labors for one another and is equally compensated, because each prays for one another, needs or intentions, in turn. You can call it one for one or you may call it sharing one another’s burdens.

    If people have need of prayers and someone has a vocation to this, I see nothing wrong with helping to see that their material needs are provided for, if they are able, when one asks them to set aside time which could be devoted to earning money in various ways to pray for specific intentions. Many times it is really helpful to have another heart attuned to God’s love and mercy. I can think of situations of parents with a very sick child or disabled child whose problems cannot be solved by medical science, who care for them in some cases, round the clock, in lieu of a job for pay, and whose worry and attending after their needs may not permit them to give God undivided attention in prayer but nonetheless have faith and wish to present their petitions in faith. Of course God hears their prayers even if they haven’t time or feel dry or overwhelmed by worry but it certainly can help bring peace of heart to that parent who knows that another is by their side in faith. I am sure commenters can think of many other instances, in bereavement, in seeking employment, for family of military or others serving in harm’s way, many many instances where this could be such a support. Prayer circles and groups, formally and informally already do just this.

  25. KAS says:

    We Catholics don’t take full advantage of the monks and nuns who dedicate their lives to prayer– why not make donations to convents and monasteries and ask for prayers too?

    I recall reading on the founding of discalced carmelite monasteries and how communities would support convents in order to have nuns or monks present in the community offering continual prayer for that community and all the people living there.

    Some of those little t traditions are worthy of recall.

  26. tioedong says:

    the “scientific” studies of intercessory prayer showed it worked and then another it didn’t.

    Of course, the studies were scientific nonsense. The “scientists” asked a group to pray for some patients (but didn’t ask them to pray for other patients) and then compared the two groups.

    What they didn’t see is that the “control group” may not have been prayed for by their paid prayers, but probably had family members, friends, or even strangers to pray for them.

    I believe in intercessory prayer, but to quote CSLewis: “Aslan is not a TAME lion”…manipulating God to do what you want him to do is magic, not religion…

  27. benedetta says:

    tioedong, True enough, no one manipulates God. But you didn’t comment about the other scientific studies that I referenced about prayer, or the Catholic Church’s investigations of miraculous healing. Of course intercessory prayer is very significant, and concrete, to those who are prayed for — before tinkering with any control groups or study parameters one must first recognize that essential human experience.

    The CS Lewis quote is a great one indeed and yet God is not Aslan. Who can fathom God. No one has ever seen God. Of course I don’t see anyone on this thread who indicates their faith is that God is some sort of favor dispenser who exchanges requests for prayer. That would be a very odd faith indeed. And who could resist such a bargain. An act of faith would be meaningless, and what would be the sort of relationship with a God who one just demanded things of without pure love for Himself, or for all He created, or just setting aside time to be with Him, or to praise Him and all His works and His great and holy name. No God doesn’t just transact business and respects our freedom in coming to acts of faith. It is never on our terms is it. Of course if we do not recognize this in the first place all of our prayers, even the most beautifully crafted, even if an enjoyable worship space and experience, will be empty and without meaning. A sort of friendship we are enabled to have with all of our being, with the Creator. Totally astounding. How else to explain miracles, or how some people with huge disability or difficulty are made saints.

    If you would like scientific proof then miraculous healings which have been documented are ample.

  28. Eileen T says:

    We have a medical practice here in Auckland, New Zealand where the doctors, nurses and receptionists are all Christians. They have a small box on the counter at reception that invites patients to put in requests for prayer. I expect that they also pray for all their patients as a matter of course.

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