Archbp. Carroll’s “Prayer for Government”

The following prayer was composed by John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore, in 1791. He was the first bishop appointed for the United States in 1789 by Pope Pius VI. He was made the first archbishop when his see of Baltimore was elevated to the status of an archdiocese.

John was a cousin of Charles Carroll of Maryland, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Fathers, you might want to have everyone pray it after Mass.

PRAYER FOR GOVERNMENT We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name. We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope N., the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation. We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty. We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state , for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability. We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal. Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. ceolfrid says:

    Good one, but I wonder what the Abp. meant about “blessings of equal liberty”?

    Perhaps a better prayer for the government and people of these united States is this one by St. Augustine, which can be found (among other places) in the 1962 Missal published by Angelus Press:

    Before Thine eyes, O Lord, we bring our sins, and we compare them with the stripes we have received.
    If we examine the evil we have wrought, what we suffer is little, what we deserve is great.
    What we have committed is very grievous, what we have suffered is very slight.
    We feel the punishment of sin, yet withdraw not from the obstinacy of sinning.
    Under Thy lash our inconstancy is visited, but our sinfulness is not changed.
    Our suffering soul is tormented, but our neck is not bent.
    Our life groans under sorrow, yet amends not in deed.
    If Thou spare us, we correct not our ways: if Thou punish, we cannot endure it.
    In time of correction we confess our wrongdoing: after Thy visitation we forget that we have wept.
    If Thou strechest forth Thy hand, we promise amendment; if Thou withholdest the sword, we keep not our promise.
    If Thou strikest, we cry out for mercy; if Thou sparest, we again provoke Thee to strike.
    Here we are before Thee, O Lord, confessedly guilty: we know that unless Thou pardon we shall deservedly perish.
    Grant then, O almighty Father, without our deserving it, the pardon we ask; Thou Who madest out of nothing those Who ask Thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
    V. Deal not with us, O Lord, according to our sins.
    R. Neither reward us according to our iniquities.

    Let us pray.
    O God, Who by sin art offended and by penance pacified, mercifully regard the prayers of Thy suppliant people, and turn away the scourges of Thy wrath, which we deserve for our sins.
    Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

  2. amulack says:

    Can someone respond (verify? explain? justify?) either of these concerns?

    – Bishop Carroll asked and received from Rome permission to delete that portion the new Bishop’s oath which stated: “I will to the utmost of my power seek out and oppose schismatics, heretics, and the enemies of our Sovereign Lord and his successors.” Carroll feared that protestants would view this sentence as a violation of that same religious liberty which Catholics themselves enjoyed in America. For the quarter century of his tenure as Bishop, he had experimented in joining democratic ideals to the practices of church governance.

    – Bishop John Carroll accompanied Benjamin Franklin to Québec to ask that the Canadians join in the American Revolution, the then Bishop Briand of Québec (who understood how to use tactics for the liberty and exaltation of the church in an anti-Catholic country] forbade his priests to have anything to do with the Americans and he formally excommunicated Bishop John Carroll.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    amulack, the situation at the time between these two bishops was complicated by several issues. First, the Revolution was seen by some conservatives, Catholic and Anglican, as a low Protestant revolt and as such, not conducive to religious freedom. The fears were that the type of government seen under Cromwell, or worse, a completely secular government, would be the rule of the land in America. Completely secular governments were not the order of the day and the Constitution, which was not yet written at the time of the fighting, as you know, was a first and unknown entity.

    To think in terms of a State allowing complete religious freedom to all religions was new, for the most part, except for small areas of Europe.

    Bishop Carroll was on the side of this secular vision, as he saw that the Catholics would be protected. As you know, the Catholic Emancipation Act in Great Britain only was passed in 1791–a very late date, and Carroll’s background was Irish, adding the distrust of government from the viewpoint of Irish history.

    To further complicate matters, Carroll was one of the first bishops to see that the American experience of the Church would be different than that of Europe. If you were a strict interpreter, you could say that he flirted or at least sowed the seeds for the heresy of Americanism, which was a heresy infecting some the Irish bishops in America up to the present day. Americanism did not just appear in the 1890s, but was brewing from the earliest days of the experience of the Church at the beginning of the nation itself. Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae is a late response to something happening for at least three generations of hierarchy in the States.

    Also, (and I am sorry this is long), remember that the Jesuits had been suppressed, unfairly in my opinion, for political involvement, making some bishops nervous of someone like John Carroll.

    In addition, the Canadian situation was complicated by the fact that most Canadians at the time did not align themselves with the colonists south of them. The Anglicans were strong there, and the feeling of pro-monarchy among Catholics was stronger than in the south. That Briand would not necessarily support a revolution had partly to do with the ousting of the Acadians, as well, as bad move, as we know and unnecessary as well as prejudicial. This episode is one of ethnic cleansing and the colonies did not help the Acadians, but made matters worse. Some of the colonies added to the deaths of these people, while some welcomed them, but the Bishop was concerned about future deportations and ethnic warfare.

    To add one more thing, the view of the Church in Europe concerning the Revolution was not one of complete consent. The French Revolution would show the world that religious freedom was not honored by revolutionary governments, and that Catholics would be martyred. Of course, this was all to come, but the idea of revolutions NOT being friendly to Catholics had historical foundations.

    As to the personal relationship between the two bishops, I do not know, but you can, perhaps, better understand the history surrounding problems between Carroll and Briand.

  4. Geoffrey says:

    At my parish this weekend, this prayer was adapted and used for the prayers of the faithful.

    One could argue that all revolutions are evil, as it had always been Catholic teaching to “honour the emperor (regem honorificate)” (1 Peter 2:17) and to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (cf. Matthew 22:21).

  5. thoscole says:

    Supertradmum, I think the recent passage of the Quebec Act by Parliament, giving religious freedom to Catholics in Quebec, and expanding the boundaries of that province, was a prime reason Bishop Briand opposed the American Revolution. His flock was just given real religious freedom, freedom from domination by local Protestants, and the unhindered ability to preserve their language. Recall that the Quebec Act is referred to in the list of greivances in the Declaration of Independence. This toleration of Catholicism, and expansion of Quebec into the Ohio Valley, prompted some in New England to remark that the act caused “a Jubilee in Hell.”

    Bishop Briand was not going to bite the hand that just gave the Church arguably more freedom to operate in Quebec than it had under the French crown; especially just to support a liberal, sometimes anti-Catholic, group of Revolutionaries.

    It is a good question, though — what ever came of the excommunication of John Carroll?

  6. amulack says:

    Supertradmum, thanks so much for the informative response. Having no real knowledge of Bishop Carroll other than that countless Catholic schools are named after him, and having only recently become aware of the ‘controversies’ associated with him, I find him to be, as most bishops today are, a confusing character.

  7. JKnott says:

    So happy Father Z posted this prayer of Archbishop Carroll. The prayer we have been given from the USCCB is worse than Catholic-lite. It lacks all humility and it’s all about me, myself, and us, us, us, with no mention of repentence for me-sins and our-sins. No sackcloth and ashes for USA Catholics. Who wrote that thing? These lay committess of ‘scholars’ should have taken a cue from the prayer of Judith.

    ceolfrid: You’ve got it right! Excellent Prayer of St Augustine. As if we didn’t have over 40 years of abortion, contraception and more to confess as a prelude to begging His mercy on our country.

    Gone are the days of humility: “O God our refuge and our strength, look down with favor upon your people who cry to Thee, and by the intercession of the glorious and Blessed Virgin Mary our Mother, of St. Joseph her spouse, of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, hear the prayers which we pour forth for the conversion of sinners and the triumph and exaltation of our Holy Mother the Church. Through Christ our Lord. Amen”

  8. John Nolan says:

    Supertradmum, the Catholic Emancipation for the United Kingdom was not passed until 1829, and religious tests at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham were not abolished until 1871. An abridged version of the Carroll prayer is in my Daily Missal after the Domine salvum (salvam) fac, and I assume that like the latter it was mandated for the principal Sunday Mass. In 1965 the traditional prayer was dropped, but a prayer for the Queen, the royal family and the government was inserted in the ‘Prayer of the Faithful’, although you rarely hear it nowadays.

  9. chantgirl says:

    I didn’t realize bishops could excommunicate each other!? If that mechanism was around during the Arian heresy, that could have been the Church’s self-destruct button. Come to think of it, I’m thinking that there are probably bishops today who would be tempted (on both sides of some very divisive arguments) to push that button. Surely this was an abuse of power by Bishop Briand?

  10. Tina in Ashburn says:

    LOL Fr Z posts a prayer to assist in our devotions and we turn it into a political discussion.
    we. can’t. help. it.

    Yea, unfortunately Bishop Carroll is controversial to those who have read up on him. And too, some are rethinking this mindset of revolution we were taught as Americans. But as Supertradmum aptly points out, being Catholic in that hostile environment created dilemmas in a world where the state and the religion was united.

  11. thoscole says:

    Just for what it is worth — Bishop Carroll would have been excommunicated while yet only a priest. He was a priest travelling into the diocese of Bishop Briand, Quebec.

  12. chantgirl says:

    Thoscole- okay, that makes a little more sense. I had this mental image of Bishops flinging excommunications around willy-nilly like wild west gunslingers. I always thought that one had to be excommunicated by one’s own bishop, or God forbid, the Pope himself.

    On another note, it’s good to see a decent number of Catholics praying for our country, the Church, and our freedom of religion.

  13. Supertradmum says:

    thoscole, you are correct. I had forgotten about the Quebec Act, and that did influence how Catholics were treated in that area. However, the other prejudices, suspicions and issues would have been there.

    John Nolan, I meant to write Catholic Relief Act, which was the real beginning of Catholic emancipation in GB and the date was 1791. Full emancipation came, as you said, later. However, the earlier date forms the turning point in GB history and gave the impetus for the later act. George III was against further emancipation which, as you rightly point out, happened finally in 1829. The 1791 Act (which as you remember, followed the 1778 Catholic Relief Act which caused the famous Gordon riots of 1780) permitted the practice of religion and churches began to be built at that date, as one can see across England, and indeed, one can see some of these early churches today, as in Soho where a chapel was consecrated in 1792, one year after the second, successful Act.

  14. Gail F says:

    I am going to post this on my web site, attributed here of course…

  15. Pingback: Prayer for Government | The Catholic Beat

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    10 Things You Should Know About the American Founding, by Bradley J. Birzer, at The Catholic World Report.

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