ASK FATHER: Praying for the Holy Father’s intentions when those intentions are… odd

Combat Rosary right to bear arms


A reader sent:

Father:   When the Pope is saying “human person at center”, I think this article might explain the thinking.  [The serendipitous article in question is from today’s page at Crisis.]

Person as opposed to power and goods (at center) and other Marxist ideals.



It doesn’t hurt to remind people that when we pray “for the intentions of the Holy Father” (as we do when we pray the Rosary), we are not praying for the Holy Father.  Rather, we are to pray for the intentions the Holy Father designates for our prayers that month.

We don’t have to know what they are explicitly.  It is enough to desire to pray for, to have the moral intention to pray for, what he wishes.  That said, it is pretty easy in the age of these interwebs to find out what they are.

The Pope usually assigns two petitions or intentions, one general and one of a more missionary spirit.  Coming up in September we are to pray for these intentions which the Holy Father has designated:

Universal: Centrality of the Human Person

That each may contribute to the common good and to the building of a society that places the human person at the center.

Evangelization: Mission to Evangelize

That by participating in the Sacraments and meditating on Scripture, Christians may become more aware of their mission to evangelize.

In regard to the first, I had to scratch my head a little…. “the building of a society that places the human person at the center”?  The human person and not God?  I am reminded of the way the prayers for the Feast of Christ the King were altered.  In the older Missale Romanum the orations see Christ as being, now, King of all earthly things.  In the newer Missale, Christ is seen more as an eschatological King.

I had a note from a priest about the September 2016 intentions:

I practice the First Saturday devotion and try to pray for the pope’s intentions often for indulgences, but have found this increasingly difficult.

This month, for example, it seemed a little strange that the pope is asking for us to pray that “sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounter,” but I just shrugged my shoulders and went along with it.  [In August, the Summer Olympics were going on in Rio.]

But now I am troubled to see the September intention, namely, that we build a society that “places the human person at the center.” This seems so contrary to what we should hope for – and exactly what the enemy wants. How can I pray for the Holy Father’s intentions when I believe them to be contrary to the Faith? Or, more specifically, how can I fulfill the obligations to gain plenary indulgences without directly supporting intentions contrary to the Faith?

Thank you, and I understand of course if you are unable to get to my question. I will offer up my Mass for you today. [Thanks!]

The indulgence is conceded according to the way it is conceded.  If the indulgence says that the work to be performed includes praying for the Holy Father’s intentions, then that is what we do.  He, being Pope, gets to designate his intentions, silly or solemn, frivolous or fervid,  humdrum or heavenly.

Perhaps this will help.  If there are monthly intentions which cause you to scratch your head, you might add when you pray for the Pope’s intentions the words…

“in the manner in which the Holy Father’s intention fulfills Thy Will O, Lord.”


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TheDude05 says:

    It’s the Pope’s war against money that made it be worded this way. Rather than have money or power at the center of society we should instead place the good of all humans at the center. I agree though that it misses the mark by not putting God at the center. With God at the center of society human beings would be viewed in a different light that would show the inherent value in their being created in the image of God. In today’s misunderstandings though people would probably accuse him of promoting theocracy and turning his back on ecumenism and loving all humans including those who don’t believe, and further accusations that he also hates Vatican II like a certain hard slogging, hard blogging priest.

  2. In the case of indulgences, I just don’t look them up and do one of the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Does the trick.

  3. anilwang says:

    WRT, “Universal: Centrality of the Human Person”

    To be fair, there is a hierarchy of value: (1) First God, then (2) people, then (3) things.
    Modern society has this hierarchy exactly backwards so that things are more important that people and God just a hobby some people engage in.
    Praying for the centrality of the human person at least brings us up the hierarchy. If people did have value, euthanasia, abortion, religious freedom, and freedom of conscience would be non-issues. And if people really had value, you would evangelize them rather than leave them in their sins and let the fall into Hell.

    Pope Francis seems to have given up on getting people to look to God, so it’s no surprise that he’s at least trying to get people to move up the hierarchy.

    Personally, I could pray for this intention if I mentally add “under the headship of God”. The sports intention, is more of a head scratcher but even this can added to to include “sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounter, that will lead people to the Catholic Faith”.

  4. Back pew sitter says:

    I must admit I don’t pay any attention to the specific intentions of the Holy Father. Your suggestion of the linking of God’s will being done to the intention is a helpful one.

    Re your query about the prayer mentioning that the human person should be at the centre of human society, it might be helpful to note that Gaudium et Spes similarly mentions that “believers and unbelievers agree almost unanimously that all things on earth should be ordained to man as their centre and summit.” (n. 12). When referring to this the Congregation for Catholic Education provides a clarificatory footnote:

    “This affirmation of Gaudium et Spes includes, for Christian faith, that the ordering of the world to the needs of man is valid only on the presupposition of the subordination of man to God, and thus man builds the world in obedience to the norms of God, not destroying it in the name of his egoism.” (Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church’s Society Doctrine in the Formation of Priests (1988) n. 31, fn. 72.)

  5. Giuseppe says:

    Maybe add the words “of Your creation” to “human person at the center”. [I think the Holy Father, and he alone, get’s to assign the intentions. Edit them and they are no longer his.]

    I assumed it meant that a society which values the personhood of all, including the unborn, the weak, the elderly, the prisoners, etc., and does not view any human person as discardable.

  6. John Grammaticus says:

    I am going to be charitable and assume that the Holy Father is trying to say that we should put people before profits (although I agree that it is poorly worded) and I would like God to be mentioned. As for the evangelising intention…… perhaps he could ask people to pray for a particular segment of the world’s population.

  7. Benedict Joseph says:

    This dilemma emerges from a necessarily inadequate ideological angle rather than any well-grounded theological perspective. It bespeaks a cavalier comportment considered healthy and not so “grave” – a lack of precision and thoughtfulness which is necessary to keep the current confusion fueled. This has been well peppered in diverse corners of Catholicism for decades now. The difference presently is that it is manifest where one would least expect or hope to find it. Your solution is genius.
    “According to Your Will, O Lord.”

  8. Your suggestion is better than mine, Father, though the latter was along the lines of what you also pointed out at the start. If it suffices that we have the moral intention to pray for his intentions, then – nothing in the Enchiridion giving their source – while we should acknowledge the stated ones we may be free to pray for his own moral intention (i.e. behind the words). In this case, in other words, we should hope for something along these lines: that, if he wants the human person at the centre of society, he wants God at the centre of the human person.

  9. acardnal says:

    Very elucidating, Father.

  10. Kerry says:

    Per the Frenchmen at the top of the battlement, “Eh? Human person at the center? We’ve already got one!”

  11. Huber says:

    Father, given that we live in a time with two Holy Fathers -would it not be possible, in the most legalistic sense, to pray for the intentions of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in order to fulfill the conditions of an indulgence? [No.]

    I’m sure the elder Holy Father has prayer intentions, though private and unstated. [He might, but Benedict XVI is not at this moment the Roman Pontiff. There is one Pope at a time.]

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Jesus Christ is the New Adam, so in a way He encompasses all of humanity in Himself. That how even though “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all,” Jesus’ death could redeem us all. (Whether or not we individually choose to be saved or damned after that.)

    So Jesus is a Person of the Holy Trinity… and He’s at the center and everywhere else in our society, whether or not our society wants Him there….

    (Okay, I know that’s playing fast and loose with theology. But it’s one way to take it.)

  13. Polycarpio says:

    As Backpewsitter points out, the September prayer request relates to the statement from Gaudium et Spes that “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.” [GS, 12.] See also, GS 63 (“In the economic and social realms, too, the dignity and complete vocation of the human person and the welfare of society as a whole are to be respected and promoted. For man is the source, the center, and the purpose of all economic and social life.”). This is stated, not for banal, Narcissistic ends, but to do the will of God: “For Sacred Scripture teaches that man was created ‘to the image of God,’ is capable of knowing and loving his Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures that he might subdue them and use them to God’s glory.” [Id., 12.]

  14. Boniface says:

    It’s pretty clear to me that the Holy Father intended us to pray for what we think of in the U.S. as “respect for life.”

    That implicitly puts God at the center, since Catholic pro-life values seek to honor the will of our Creator.

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  16. stadtpilger says:

    In Latin, prayers for the Holy Father’s intentions are prefaced with “Oremus ad mentem Summi Pontificis”, right? And is “ad mentem” not correctly translated as “with regard to” or “in the matter of” the Holy Father’s intentions? If so, we would be praying that with regard to centering society on man, etc. God’s name might be hallowed, His will done on earth as in heaven… Nothing wrong with that.

  17. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Is the personhood of each something that is knowable by non-Christians? If so, that might illuminate a complementarity of the two intentions – that all may come to recognize the personhood and proceed to recognize it as created in the image of God, fallen, needing redemption, and to embrace that redemption and Redeemer.

  18. John UK says:

    One is reminded of the definition of the Renaissance that I first heard as a schoolboy:
    The replacement of a God-centred world by a man-centred world

    Nonetheless, surely all prayer is ultimately qualified, as was that of our Lord Himself, by a “Not my will, but thine, be done”, even if unspoken.

  19. WmHesch says:

    Before the Council, no one conflated the Apostleship of Prayer monthly intentions with the general intentions of the Holy Father. And it baffles me why folks do so now. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one!!

    A commentary on Canon 984 in the 1917 CIC describes them thus:

    “The general intention of the Holy Father is the exaltation of the Church, the propagation of the Faith, the uprooting of heresies and schisms, the conversion of sinners, and peace and concord among the nations.”

  20. Matt R says:

    It’s simply personalism, though perhaps poorly articulated and certainly meant for a world like Europe right after WWII. If the person is at the center, God is, because human dignity comes from God being good and from being in God’s image and likeness.

  21. Andrew_81 says:

    Prümmer in his Manuale (vol. III, no. 556) says that “Intentions of the Holy Father” which we pray for in the course of obtaining an Indulgence are a five-fold set which tradition (and the former Congregations) have fixed as such, namely:

    1. Exaltatio S. Matris Ecclesiæ (The triumph/growth of holy mother the Church),
    2. Extirpatio hæresum (The rooting out of heresy),
    3. Propagatio fidei (The propogation of the Faith)
    4. Conversio peccatorum (The conversion of sinners),
    5. Pax inter principes christianos (Peace among christian rulers).

    I like all of these, very much desire they come about, and will always happily pray for these. None of them require any head scratching.

    I also pray for the Holy Father, himself as well.

    [For citing a Manual, which pleases this Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  22. Ave Crux says:

    Sorry, there’s no way to rationalize as acceptable the September intention for “the building of a society that places the human person at the center.”

    Such an intention is an abomination in the sight of God for whom alone all creation was created for his glory.

    The objective contained in this intention is exactly how we ended up in such a dire state of affairs. We have ceased to humble and abase ourselves before God as our Sovereign and Creator; we who are but dust.

    As Pope St. Pius X motto states, we must “restore all things in Christ”…NOT in man, who is nothing in himself.

    Man as the center of creation is a thoroughly modernist and diabolical concept. That’s exactly how Satan fell from his own exalted excellence, by wanting to make himself the center, not God.

    I resolve the moral dilemma of praying for the Pope’s frequently heterodox intentions by simply stating prior to those prayers: “For the intentions of the Holy Father which are acceptable to God…..”

    In this way I make no judgement and simply leave that to God without forfeiting for myself the opportunity to pray for the intentions and to gain a plenary Indulgence.

    In this way I don’t feel constrained to pray for dubious intentions which are contrary to one’s conscience and Sensus Catholicus. [Of which YOU are the official arbiter, it seems. If you don’t perform the prescribed work for obtaining indulgences, you don’t obtain the indulgences. Just so you know.]

  23. robtbrown says:

    John UK says

    One is reminded of the definition of the Renaissance that I first heard as a schoolboy:
    The replacement of a God-centred world by a man-centred world.

    Your comment is on point. And this MO was taken up by the Jesuits: It is their strength and their weakness.

  24. Ave Crux says:

    Father Z: “If you don’t perform the prescribed work for obtaining indulgences, you don’t obtain the indulgences. Just so you know.”

    That’s just it. I DO pray for the “Pope’s intentions acceptable to God” making no judgement on those intentions.

    In this way I leave that to God without reference to what I think.

    God does not expect us to pray for the fulfillment of objectives He finds erroneous or objectionable, so I leave that to Him without trying to know or judge, thereby freeing myself from any sense of guilt that I am praying for things that might not please Him.

  25. ACatholicGuy says:

    From time to time a pope has made me scratch my head regarding his prayer intentions. In those cases, when I prayed for the pope’s intentions at the end of my rosary, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide the pope to choose intentions in accordance with His will (not implying that the intentions in question weren’t, but rather that I didn’t really understand what I was praying for with regard to those intentions). But then, that wasn’t for an indulgence, but rather just because I always toss in praying for the pope at the end of my rosary, so maybe it wouldn’t count for an indulgence.

  26. robtbrown says:

    Ave Crux says:

    Sorry, there’s no way to rationalize as acceptable the September intention for “the building of a society that places the human person at the center.”

    Such an intention is an abomination in the sight of God for whom alone all creation was created for his glory.

    Your reaction illustrates the problem with what has become a common Jesuit way of speaking and writing: It depends on how it is interpreted.

    Your interpretation is somewhat correct, but it is not correct to say it’s the only interpretation. If we understand that man has been created for an end that he cannot attain via his own faculties, then God is implicit in the pope’s intention. And there is nothing wrong with the intention.

    Ditto for St Thomas’ definition of a human person: Persona est rationalis naturae individua substantia (A person is an individual substane of a rational nature).

    Further, if the pope is referring to those in business or government who take no notice of the consequences on people of what they are doing or advising to be done, then he is also correct. No greater example is Alan Greenspan. A few years ago he was testifying before a Congressional committee and was asked of the effect of the Fed’s low interest rates on those who depend on interest from CD’s. His answer: The low interest rates are good for the economy.

    Well, does the economy exist for people–or people for the economy? Or does the economy only exist for certain people?

  27. vivatcj says:

    A friend of mine and I, while weekend walking and praying the rosary, came up with the solution of praying for the popes intentions which are “in accord with the will of God”. I do however like what Andrew_81 has to say about the 5 intentions “presumed” to be involved in indulgence prayers.

  28. Semper Gumby says:

    Thanks for this helpful post Fr. Z. That picture is great, I’ll have to remember to print it out and laminate it.

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