ASK FATHER: How to “pray for the Pope’s intentions” if I don’t like them or him?

From a reader…


With the pope not being what I would call a friend to the traditional mass, my wife has asked how do we pray for his intentions? Can we as lay people be critical of the pope? Where is the line to be drawn?

First, let’s clarify something.   That phrase, “pray for [the Pope’s] intentions” does not mean praying for the Pope.  It means praying for the intentions that the Pope designates.

In modern times Popes designate a couple of intentions each month.  You don’t have to know what they are explicitly in order to pray for them.  Simply make the intention to pray for whatever it is that he designated.  For some years now Popes have designated a “General” and a “Mission” intention.  In the past, it was a little more complicated, as I shall explain down the line.

There are a couple more issues here.

It is remarkable how often these days I get questions about praying for the Pope’s intentions.  I’ve answered questions about this before.  What seems to be at the core of the question is an implicit, “We don’t like the Pope or the intentions he designates, so we don’t want to pray for the intention he designates.  How do we get around this?”

May I remind the readership that, in this age when the concept of “love” is being treacherously and demonically distorted – not just banalized now, but distorted (as sexually active and activist homosexuals do), we who hold to our Catholic Faith know that “love” isn’t a matter of “liking”.

Love is an act of will.

This is something that spouses know all too well: over time “feelings” can change, but when we choose to love we overcome all obstacles if that choice is for the kind of love that Christ exemplified on the Cross: charity.

You are “traditional”, right?  Traditional Catholics love their Popes.

All Catholics love their Popes.  They want to like them, too, but they do love them.  That means desiring for them what is truly for their good. In the case of this Pope, as for every Pope, that must also include desiring what is truly good also for the Church, since the Pope is the Church’s visible reference point of unity.

I think that traditionalists should distinguish themselves in charity, and not be like … others, who seek their own agendas.

If you don’t “like” the Holy Father, or what he does, you can, and should, make an act of will to love him, which means desiring for him what is truly good for him. Furthermore, it means respecting his authority in those things over which he has authority.  In the matter of the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints and the indulgences that Holy Church concedes, the Holy Father has the authority.

So, Catholics recognize the Pope’s authority in those things that pertain to his office, and we pray that God give them, and the Church, that which is truly good according to His will.

The Church, through the Holy Father, assigns as part of most indulgenced works also praying for the intentions that the Holy Father designates.  And that’s that.

A tangential issue might be helpful.  What happens if there is no Holy Father, as in the case between pontificates, sede vacante?  How do we pray for his intentions when “he” is no more?  First, Popes generally issue their intentions for a whole year way ahead of time.  There is going to be already published some intention that the last Pope had designated.

To deepen out knowledge of the Pope’s intentions, there are also the traditional intentions that were perennially designated.


Because we are Unreconstructed Ossified Manualists, and we love our old dependable compendia of theology with its sober and thorough analyses, we can turn to the manual by Prümmer.

Prümmer says that the intentions of the Holy Father for which we are to pray have a tradition of five basic categories which were fixed:

1. Exaltatio S. Matris Ecclesiae (Triumph/elevation/stablity/growth of Holy Mother Church)
2. Extirpatio haeresum (Extirpation/rooting out of heresies),
3. Propagatio fidei (Propagation/expansion/spreading of the Faith)
4. Conversio peccatorum (Conversion of sinners),
5. Pax inter principes christianos (Peace between christian rulers).

These five categories were also listed in the older, 1917 Code of Canon Law, which is now superseded by the 1983 Code.

However, they remain good intentions all.

If you don’t happen to know what Pope Francis’ intentions are for November 2017 – or even if you do – you can always join these intentions to your prayers for “whatever it was that the Pope designated”, always in accord with God’s will.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thank you for this explanation. I admit I really have to force myself to pray for the pope’s intentions, since in general they seem to often be those of the liberal left wing progressives. The specific monthly intentions may not be so bad. But I always tell Jesus, “insofar as they are according to your will.”

  2. Richard McNally says:

    Excellent, Father Z. Thank you so much.

  3. Eric says:

    Thanks Father. That makes perfect sense as it should. I struggled with that one yesterday when I was trying to obtain an indulgence for my deceased father. I ended up praying the traditional prayer for the pope I found in my missal.

    [I’m glad you prayed for your father. Remember that to pray for the Pope’s intentions means to pray for the intentions that the Pope designates, not to pray for the Pope himself… though that’s a good thing to do.]

  4. Eric says:

    Roger that Father.

  5. SAHMmy says:

    I am not always thrilled (nor understand) everything that the Pope says and does, however I do of course want the best possible good for him. When praying for his intentions I add “holy”….I pray easily for the Pope’s holy intentions, which I intend to mean those intentions that are fully aligned with God.

  6. Imrahil says:

    For the record and following up on what the dear Aquinas Gal wrote,

    “Let us pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, whatever they may be, insofar as they are in accord with Our Lord’s will. Our Father, etc. Hail Mary, etc.”

    Does this suffice for the indulgence requirement? Or is it, while (obviously) a noble prayer in itself, insufficient for that purpose, because one has attached a condition to it which is unmentioned in the grant?

    [I don’t see the problem. I can’t see that it is out of keeping to pray that God’s will be done or that all our intentions, whatever they my be, are in accord with God’s will.]

  7. Imrahil says:

    By the way, I heard once explaind by an SSPX father that the Papal intentions were fixed to the five our reverend host mentions; but I am sure that the monthly general and monthly missionary intention are, at the least, also Papal intentions, and I wondered whether this was not part of a “let’s not get too dependent on what the Pope may happen to decide” SSPX thing. Also I wonder whether the criterion of a prayer for “the Papal intentions” is met by a prayer for some but not others of the Papal intentions.

  8. Imrahil says:

    As a matter of fact, while praying for the Pope, as opposed to for his intentions, is never necessary nor sufficient to fulfill the plenary indulgence condition, it is as well a good thing to do and it should not pose any problems at all.

    Let us pray for our Pontiff Francis.

    The Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him happy on this Earth, and surrender him not to the will of his enemies.

    Let us pray. – God who art of all the faithful the shepherd and ruler, look benignly upon Thy servant Francis, whom thou hast wanted to lead Thy Church as her pastor. Give him, we beseech Thee, to be of use by word and example to those he leads: so that he may, together with the flock entrusted to him, come to Eternal Life. Through Christ, our Lord: Amen.

  9. Roy Hobbes says:

    “You are “traditional”, right? Traditional Catholics love their Popes.”

    Oh Father, but I do! I mean, he signed ‘Summorum Pontificum’, no?

  10. DavidR says:

    I pray as does Imrahil above: “for the Pope and for his intentions, insofar as they accord with Your will.” Seems to work for me.

  11. Dan says:

    Also prayer is never wasted, should the Pope for some reason deliver an intention contrary to God’s will, then have faith that God will sort that out and apply the prayers accordingly.

    I have however taken to saying during our family rosaries “And we pray for the Popes Holy Intentions” Which is more a distinction for my mind and heart than one that God requires.

  12. TonyO says:

    I have been adding slightly to what Imrahil and Aquinas Gal said. I pray for the Pope’s intentions: “that God may grant them, insofar as they are good; and that God may change them, insofar as they are not good.”

    I also pray for Pope Francis: I figure that he can surely use our prayers. In fact, the more I come to worry about his way of doing things, the more I figure he can surely use our prayers.

  13. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    It seems that the Holy Father no longer designates separate monthly missionary and general intentions, but just one for each month.

    This month: “That Christians in Asia, bearing witness to the Gospel in word and deed, may promote dialogue, peace, and mutual understanding, especially with those of other religions.”

    See, e.g. (I couldn’t find a source at

  14. Elizabeth R says:

    I have also been praying, for many months now, for “the Pope’s intentions, insofar as they are in accord with Thy will.” It’s encouraging to realize that others are doing the same.

    I pray for Pope Francis every day, as well as for Pope Emeritus Benedict and for whoever will be our next Pope.

  15. teachermom24 says:

    Almighty God, in His infinite wisdom, did not elect me Pope; He chose Francis. That’s all I need to remember whenever I read anything about or by our Holy Father. I have absolutely no context to judge him on anything, and genuinely have no wish to do so. I just need to keep my eyes on my own paper, which is the work God has placed in front of me to do each day.

  16. sam9001 says:

    Would praying for Pope Benedict XVI’s intentions fulfill praying for the Pope’s intentions? He is the Pope Emeritus after all.

    [Pray for the intentions designated by the Pope.]

  17. Ben Kenobi says:

    2. Extirpatio haeresum (Extirpation/rooting out of heresies),

    Thank you Father.

  18. Imrahil says:

    Dear DavidR,

    I formulated it in that way to clarify, but I have not hitherto prayed that way. Sure, I did hope that God would sort it out if need by, but I (actually) wasn’t sure whether explicitly attaching such conditions suffice for indulgences. (Thanks for the answer, reverend Father.)

  19. Ave Crux says:

    Each day after the Rosary, we would pray for the Pope’s Intentions in order to gain the indulgence. However, this became more and more difficult, because we weren’t sure whether we were praying against God’s Will and/or for something inimical to the Catholic Faith.

    So we solved this moral dilemma by simply saying: “Prayers for the Holy Father’s Intentions which are acceptable to God…” This way, we ourselves don’t need to know or judge any of the intentions in this matter, we simply leave it to God while not losing the opportunity to obtain the indulgence.

    I also like very much Father Z’s explanation that the following are always (or should be) part of the Holy Father’s intentions. These are wonderful intentions….but Pope Francis’ intentions (and agenda) seem very far afield, if not diametrically opposed, to these (which is why we are always so afraid to pray for his intentions):

    1. Exaltatio S. Matris Ecclesiae (Triumph/elevation/stablity/growth of Holy Mother Church)
    2. Extirpatio haeresum (Extirpation/rooting out of heresies),
    3. Propagatio fidei (Propagation/expansion/spreading of the Faith)
    4. Conversio peccatorum (Conversion of sinners),
    5. Pax inter principes christianos (Peace between christian rulers).

  20. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Even as a joke, folks, let’s not refer to the Pope Emeritus as being still a pope. He signaled the move beforehand, for years and years, even though nobody could really believe he meant his signals. Then he went to a great deal of trouble to abdicate definitively, and to make sure Catholics don’t get stuck in a situation where they have a religious leader who can be imprisoned incommunicado indefinitely.

    You can’t say, “Ooh, I love and obey,” and then spend all your time disregarding and disobeying.

    Meanwhile, for all his many failings, Pope Francis is not the worst pope one could imagine. Anybody historically minded could imagine someone much worse.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “…..and to make sure that in the future, Catholics don’t get stuck in a situation….”

    Sorry about that.

  22. Jacques says:

    The best we can wish for the Pope is that God will bestow him at soonest the crown he deserves in Heavens. I think that all trad catholics who have the duty to love the Holy Father will agree to pray with this intention.

  23. Gaz says:

    I was praying the Rosary once when my Bishop was in Rome on his ad limina visit. Nowadays, I add in a prayer my Bishop’s intentions at that point.

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