I encounter many online requests via social media or comments in online articles asking the reader to pray for either the person
writing, their loved one, or for a deceased individual. However, in most cases the name of the person who will be the subject of the prayer is absent. This provoked my question – can you pray in an efficacious way for a person whose given name is unknown? I’m guessing a twitter handle won’t suffice. In the same vein, at my parish we can communicate through an app and people frequently ask for prayers. Sometimes it’s for a cousin whose name isn’t provided or for an intention that is deliberately kept private. I’ve seen you write about the importance of specificity in prayer and these prayer requests seem to have inherent obstacles in them. What is the best way to pray for such intentions?
Firstly, I think that when I have suggested specificity in prayer is when I write about asking St. Joseph for his intercession. My experience with St. Joseph has been that, when I have been precise, he has come through. “Dear St. Joseph, I am jammed up. I need X and I need it by 5:30PM. Thanks in advance.” That has worked for me in some pretty dramatic and urgent past challenges. Thank you, St. Joseph!
Next, nothing is hidden from God, neither the secret thoughts of our heart nor the identities of those anonymous people for whom we might pray. For example, you don’t know the names of all the “Poor Souls”. They are “poor”, in the sense that they need our prayers, though they are rich in their not-yet-attained glory. You don’t know their names when praying for them en masse, but God does. And God knows which souls need whatever and how they need it. No prayer that we offer is vain, in the sense of being empty. Even though a specific person from whom we might be praying after death may already be in heaven and, therefore, without the need of our intercessory prayers, God can make use of what we pray for those souls who are in need.
If in social media you see, or want to post, “Please pray for ‘T’ who is in need of spiritual healing?”, that’s okay. If I stop and pray for “T”, God know who “T” is, even if I do not.
Also, we can have a moral intention in our prayer. For example, sometimes a priest will accept a Mass stipend for an intention. It could happen that a priest has a whole bunch of intentions that he thinks he can’t take care of in the proper amount of time. It could be that he had an intention for a certain day and something else came up that make it impossible for him to say that intention. In that case, he can reach out to another priest to say the intention as an “intentio dantis“, without the specific information, but according to “the intention of the one giving” the intention (the literal meaning of “intentio dantis“).
“Hey, Msgr. Z, this is Fr. Joe Włotrzewiszczykowycki of the St. Philip Neri Oratory of Mary Cause of Our Joy. I have to pick up a couple of parish Masses for Fr. Guido Schmitz who is ill. I have an intention that can’t say for today’s specific date. It’s the anniversary of someone’s death. I don’t have the deceased’s name with me right now, because I’m driving to St. Fidelia over in Black Duck. Could you celebrate it “intentio dantis” and I’ll get the details to you after? Thanks!”
So, we can be specific and we can also have only a vague sense of details. The important thing is that you pray with earnest sincerity, and humble confidence that no prayer you raise to God is without its good impact according to His inscrutable dispositions.