WDTPRS – 24th Ordinary Sunday: Does it really make a difference to offer prayers to God?

concierge bellGiven The Present Crisis™ – exacerbated by the antics of Francis with Traditionis custodes and the manifest incompetence and faithlessness of Biden – and the call, often taken up now, for prayer and more prayer, we might consider:

Does it really make a difference to offer prayers to God?

The Collect for the 24th Ordinary Sunday was not in pre-Conciliar editions of the Roman Missal but it has an antecedent in the ancient Veronese Sacramentary among the prayers used during September.

Respice nos, rerum omnium Deus creator et rector, et, ut tuae propitiationis sentiamus effectum, toto nos tribue tibi corde servire.

Propitiatio means “an appeasing; atonement”.  It can also mean the propitiatory sacrifice itself.


Be mindful of us, O God, creator and ruler of all things, and, in order that we may sense the effect of Your act of atonement, allow us to serve You with our whole heart.


Look upon us, O God, Creator and ruler of all things, and, that we may feel the working of your mercy, grant that we may serve you with all our heart.

St. Augustine (+430), in his autobiographical prayer the Confessions (3, 7), uses the phrase “unus et verus creator et rector universitatis”, very like the first line.  Augustine certainly knew the hymns of Milan’s bishop St. Ambrose (+397), which he heard sung in cathedral.  To my ear, this first line rings like Ambrose’s hymn Deus Creator Omnium, which is, in part, included in the Liturgy of Hours for 1st Vespers of Sundays during Ordinary Time.


For those of you who are easily triggered by concepts that were talked about before that halcyon moment of awokening, that shining path to renewal, that doorway to a new springtime for the Church – Vatican II – now the only permissible lens through which all of time and space must be reassessed, reinterpreted, and, if need be, snuffed out or rewritten, what follows might make you switch off a light and suck your thumb… while you plan on how to hurt those who dare to have a different view.


Propitiation [a concept systematically edited out of the ‘surviving’ orations in the Novus Ordo] is a prayerful act of appeasement begging for God’s mercy.

Because we are sinners, we seek mitigation of the punishments we justly deserve for our sins both in this world and temporal punishment in the next.

Propitiation is distinguished from impetration (from Latin impetro, “to obtain, by exertion, entreaty”).

[Soooo many triggers….]

Impetration is an appeal to God’s goodness asking for spiritual or temporal well-being for ourselves or others.

By impetratory prayer we beg God for benefits.

By propitiatory prayer we beg Him for mercy and forgiveness.

[Soooo many microaggressions.]

Throughout the ages people have wondered whether it makes any sense to pray to God at all.

After all, God is omniscient and eternal. He [oh my!] is not limited by past, present or future.  His being and will and knowledge are one and the same.  God, being perfect, is unchangeable. He orders all things to their proper end, which is what we call divine providence. What God knows will come to pass must necessarily come to pass.

God is utterly transcendent.

We cannot bend God to our will.  [Tell that to the critical race and gender ideologists.  Okay… I’ll stop now.]

QUAERITUR: Does it make any sense or any difference to offer prayers to such a God?

Various solutions to this problem have been proposed.

Some ancient thinkers held that human affairs are not ruled by any divine providence and it is therefore useless to pray to or worship any god.  This renders prayer pointless.

Others held that all things, including human affairs, happen from necessity, whether by reason of the immutability of divine providence, or through the compelling influence of the stars, cosmic or physical forces, etc.  This view similarly renders prayer pointless.

Others held that divine providence indeed rules human affairs and things do not happen of necessity, but they thought that God and His providence is mutable, and can be changed by rites and prayers. This view similarly renders prayer pointless, because, if the one we are praying to is mutable, it isn’t God.  God isn’t fickle or changeable.

In figuring out what to pray and how, and even why to pray at all, we Catholics must account for the usefulness and effectiveness of prayer in such a way as to avoid imposing fatalistic necessity on human affairs and also to avoid any suggestion that God is changeable, fickle, malleable.

In His earthly life Jesus, God with us, demonstrated that prayers are effective.  He was moved by His Mother at Cana to change water to wine, by the Syro-Phoenician woman to exorcise her daughter, by the Good Thief to remember him in His Kingdom, and by many others.  We know that saints can intercede for us and obtain favors from God.

Our Lord Himself prayed.  He Himself taught us to pray and to ask for things and to beg mercy.

St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) drills into the problem of whether it is useful to pray to God (STh II, IIae, q. 83, a. 2) saying,

“We pray not that we may change the divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers, in other words, ‘that by asking, men may deserve to receive what Almighty God from eternity has disposed to give’ (St. Gregory, Dialogues)…”.

The same applies to begging for God’s mercy (propitiatory prayer), which we can do with confidence.

Our prayer should be raised to God with humility and gratitude for what we know He has certainly disposed in His divine providence.

He grants favors according to what from all eternity He has known about us, our needs and disposition.

Bottom line: Our prayers are good for us.

Confidently but humbly, boldly but without presumption, raise your cares and petitions to God without treating Him as if He were a Cosmic Concierge.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. ajf1984 says:

    Speaking of Vatican II (were we?), here are a couple of key passages that I stumbled upon recently that seem to me to be speaking to our present crisis! The first is a reminder of the rights the faithful have “to receive [from their pastors] in abundance the help of the spiritual goods of the church… The laity should disclose their needs and desires with that liberty and confidence which befits children of God and brothers of Christ…” (Lumen gentium 37)

    Further, we are called “to create in the Church itself mutual esteem, reverence and harmony, and acknowledge all legitimate diversity; in this way all who constitute the one people of God will be able to engage in ever more fruitful dialogue…” (Gaudium et spes 92) Having real trouble seeing the dialogue and the harmonious acknowledgement of diversity in TC and these last couple of months, to say nothing of the absence of reverence in the last 50-ish years! I have come to the realization that TC hates Vatican II!

  2. TRW says:

    Fr. Z , this is one of your most beautiful posts in recent memory. Wow. Such a misunderstood and mysterious facet of His Providence. I honestly believe that most professed atheists and agnostics do not understand Divine Simplicity and all that it entails. What they reject is their own limited conceptualization, a two-dimensional caricature of God. Impetratory prayer makes no sense, or is completely misunderstood, without an at least intuitive grasp of the identity of God’s will, knowledge and being. There is a great podcast called The Classical Theism Podcast. There are several episodes that address the topic of Divine Simplicity, drawing heavily from Aquinas(of course). The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks about our predestination and His Providence in a fascinating and theologically dense way. Fr. has put it succinctly in the post above:
    ” He grants favors according to what from all eternity He has known about us, our needs and disposition.” Beautiful!

  3. Semper Gumby says:

    Thank you Fr. Z.

    “Confidently but humbly, boldly but without presumption, raise your cares and petitions to God without treating Him as if He were a Cosmic Concierge.”


    The explanation above of “providence” recalls an article in Providence magazine from April 2017, “A President Honors Wounded Veterans: Review of George W. Bush’s Portraits of Courage.” Perhaps fitting for this, Sunday, September 12, 2021.

    “The former commander-and[sic]-chief met former military personnel through the Bush Institute, which among its various objectives seeks to reduce the civilian-military divide and help veterans transition into civilian life. Wounded veterans he met during the Institute’s W100K mountain bike rides and Warrior Open golf tournament would become subjects for a new art project and his latest book, Portraits of Courage.

    “A smaller proportion of the population has served in the military than previously, so fewer Americans interact closely with them. Today only 16 percent of the young have a parent who has served, compared to 40 percent in 1990. Bush’s book provides civilians an opportunity to learn about wounded warriors’ experiences and perhaps welcome them home better.”

    “During the present conflicts that mark Western coalition nations, there is little visceral evidence that Christians of any major communion have genuinely attempted to reach spiritually injured warriors, in order to welcome them into (and find healing amongst) “the community of the saints.””

    God bless President Donald J. Trump for visiting yesterday courageous New York City firemen and police officers.

  4. adriennep says:

    Our prayers better have some effect, because our family watched “The Path to 9/11” mini-series these past two nights, and it was more awful than ever, given what has just happened in Afghanistan. We were moved to pray hard for those with the blood of the 3,000 on their hands because they dithered when they could have taken action. Especially given the unprecedented censorship of this mini-series and the violent character assassination given the director and Cyrus Nowrasteh (the creator) by the bulbous Clinton machine. We saw on YT an outrage-inspiring documentary by Breitbart called “Blocking the Path to 9/11.” It is enough to get one Mad As Hell and Not Going To Take It Anymore…but in a good way of getting out of apathy.

    And because of censorship that reached to the highest level at Disney, no DVD of mini-series was ever released. You can only find bootlegs on eBay or Amazon.

  5. prayfatima says:

    I love appealing to God’s goodness and other qualities when I pray for things. And I am reminded that He always provides. I believe we can move His heart and get what we want especially when we are persistent. I joke and say we should pray and become annoying to God. But really, He eventually gives in when it is very sincere and persistent. If God is all good and He wants us with Him someday forever, then I think it’s very reasonable to ask for whatever we need on earth to help us get there safely. Pray without ceasing. Ask and you shall receive. We know that it is said that we must be like little children to enter Heaven. So pray like them in the way they ask you for things. A child asks saying please, a baby cries and gets everything he or she wants. How can God, Who is Love itself, not want to see us content, as a mother sees her child happy after a good meal and a good rest. God can do anything, let’s start asking Him for anything we need. I think the bigger the thing is that we ask for the more interested God is in making it happen, because He is all powerful and He wants to be known. When we appeal to His qualities, we are admitting our dependence and proper relation to Him as a humble beggar. We are good, only because we share in His goodness, but He is actually Goodness itself. So we say: give me more of You! You have everything good and everything I need! You can do anything, so please (what I need)! It’s only fair that God provides when someone reminds Him of His own promises to His people. “You said, ask and I shall receive!!”

  6. JonPatrick says:

    This is a great post. I have long thought that God being omniscient already knows what we are going to pray for and whether he will grant our request or not depending on his grand plan. However we still need to do our part and make the request.

  7. Semper Gumby says:

    TRW: “What they reject is their own limited conceptualization, a two-dimensional caricature of God.” A really good point.

    prayfatima: Great comment, thanks.

    adriennep: Understandable. As you know, the catch with a two-hour documentary is that it compresses events, skims complex situations and bundles many people together into composite characters. It may be helpful to refer to the printed word, the 9/11 Commission Report is a good place to start (also available as a PDF download). Refreshingly, it refers to “Islam” and “jihad.”

    JonPatrick: Indeed.

    Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven. – St. Ephrem of Syria

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