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What We Pray For When We Pray For the Intentions of the Holy Father

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Pope Francis was recently featured in a short online video to promote his monthly prayer intention. Unfortunately, the video has given the impression that the pope is promoting religious indifferentism, and as such, it has scandalized not a few Catholics. My purpose here is not to analyze this particular video or intention, but to examine a larger question that a number of Catholics have found themselves asking in recent years:

What does it mean to pray “for the intentions of the Holy Father”?

If a pope’s stated intentions seem questionable, or even as though they are incongruous with our Catholic faith, how can we pray for them in good conscience?

As a prelude to addressing that question, we must first examine the reason why Catholics pray for the intentions of the Holy Father in the first place. The most common reason is that prayer for these intentions is almost always required in our attempts to obtain plenary indulgences. As the Baltimore Catechism says:

237 Q. What must we do to gain an indulgence? A. To gain an indulgence we must be in a state of grace and perform the works enjoined.

One of the works enjoined for plenary indulgences is to pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.

So just what are the intentions of the Holy Father? First, these include the specific monthly prayer intentions composed by the Holy Father. Fr. Thomas Kincaid, in his commentary on the Baltimore Catechism (widely known as Baltimore Catechism № 4) describes just what you are praying for when you pray for the intentions of the Holy Father:

Now, what does praying for the intention of the Pope or bishop or anyone else mean? It does not mean that you are to pray for the Pope himself, but for whatever he is praying for or wishes you to pray for. For instance, on one day the Holy Father may be praying for the success of some missions that he is establishing in pagan lands; on another, he may be praying that the enemies of the Church may not succeed in their plans against it; on another, he may be praying for the conversion of some nation, and so on; whatever he is praying for or wishes you to pray for is called his intention.

This is where many Catholics become concerned. If the pope is wishing us to pray for something that is not Catholic, or in some way harms the Church, then when we pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, it seems that we are also praying for these problematic intentions.

So if a Catholic can’t in good, well-formed conscience support a particular intention of the Holy Father, is that it? Does this mean that such a Catholic cannot obtain a plenary indulgence until such time as the pope stops having problematic prayer intentions?

I don’t think so, for several reasons.

First and foremost, the Church cannot enjoin us to do evil. Yet for centuries, she has enjoined us in many magisterial teachings to make a blanket prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father in order to obtain a plenary indulgence. It follows that making such a blanket prayer cannot be a material contribution to evil on our part.

Second, when you pray generically for the intentions of the Holy Father, we know that four specific, objective intentions are prayed for every time. From the Raccolta, a collection of indulgences that used to be published by the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences:

23. The Pope’s intention always includes the following objects:

i. The progress of the Faith and triumph of the Church.

ii. Peace and union among Christian Princes and Rulers.

iii. The conversion of sinners.

iv. The uprooting of heresy.

Whenever you pray for the pope’s intentions, you are praying for these extremely Catholic intentions. You are even praying for these intentions if you are praying in the sede vacante period between different papal reigns.

Finally, God is in charge. He knows that we intend only good when we follow the teaching of the Church to pray for the pope’s intentions. If His Church tells us to pray for the intentions of the pope, and the pope then fails to live up to his office in that regard, the responsibility for that rests with the pope creating those intentions, not with us.

Despite our misgivings, I believe that we can with confidence pray an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be for the intentions of the Holy Father whenever this is required of us.  We should do what the Church enjoins us to do to receive a plenary indulgence. If we do this with faith, and unite our will to God’s, only good can come of it.

31 thoughts on “What We Pray For When We Pray For the Intentions of the Holy Father”

    • Yes, I couldn’t help but notice how far his language and examples are from what we hear on a regular basis–both from the Holy Father and most Church spokesmen. It’s a whole new world [cue: Disney-esque dancing princesses here…]

  1. Yes, just to make it clear, I announce that we pray for the “objective intentions” — those listed in the Raccolta — of the Holy Father after our family Rosary. Everyone knows that you can obtain a plenary indulgence for praying the rosary as a family, right? You can also gain one by praying it with a group inside a church.

  2. I am not sure I follow the logic. If we are supposed to pray for the Pope’s intentions, then that is what we need to pray for. Coming up with general intentions does not make sense since that would mean the Church would just declare that one needs to pray for these intentions rather than the Pope’s. We have a serious problem here and I don’t think this makes things better.

    • Seeing as Francis himself probably couldn’t sincerely pray for the ‘objective’ (and legally abrogated, by the way) papal intentions, it forces us to ask how efficacious his own prayers are–much less how he can be said to possess the Catholic faith.


      “All general grants of indulgences, not included in this same Enchiridion, are hereby revoked. Revoked also are any ordinances concerning indulgences [e.g., Raccolta, no. 23], not included in the Norms on Indulgences given below, whether in the Code of Canon Law, or in Apostolic Letters, even if issued ‘Motu proprio,’ or in Decrees of the Holy See. Everything to the contrary notwithstanding, even if deserving of special mention.”

  3. The published intention for January is quite innocuous. However, that video adds some dubious nuances and conveys a message that Jesus is just one among many. Not good and so I will pray for the Pope that he will do the Will of God. Things are so obfuscated now. We have the video, “Jesus, One Among Many,” the “climate change” lightshow on the outside walls of St. Peters, Pope Francis telling us that we should not prosteliize or fight against abortion so much, a representative of the Vatican tweeting praises for David Bowie, etc ad infinitum. The leadership of the Church seems to be more concerned with the opinions and feelings of man than is appropriate for bringing the Light of Christ into the world and this points directly to their weakness in the faith. While the world regales Pope Francis, many of the faithful are scratching their heads and are very confused. After all, isn’t the Pope supposed to be all about Jesus and bringing the good news of salvation to all? Yet, when he speaks of Jesus as one amonng many, how can I as a Catholic get behind him? How can I pray for the Pope’s intentions when so many of his actions/words seem to be in contradiction to the teachings of the Church? How can we be so sure that God will “understand” our intentions to only pray for the good intentions of the Pope? Are we not called to listen for His Voice and follow it? Something is just not right about the goings on within this papacy, that is becoming more and more clear.

      • We are obligated not to follow heretical teachings or instruction by a pope. In which case one might be is “schism” with the “pope” but not with the Church.

  4. Very good. Thanks. I’d intuited something of the sort, but it’s helpful to have it laid out in a clear fashion. It’s comforting to learn about the “perpetual” objective intentions listed in the Raccolta (at least three of which seem to be nowhere on the Holy Father’s radar), but otherwise, I’d just figured that God would assign my prayers correctly.

  5. Do you (all) pray for “Pope Francis” and his intentions or for “The Pope” and his intentions? I for one struggle but pray for the pope by name and for the office of the papacy.

  6. And what if the progress of the faith, the triumph of the Church, and the uprooting are not the Pope’s intentions? I hardly think recent events supports the view that these intentions are somehow attached to the seat of Peter itself.

  7. When I pray my daily rosary, I do pray for the pope’s intentions. Even when I am unsure of his specific intentions (who can know the heart of man?), I take consolation in the greatness of God regarding any of our intentions when we pray. My intentions when praying for his intentions are this: Lord, may Your perfect will be done regarding the pope’s intentions. And with this, I have complete peace that whether the pope is right or wrong in his intentions, God will have His way. Romans 8:25-27 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

    25 But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience.
    26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.
    27 And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God.

    • Exactly. And any prayer that really is a prayer has, either explicitly or implicitly, “Not my will, but thine” or “Be it done to me according to thy word.” We are not controlling God through some sort of magical incantation!

  8. Seems to me the author is indulging in the ambiguity and double speak this ‘holy father’ uses almost daily… I choose to pray for the Holy Father, rather that his intentions. The Truth is simple in its essence. It also demands clarity. ‘Catholicism Pure and simple’.

  9. PS. Perhaps 1p5 needs to lift its game instead of engaging in such tripe. They are not normally so wishy washy…. I may be wrong. What do others think?

  10. All of these indulgenced acts of prayer and devotion are optional. We can gain indulgences from hundreds of prayers and devotions. We don’t need to do any of them. We would be silly not to pick some that help the Holy Souls, or that gain merit for us in some way. But I repeat none of them are mandatory. Let’s not forget even Our Lady’s appearances are mandatory to be believed. Our Holy Mother Church is so wonderful she gives us myriad ways to show God we love Him, and to help our brothers and sisters.

    Devotions come and go also. So let’s calm down. I personally will no longer pray for the Holy Father’s formal intentions as put out by the Vatican. I will use these prayers to pray for him. And I’ll get out the Racolta to find many, many, many prayers and indulgences to gain.

  11. “The video has given the impression that the pope is promoting religious indifferentism”.

    Why can’t we be honest and admit that religious indifferentism has been the primary teaching of the institutional Church since the Second Vatican Council?

    Have Catholics been scandalized by any of the pope’s public prayer to and worship of false gods? Not many. Do these acts not promote religious indifferentism at best and are blasphemous and sacrilegious at worst, acts against the First Commandment?

    “We should do what the Church enjoins us to do” – which is defend, promote, and live the true Catholic faith.

  12. Now when I pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, my prayer is along the lines of, “for the intentions of the Holy Father if his intentions are your, LORD.” And then I pray for his conversion if God deems that necessary.

  13. The plenary indulgence is vital only after you are made to realize by the Holy Spirit that purgatory is very severe. Many Catholics think purgatory is like getting stalled in traffic because they haven’t internalized…” they will be saved yet so as through fire”. Confession and penance do not remove all purgatorial debt…the plenary does. One half hour of devout scripture reading at home is one ongoing at home plenary though with the usual requirements… two of which are in your local church.


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