December 22, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession

John F. Fink(Eleventh in a series)

Considering all that God has done for us, we should be expressing our gratitude constantly.

The greatest prayer of thanksgiving, of course, is the Eucharist. The word itself means thanksgiving, from the Greek eucharistia.

During the celebration of the Eucharist, time is supposed to be reserved after the reception of Communion for a period of silence for “thanksgiving after Communion.”

We learned to make this thanksgiving before we received our first Communion, but it seems to me that this period of silence is frequently skipped over in many Masses today. We just want to get on with our hectic lives, and if a priest sits too long for meditation after the Communion hymn is over, I can feel people thinking, “Come on, Father, get on with it.”

If we find a priest who doesn’t bow to this pressure, that’s one more thing we should thank God for in our prayer of thanksgiving.

Prayers of intercession are nothing more than prayers of petition except that, instead of praying for something for yourself, you pray for someone else. There is no limit to the people we can and should pray for.

Is there a Christian parent anywhere who doesn’t pray for his or her children? When they leave the nest—even if it’s only to go to school—we know that they are beyond our physical care, if only for a while, so we ask God (or their guardian angels) to take care of them. Once they leave the nest for good, sometimes the only way we can continue to care for them is through our prayers.

We pray for the sick, for those facing a particular trial, for those on a trip, for the newly married, for the bereaved, for those who are having difficulties with their faith, for all our friends and acquaintances. And yes, we should also pray for our enemies—people whom we have antagonized for one reason or another.

Prayers for the dead are a source of controversy because many good Christians believe that it’s too late to pray for someone after he or she is dead. They don’t at all understand the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.

Neither, though, do many Catholics. They sometimes think of it as a place between heaven and hell, and it is not. Purgatory is the name given to a process of purification, not to a place the soul might go to after death.

Catholics believe that we, the relatives and friends of the deceased, can assist those who have died with our prayers of intercession. This is part of the doctrine of the communion of saints that we say we believe in when we recite the Apostles’ Creed.

The souls in purgatory are not separated from the saints in heaven or from us on Earth. We all remain united in the Mystical Body of Christ, and we can therefore offer up prayers and good works on behalf of our brothers and sisters in their process of purification. †

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