Intercessory Prayer

We’ve often had the experience of witnessing the impact of a tragedy on others and having our hearts moved with compassion for them. We wish that their pain and suffering would just go away, but we are often unable to reach out to them directly for one reason or another. There is one way we can always reach out to others in trouble – intercessory prayer.

Intercessory prayer is petitioning God to send His merciful love and redeeming grace on the one we pray for. In the healing of the paralytic (Luke 5.18-26), we see the faith of several men who brought a paralytic on a stretcher towards Jesus. Since they could not get to Him because of the crowds that filled the house, they removed some tiles from the roof and lowered the stretcher before Jesus. Jesus not only forgave the man’s sins, He healed the man’s paralysis instantly, and the man walked home, praising God.

St James instructs us to pray for those who are sick, so that “the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5.15). We should not doubt the power of prayer; on the contrary, we should strive to pray as intently as possible, realizing that “the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.” (James 5.16) He also explains the saving power of intercessory prayer for the one who prays: “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5.20)

Praying together with others increases the power of our prayer for the one in need. Through the Communion of Saints, we have been granted the gift of the angels and Saints as intercessors to pray with us before God. When we pray with one another we also know that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20)

Our prayer of intercession should always be directed to Jesus, as He is the one who stands at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us (c.f. Hebrews 8.1). Jesus teaches us, as He did His apostles: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” (John 16.23)

Through the power of intercessory prayer, we can help those who have died, perhaps without the grace of complete forgiveness. We can also reach out to those who are not in touch with Jesus in their lives. Our Creator knows each of us intimately, and His Spirit is much more capable of reaching a soul in need than we ever could with our own feeble efforts.

St Thérèse recounts the intensity of her efforts to save the soul of a convicted killer through the power of intercessory prayer: “I longed at any cost to snatch sinners from the everlasting flames of hell… I heard much talk of a notorious criminal, Pranzini, who was sentenced to death… everyone feared he would be eternally lost. How I longed to avert this irreparable calamity! In order to do so I employed all the spiritual means I could think of, and, knowing that my own efforts were unavailing, I offered for his pardon the infinite merits of Our Saviour and the treasures of Holy Church. Need I say that in the depths of my heart I felt certain my request would be granted? … Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing or receiving absolution, and the executioners were already dragging him towards the fatal block, when all at once, apparently in answer to a sudden inspiration, he turned round, seized the crucifix which the Priest was offering to him, and kissed Our Lord’s Sacred Wounds three times… After receiving this grace my desire for the salvation of souls increased day by day.” (Story of A Soul, A.5)

This poem expresses the power of interceding for one another in prayer:

Pleading

Lord, hear my prayer for this poor soul
In dire need of healing;
Your divine touch could make him whole –
Lord, heal him – I’m appealing!

Lord, hear my prayer for this lost soul
Who has not known forgiveness;
Reveal the mercy we extol –
Lord, save him in your kindness!

Lord, hear the pleas of your children
Entreating You in their need.
We come before You, once again —
We trust in You as we plead.

As You prayed for us from the cross;
Lord, lift us up — let none be lost!

Holy Spirit, please intercede
For us before the Father’s throne;
Do not forsake us in our need —
Take our petitions as Your own. Amen.

References:

St Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of A Soul

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2634 – 2636, 2683

(c) Paul Buis, 2005