“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phil 4:6-7).
Prayer of petition, quite simply, is asking for God’s help. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus encourages us to place our needs before God in prayer. In giving us the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:9-13), Jesus instructs us to ask God for what we need, trusting that God both knows our needs and loves us enough to give us what is good for us. “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him” (Mt 7:9-11).
At the same time, Jesus emphasizes in the Lord’s Prayer that we need to express, along with our needs, our willingness to accept God’s will. Jesus, in his own prayer at Gethsemane, offers an example of how to pray this way: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will, but yours, be done” (Lk 22:42).
In all humility, we reach out to God, knowing that he is the source of all good things, including forgiveness. Prayers of contrition, expressing sorrow for our sins and asking for God’s mercy, help to bring us back into communion with God and each other, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see No. 2631). Psalms 51 and 130 are beautiful expressions of prayers of contrition. In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14), the prayer, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” is a humble prayer of contrition.
Many of the psalms are prayers of petition, often including themes of contrition (Psalms 51 and 130, for example) and need for protection (Psalms 4, 6, 10, 13, and 17, among many others). Some psalms, such as 94, 98, 99, 137, and 147, also express anticipation of the coming of God’s Kingdom, just as Jesus echoes, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Mt 6:10).
Prayers of petition are often very spontaneous: “God, help me!” Even if we feel far from God, we are able, in our supplication, to turn to him for help. Every need, the Catechism reminds us, “can become the object of petition” (No. 2633). We should not be afraid to approach God to entrust him with our needs, in ordinary times as well as desperate ones. Bringing these needs to God is a humble way to acknowledge his goodness, kindness, power, and mercy. Even in the most difficult times, when “God, help me!” or “God, help us!” is as much as we can muster, we are encouraged to ask for God’s help.
We are also encouraged to persevere in this kind of prayer. In the parable of the persistent widow (Lk 18:1-8), Jesus underscores the need to “pray always without becoming weary.” God hears and answers those who have faith, and that faith is shown in our determination not to give up when our prayer is not answered immediately or in the way we expect.
Where do we see this in the Mass?
One of the first things we do at Mass is pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness of our sins during the Penitential Act. Just before the Eucharistic Prayer, we petition God to accept and bless the gifts we offer to him. One of the options for the Memorial Acclamation contains a prayer of petition: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.” The Lord’s Prayer and Lamb of God are both prayers of petition, as is our prayer after the Lamb of God: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” By the time we approach the altar to receive the Lord in the Eucharist, we have prayed for God’s mercy at least four times.
3 practical ways to pray this way
- Pray an Act of Contrition every day.
- When you pray in petition, be sure to close with the Lord’s Prayer or simply the words, “your will be done.”
- Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, a prayer of trust in the Lord and the power of his mercy.
What do the saints say about prayer of petition?
“God bestows many things on us out of His liberality, even without our asking for them: but that He wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking, is for the sake of our good, namely, that we may acquire confidence in having recourse to God, and that we may recognize in Him the Author of our goods.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica)
Barb Szyszkiewicz, a Secular Franciscan, is editor at CatholicMom.com and author of “The Handy Little Guide to Prayer” (OSV, $5.95). Read more from the prayer series here.