The Christian Heritage Centre

08 February 2024

Saint Thomas Aquinas on "Petition" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

The second part of the Catechism’s definition of prayer, “the requesting of good things from God,” is exactly what petition means. Indeed, for Saint Thomas Aquinas, petition is the very essence of prayer. While all four parts of prayer make our address to God whole and complete, petition takes the former two parts (oration and thanksgiving) and makes our cry truly unique and particular by placing a concrete request before God. For Saint Thomas, a true prayer “implores a superior” and is directed toward “determinate things,” such as “earthly benefits” for oneself and for others. More than just calling out to God and giving thanks for past deeds, a true prayer from the heart looks ahead, confidently trusting that the Lord who provided in the past will continue to provide for present and future needs.

Thus, prayer does not only involve a general reaching out to God, nor a mere commemoration of past events, but must be embodied in the present moment by asking something of the Lord. Thus, the contingency of our very existence, which is more implicit in oration, is made clear and exact when we formulate a petition. It grounds and radicalizes the humility expressed in our first cry to God, for through our petitions, we acknowledge our specific needs in the here and now.

One of the most notable aspects of the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council is the reintroduction of collective petitions in the Mass. Such petitions had always been part of Mass, but in the course of history their usage came to be confined to the liturgy of Good Friday. Now, at each Mass, we bring our concrete needs collectively to God in the form of the Prayers of the Faithful or bidding prayers, so that the fruits of the Mass might be extended to our families, our communities, to the whole Church, and to the world at large.

Yet, as just as petition forms the essence of prayer in general, it is also central to the Mass itself, our highest prayer. Let us take the Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer 1 as an example. Before the consecration, the priest says, “Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” And again after the consecration, “In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.” Thus the very words of Christ which effect his sacramental presence are “clothed,” as it were, with our own petitions.

In the next reflection, we consider the final part of prayer: intercession.

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