Should Catholics Join Prayer Groups?

A reader recently emailed the following message …

“Prayer groups to me suggest emotionalism, swaying, chanting, charismatic-type activities and I want none of it – but I am struggling to explain why I Padre Pioam instinctively against them.  I am not aware of any Church Teaching in this area, apart from Group Prayer in the form of the Mass, being the most powerful of prayers. Could you bear this in mind as a possible topic for some time in the future?  “The dangers of emotionalism, fired up in prayer groups”. 

I have to admit that I’m with our reader on this – prayer groups do not appeal to me, at all.  It always surprises me that Padre Pio was apparently staunch advocate of such groups.  Click  here to read more on the topic of Padre Pio prayer groups. Then share your thoughts.

35 responses

  1. I have never liked these prayer groups although I know good people who are in them and think they’re great.

    When I read the article which clicking on the photo of Padre Pio brings up, I was very surprised indeed to read that Pope Pius XII had encouraged prayer groups, although not calling them that (gather to pray as a community, or something like that, he said) but I honestly don’t think he meant the kind of charismatic groups that are popular today. In Mediator Dei and he said this:

    ” 32. If the private and interior devotion of individuals were to neglect the august sacrifice of the altar and the sacraments, and to withdraw them from the stream of vital energy that flows from Head to members, it would indeed be sterile, and deserve to be condemned. But when devotional exercises, and pious practices in general, not strictly connected with the sacred liturgy, confine themselves to merely human acts, with the express purpose of directing these latter to the Father in heaven, of rousing people to repentance and holy fear of God, of weaning them from the seductions of the world and its vice, and leading them back to the difficult path of perfection, then certainly such practices are not only highly praiseworthy but absolutely indispensable, because they expose the dangers threatening the spiritual life; because they promote the acquisition of virtue; and because they increase the fervor and generosity with which we are bound to dedicate all that we are and all that we have to the service of Jesus Christ. Genuine and real piety, which the Angelic Doctor calls “devotion,” and which is the principal act of the virtue of religion – that act which correctly relates and fitly directs men to God; and by which they freely and spontaneously give themselves to the worship of God in its fullest sense[33] – piety of this authentic sort needs meditation on the supernatural realities and spiritual exercises, if it is to be nurtured, stimulated and sustained, and if it is to prompt us to lead a more perfect life. For the Christian religion, practiced as it should be, demands that the will especially be consecrated to God and exert its influence on all the other spiritual faculties. But every act of the will presupposes an act of the intelligence, and before one can express the desire and the intention of offering oneself in sacrifice to the eternal Godhead, a knowledge of the facts and truths which make religion a duty is altogether necessary. One must first know, for instance, man’s last end and the supremacy of the Divine Majesty; after that, our common duty of submission to our Creator; and, finally, the inexhaustible treasures of love with which God yearns to enrich us, as well as the necessity of supernatural grace for the achievement of our destiny, and that special path marked out for us by divine Providence in virtue of the fact that we have been united, one and all, like members of a body, to Jesus Christ the Head. But further, since our hearts, disturbed as they are at times by the lower appetites, do not always respond to motives of love, it is also extremely helpful to let consideration and contemplation of the justice of God provoke us on occasion to salutary fear, and guide us thence to Christian humility, repentance and amendment.

    33. But it will not do to possess these facts and truths after the fashion of an abstract memory lesson or lifeless commentary. They must lead to practical results. They must impel us to subject our senses and their faculties to reason, as illuminated by the Catholic faith.”

    I could be wrong, but the way a lot of people in the modern prayer groups speak, they are not really very “Catholic”, more generally “Christian” – that’s the impression I get and they are very charismaticky the way they speak about “The Spirit” and so my gut instinct is to agree with the reader who is worried about the dangers of emotionalism. That’s what I think as well, although I repeat that I know there are many good people attending these groups.

    • I think they are meant to be “Christian” and not “Catholic” – I really think these prayer groups are part of the drive towards one world religion. If we’re all in prayer groups that are non-denominational, that is another weakening of the Catholic faith. I don’t like the idea of these groups at all, and once refused to join one.

  2. Certain prayer groups can be enormously beneficial, both spiritually and also for support from and contact with like-minded people. I attended a rosary group for many years at a friend’s house (she died recently – may she rest in peace) and we had the rosary, the litany of Our Lady and other traditional Catholic prayers, then the opportunity afterwards to enjoy each other’s company for a little while and have a chat over a cup of tea. Sometimes a priest came along. Nothing wrong with any of that at all.

    However, the problems begin when non-traditional devotions are brought in to prayer groups. I know of a good long-running rosary group which ended in acrimony after certain members tried to introduce devotions which were being peddled by a local false ‘mystic’.

    There are also prayer groups which are based on so-called ‘charismatic renewal’ in a lot of parishes and these should be avoided like the plague.

    The most prolific prayer groups are Marian in character, but sadly, so many of them are either based on, or infiltrated by, false apparitions and mystics, such as Medjugorje and Don Stefano Gobbi’s Marian Movement of Priests.

    Another lot to avoid are any of the groups based on post-conciliar ‘new movements’, but if you can find a straight-forward, no-nonsense rosary group, then I would heartily recommend it. If you can’t find one, then possibly think about setting one up? They can also be used as good opportunities to introduce (or re-introduce) people to Tradition, to the full Fatima message, and to other good things.

    • Westminster Fly,

      I agree about the rosary groups. Those sound great. I just don’t like the other kind, the charismatic kind.

      • I agree that prayer groups based on “charismatic renewal” is to be avoided at all costs.

        Cardinal Suenens as I recall in the 1970s and 1980s seems to have encouraged charismatic renewal prayer groups amongst Catholics. I have heard that some Catholics, including nuns who got more out of these groups than attending Mass. But if they meant the Novus Ordo Mass can you wonder why?

        Rosary groups I too think are great.

  3. I take the point about rosary groups but in my experience most of these groups are very much the charismatic atmosphere and no Catholic prayers. I have a friend who keeps sending me stuff that is very Protestant and sentimental, videos and prayers and stuff like that. I know she means well but I don’t know how to say “please stop!” without upsetting her. I just glance at them and then delete them but I feel a bit of a hypocrite saying thanks for sending.

    I feel bad being so uncharitable so I ask bloggers’ prayers for this lady who is very well meaning and a kindly person. She honestly doesn’t realise that she’s been protestantised.

    • I can understand you not wanting to upset people, but there may be a danger of putting human respect above truth. And truth always has its own beauty and power and works in ways that we don’t always understand. I think I would politely tell her what disturbs me about the things she sends me, and then let the chips fall where they will. I have done this myself. It’s not easy. I was friendly with a couple for quite a while and was shocked to find out they were involved in promoting, and going to, a false condemned ‘Marian shrine’ based in Italy. When I sent them polite but indisputable evidence that the place had been condemned, I never heard from them again. So be it. It would have been wrong of me to keep quiet when I knew the truth about that false shrine, and they seemingly didn’t. Also, why not send her good traditional things – John Vennari’s videos – The Remnant videos – the Fatima Network videos. These can help to counteract the dodgy stuff she is involved with.

      • Westminster Fly,

        I take you point about human respect. I know that is a real danger. I did once send her a video link to something that was on this blog (I can’t remember quite what) but she didn’t comment on it when she replied. I will do that from now on though, as I think it is probably the only way to really get across that she is on the wrong wavelength.

  4. Madame Editor,

    I have the impression that there is an ethos of: “Might is Right” about prayer groups. As if to say that if 10, 30 or 50 people get together to pray for a particular intention, God will be obliged to grant their request, after all, 50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong, n’est-ce pas?.

    It could be very easy to get carried away by mass hysteria as a result of being in a group of very intense, like-minded people, at which point, as your reader suggested, emotionalism could take over.

    I steer my private prayer life in the belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mediatrix of All Graces, and that when there is something for which I need to offer up prayers, I should offer them up to her and ask her to intercede for me with Our Lord Jesus Christ. He will grant her anything that she asks, and she will only intercede if she sees the merit of my pleas. And even then, though I may personally consider my pleas thoroughly holy and unselfish and meritorious, it may be that it is not God’s will that my pleas should be met. I am sure that they will be heard, but whether they are met is possibly a different matter.

    Christ is the Head of the Church and the rest of us form the Body of the Church, but Mary is the neck, and it is through her that all our pleas for intercession should be directed. Hence “Mediatrix”.

    We must remember that intercessions by the Mother of God are more powerful than those of all the saints in Heaven rolled together and one has to be very careful to avoid cult worship by an overly attentive concentration on any one particular saint.

    Simple Rosary groups are one thing, but how many of today’s prayer groups can claim to be just that, and no more?

    • I couldn’t agree more, Leprechaun – you are so right about Our Lady. Who needs a charismatic prayer group when we can ask Our Lady anything. As Sr Lucia said, there is nothing, no problem, no matter how difficult, that cannot be solved if we pray the rosary.

  5. This ties in to another question I had. As has been noted, these kinds of groups are popular among Charismatic Catholics.

    It is common among Evangelicals for appointed lay persons to offer counselling to congregants, and sometimes this takes place in a group context. An Anglican acquaintance of mine attends the well-known London church Holy Trinity Bromton, whose minister established the Alpha course.He says they have various groups that offer Christian and prayer based emotional issues, and there are a range of groups, for eating disorders, addictions, drug problems etc.. This is also the case in other Protestant churches. It appears, as a general trend, that among ‘contemporary’ conservative Evangelicals, lay people have an active role in spiritual based pastoral care.

    The only Catholics I know who are involved in similar things are Charismatic Catholics. I wonder, are they doing something that mainstream Catholics should do? If not, then why? If so, then what limits should be observed?

    I am someone who has had similar issues to the ones listed above, and I feel I would have benefited from some kind of spiritual based practical help, which is obviously only available within a faith based community. The thing is, there are no faith based communities who offer this who adhere specifically to traditional Catholicism. They are either evangelical or Charismatic Catholics, such as those at Craig Lodge, a residential retreat centre in Dalmally.

    • I would steer well clear of Craig Lodge, as they are very charismatic and into Medjugorje.

      I think for eating disorders and additions etc. I would recommend joining a good secular group but make sure I did plenty of spiritual reading and daily rosary with my problem included in my rosary intentions. I repeat, I would definitely not go to Craig Lodge.

  6. Ive always throught the best “prayer group” to be in was the congregation at Holy Mass!

    Others have made the point well that, left to their own devices, lay groups may well unwittingly fall prey to falsehoods like Medjugorje or the specific preoccupation of Mr or Mrs Jones who organises the group (that said, the mainstream Church itself is no longer as vigilent as it should be regarding the propagation of rubbish).

    Probably I would rather attend mass frequently, that join a prayer group. However I can see that if mass attendance is difficult for some (due to distance or ill health etc) then a prayer group may be appealling.

  7. Would it be fair too say that sometimes these prayer groups may turn in to more of a social event.

    • Morgana,

      In a genuinely Catholic group – like the one Westminster Fly mentioned where they finished with a cup of tea etc – there’s no harm (in fact it is a good thing) to socialise afterwards, so, of itself, that wouldn’t be a problem, it seems to me. It’s the protestantising, charismatic part, with the possibility through to likelihood of these groups being run by Medjugorje fanatics and similar, that make me cautious about them.

  8. I hate to spoil the party, but it seems to me that Our Lord’s own words in the Gospel have a direct bearing on the answer to this question: ‘For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matthew 18,20). From the context, not to mention the interpretation of these words over the Catholic centuries, it does not appear that Christ was referring solely to the Eucharist.

    A much neglected word in the Catholic vocabulary these days is ‘discernment’. I cannot for the life of me see what can be wrong with groups of Catholics coming together periodically to pray for the needs and intentions of the Church and the world. On the contrary, if our capacity to pray matched our capacity to moan, I very much doubt that the Church in Scotland would be looking quite so jaundiced as at the present time.

    • Prognosticum,

      I don’t think anyone is against Catholics gathering to pray but what is being encouraged these days – as in everything else – is often less than Catholic, a charismatic type of group where Catholic prayers are few and far between. Many of us belong or used to belong to the Legion of Mary, where we attend(ed) a weekly meeting to pray the rosary, do spiritual reading and report on apostolic work tasks undertaken. That’s great. Nobody objects to such groups. It’s the other type, where the protestantising influence of the post-conciliar “spirituality” prevails that is a concern.

      I do agree with you about the need to discern in such matters – but the problem today is the lack of leadership from the clergy and hierarchy. The only time anyone gets a clear “no, don’t do that, beware of spiritual danger” from them is when a lay person is asking about the TLM.

      And I really do not go along with this latest fashion of blaming the lack of prayers from the faithful for the sins of the clergy and hierarchy. I’ve heard this so often, if only we prayed more maybe Cardinal O’Brien wouldn’t have sinned, blah blah. Not at all the case. We all have free will and the grace of God available to us.

      When I go to Confession I don’t examine my conscience with an accusing eye on my fellow Catholics, blaming them for not praying enough for me. And I really don’t think anyone can presume that we “moan” more than we pray. I think most Catholics who take to the blogosphere to “moan” pray the rosary daily, some/many even pray the Little Office of Our Lady, and other prayers. I tend to think that all such criticisms ought to be couched in the first person, because it is quite an assumption to make that most Catholics are not praying as much as they ought to be. I know one Catholic who, until her death recently, spent two hours in prayer every day and rose at the crack of dawn to make sure she did so – and that was in addition to her daily rosary.

      So, yes, by all means make the point that gathering together to pray is or can be a good thing, I agree with that within the overall context of what I’ve already said, but no matter how much prayer (and sacrifice) anyone offers (and priests have whole monasteries of Carmelite nuns praying and making sacrifices especially for them, remember) in the end, we each have to take responsibility for our own actions and failings. Even me. Not fair, but there it is. 😀

      • James 5:16 – Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

        Ephesians 6:18 – Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

        1 Timothy 2:1 – I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and] giving of thanks, be made for all men;

        Philippians 4:6 – Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

        James 5:16 – Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

        Ephesians 6:18 – Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

        1 Timothy 2:1 – I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and] giving of thanks, be made for all men;

        Philippians 4:6 – Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

        Colossians 1:9 – For this cause we also, since the day we heard [it], do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

        Matthew 5:44 – But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

        1 Thessalonians 5:25 – Brethren, pray for us.

        Romans 15:30 – Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in [your] prayers to God for me;

        Colossians 4:2 – Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;

        Hebrews 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

        Philippians 1:9-11 – And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and [in] all judgment; (Read More…)

        Romans 8:26 – Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

        2 Thessalonians 3:1 – Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have [free] course, and be glorified, even as [it is] with you:

        Matthew 18:19 – Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

        John 15:7 – If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

        2 Corinthians 10:4 – For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.

        I rest my case. I hope that you will forgive the King James translation (I normally quote from the Douay-Rheims), but this evening my time is somewhat limited.

        Your remark about confession, if I may say so, is as facetious as it is illogical. Confession is by its very nature personal, i.e. It is about my sins, not the sins of others, be they of commission or omission. But that is not to say that the sins of others, of commission or contrition, have no bearing on my subjective sin.

        • Prognosticum,

          I simply do not get it. What are you trying to prove? That Scripture exhorts us to prayer? Why all those quotes?

          I’ll overlook the allegation that I am being facetious in my remark about confession which must be read in the context of your suggestion that “if our capacity to pray matched our capacity to moan, I very much doubt that the Church in Scotland would be looking quite so jaundiced as at the present time.” – which really needs no explaining. The Church in Scotland, you suggest, is apostate because of “our” lack of prayer. Quite a claim. Even in monasteries, where religious, men and women openly confess their faults and failings in Chapter meetings, nobody is told to pray more so that their peers commit fewer faults or sin less. If I’ve misunderstood your meaning in your original post, just say so. No need to publish half the Bible (especially a Protestant version of it) to make the point, because it really doesn’t make the point. I, for one, fail to see why you have listed all those biblical verses. We all know that prayer is of central importance (well, not all, Pope Francis thinks it’s caring for the environment that is of central importance) and nobody here, as far as I can recall, has condemned prayer groups outright, merely sounded some warning notes. Goodness, we can criticise the new Mass for its dangers but not charismatic prayer groups?

          In any event, it is the following remark which I would like you to explain more clearly – I can’t be sure of its meaning:

          “But that is not to say that the sins of others, of commission or contrition, have no bearing on my subjective sin.

          If you are trying to say that we may all share in the guilt of another’s sin, sure, I think we all know that. But that’s different from appearing to suggest that those who “moan” (i.e. comment) on the disastrous state of the Church are to blame for its decline due to not praying sufficiently. Not in my humble opinion anyway. But then, maybe I’m wrong. Certainly, I don’t pray as much (or as well, refusing distractions) as I should – do you?

          • But you said, ‘And I really do not go along with this latest fashion of blaming the lack of prayers from the faithful for the sins of the clergy and hierarchy. I’ve heard this so often, if only we prayed more maybe Cardinal O’Brien wouldn’t have sinned, blah blah. Not at all the case. We all have free will and the grace of God available to us.’ If words have meanings, and I hope they still do, the implication is that you do not seem to believe in the necessity or the power of prayer. Hence my quotation from Sacred Scripture.

            • Prognosticum,

              I have caused confusion by somehow misunderstanding your posts. I absolutely believe in the power of prayer. My apologies, therefore, for any misunderstanding – my fault entirely. Let’s leave it there.

        • Prognosticum

          You seem to be missing the point, if I may say.

          The point is that Catholics gathered together in the Traditional Catholic way, i.e., at Holy Mass, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, rosary groups, mens and womens Sacred Heart Guilds, Third Order meetings, etc., is not the same as those Modernist charismatic “speaking in tongues”, “healing” ceremonies which in fact bear no resemblance to early Christian practices, or indeed any Christian practice. Such events are best described as heathen gymnastics disguised as Christian services, whose promoters and partcipators have misinterpreted Sacred Scripture to suit their passions.

          And by the way, please do not quote here from the KJ Bible which is a butchered version of Sacred Scripture, again the product of men’s passions.

          One example: The Catholic God is a personal God and Father “Who” art in heaven, not an impersonal abstract entity “Which” is in heaven.

          Please also note from those quotes above that the wording suggests an exhortation to private individual prayer more than to those emotion-charged performances invented by Pentecostal Protestants.

          • Athanasius, it is you who miss the point. We have come to a pretty pass when we see no place in the Church for non-liturgical group prayer.

            As for your objection to the ‘which’ translation in the KJV version of the Our Father, it is philologically unfounded. I urge you, and anyone else interested in the matter, to open the following link

            http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/6362-lee.htm

            and scroll down to the section ‘FACTORS AFFECTING CHOICE’, subsection ‘Animacy of the Antecedent’.

            • Prognosticum,

              I can’t see where anybody says there is no place in the Church for prayer groups.

              About the King James Bible, here’s a short extract from the Catholic Encyclopaedia online

              ” – when Bishop Challoner made his revision of the Douay Bible (1749-52), which is now commonly in use among English-speaking Catholics, he did not scruple to borrow largely from (the KJV) Indeed, Cardinal Newman gives it as his opinion (Tracts Theol. and Eccles., 373) that Challoner’s revision was even nearer to the Authorized Version than to the original Douay, “not in grammatical structure, but in phraseology and diction”. Nevertheless, there remained in the Authorized Version here and there traces of controversial prejudice, as for example, in the angel’s salutation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the words “highly favoured” being a very imperfect rendering of the original. In such cases, needless to say, Challoner adhered to the Douay. Moreover, while in the Authorized Version the names of persons and places were usually given in an anglicized form already in use, derived from the Hebrew spelling, Challoner nearly always kept the Vulgate names, which come originally from the Septuagint. It is partly due to this that the Authorized Version has an unfamiliar sound to Catholic ears.”

              That’s a big no-no for me using “Highly Favoured” instead of “Full of grace” – that by itself would make me steer clear of this bible no matter how scholarly some people think it is. It’s got chunks missing, as Protestant bibles, do, so why any Catholic would want to use it, surprises me.

            • Prognosticum,

              My comment was anything but opposed to true Catholic non-liturgical prayer groups. What you appear to be promoting, however, is something altogether different, a novelty as lacking in Catholic prudence and discernment as your ease with the King James Bible.

              The link you posted admirably demonstrates why divine providence chose Latin as the universal language of the Church; because it is forever preserved from the corruption of ever-changing vernacular vocabularies.

              The proud intellectual liberals of Vatican II, clearly lost to this heavenly wisdom, fell into the same pit as their Protestant forerunners, the KJ translators, when they thought they might dabble with a Novus Ordo liturgy in the vernacular. And see what has happened to truth and faith since that experiment took hold on the Church!

              It is exactly as the Fathers of Trent said it would be if ever that insurmountable barrier (protecting the integrity of the mystery against heresy) were removed.

  9. Madame Editor,

    I was invited to attend a group of Conciliar church Catholics where spiritual healing was the ongoing theme. I had not returned to Tradition at that time, and I went along out of curiosity, and from not knowing any better, and not wishing to offend my hostess.

    I recall a priest inviting the attendees to come to the front where he asked each one in turn to whisper to him their particular ailment or cause for concern, after which he laid his hands on their head and offered up a prayer. Some fell back in a swoon into the arms of supporters behind waiting to catch them and lie them on the ground. Others experienced nothing at all, myself included.

    I know there were Medjugorje supporters there, and there was much imploring of divine assistance, but I do not recall much in the way of any Catholic prayers or litanies or hymns that I recognised. My hostess told me that she and several of the other regulars had the gift of tongues, although she declined to demonstrate it to me, which might have been interesting, because each one of us is supposed to be able to communicate with the speaker in tongues, regardless of where they originate from – even if from the banks of the Clyde.

    I have never attended anything similar since and doubt that I ever will unless I am very sure of its provenance.

    • Leprechaun

      Just as well I wasn’t there. I would have given them some speaking in the Glaswegian tongue that they wouldn’t have forgotten in a hurry!!

      • Athanasius,

        Having first imbibed some of that good old fashioned and highly original Scotch ‘spirit’ You know, the kind that comes in bottles!

        PS “spirit” / speaking in tongues / charismatic – get it?

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