What to Do About Those Email Prayer Chains

MI writes: “I don’t feel comfortable with this type of prayer request [that I received today]. ‘We are doing an Intercession of 1000 prayers for those people with cancer. Say the prayer and pass it to 10 people, Let me know if you cannot, so that we do not break this Intercession.’ Am I wrong? Isn’t it basically a chain letter. Would you participate? Looking forward to your thoughts!”

No, I would not participate because this is a superstition. Instead of just asking people to pray for those suffering with cancer, it insinuates that this prayer must be delivered in a certain way, i.e., through the constant recitation of a certain prayer that is necessary in order to “not break this intercession.” This requirement makes it into a superstition. God is more than happy to hear our prayers for those with cancer and does not require an unbroken chain of intercession in order to answer those prayers.

As Peggy Frye writes for Catholic Answers, “Some chain prayers are modeled after secular chain letters, in which superstitious language is used to suggest to the recipient that the promised ‘blessing’ will only be given if the message is passed on. Those with a more sensitive conscience could fall into superstition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns us that to “attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition” (CCC 2111). Thus, electronic chain prayers (or letters) can become an occasion of sin (CCC 2111, 1 Cor 8:13).”

This could be why Dublin-based exorcist Father Pat Collins CM warns Catholics who receive such an email request to “immediately have nothing to do with it” and ignore these messages. “It’s sacrilegious because it’s tying God down to formulas and we’re utterly opposed to that,” he said, adding that it comes from the “dark side”.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with responding to a “prayer line” such as those facilitated by someone in a parish or prayer group. These usually come in the form of emails requesting prayer for specific people for a variety of reasons ranging from impending surgery to family concerns. Recipients are simply asked to pray for these intentions with no stipulations about praying a certain way in order to fulfill the request. The response is left up to the individual.

This is far different from an email asking us to recite a specific prayer and then to pass the prayer on to ten or more people in order to not “break the chain.” These requirements are what turn the request into a superstitious act.

The same holds true for all of those “Prayer Never Known to Fail” copies that we find littering our pews and literature racks. While saying a particular prayer for nine days is known as a “novena” and is perfectly acceptable, having to make nine copies of the prayer and place them in nine churches turns this beautiful devotion into a superstition. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that in order for God to answer a prayer, we must make and distribute copies of it.

Anytime you discover one of these requests in your inbox, just hit the delete button. If you find a copy of a “Prayer Never Known to Fail” in the literature rack, do the parish a favor and throw it out.

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