Have you ever received an email with a beautiful prayer or novena in it – along with some very explicit instructions on how you are to repeat it at specific times for so many days. Many senders call it a prayer chain. Once you have completed the prescribed instructions, the answer to your prayer or petition will miraculously happen; as though saying these prayers as instructed will induce God to do your will. I received emails like this every few weeks from some well-intentioned God-fearing people who have no idea what they are promoting.
My sister recently picked up a novena prayer to St. Jude Thaddeus from the book shelf at her parish church. She had been suffering with bronchitis and a bad nagging cough. She decided to take her illness to prayer and offered up this prayer to St. Jude every day at the same time of day that she found the prayer in church. After the days of prayer she experienced healing from bronchitis and the coughing had subsided. She then decided to pray the novena again in gratitude for graces she received. When she picked up the prayer sheet and unfolded it, she found the instructions for saying this novena. It instructed the petitioner to pray the novena 6 times a day for the prescribed number of days. She had only prayed the novena once each day – not having noticed the explicit instructions on the inside of the sheet of paper. This goes to prove that God is not looking for gimmicks or tricks to petition his will. He only desires our sincere prayer and the giving of our will over to him.
I have wanted to respond to the emails containing this type of prayer chain saying something to the effect that God is not “on call” and waiting to give us what we ask for especially if we do it in an obligatory fashion as instructed. Not wanting to offend the proffer of these prayer recipes I have asked a priest what is the best way to instruct rather than offend in my reply to them.
Here is the response Father said I should include as my reply when I receive such emails:
“I received your email containing a prayer chain. I choose not to forward it & would like to tell you why. A “chain prayer” or letter tells of a “future event” that will happen if the directions are followed. To foretell the future is a sin, and has always been condemned by the law of God. God’s promises are to those who obey HIS laws, not the other way around.
The Catholic Church actually considers chain prayers/letters a blessing and a curse. If a person fails to forward the chain letter, the curse can be the threat of bad luck. If the person continues the chain letter, he is promised good luck or some form of prosperity. This is occultist and against Church teachings.
To the unaware Catholic, sending out prayers to friends seems a good thing to do. What we often fail to realize is the pretext of the “prayer” might make it sinful rather than a blessing. For example, a common chain may contain a beautiful prayer, poem, or picture of Jesus; and warns the reader of bad luck if he doesn’t forward it to a certain number of people within a certain number of minutes.
The reader is “enticed” to forward it in exchange for personal reward. This makes it clearly not a blessing. That person is relying on “following the directions” to obtain the desired outcome rather than simple faith in God for answers to personal prayer. No matter how seemingly holy the content of the email is, the context is evil. It undermines the charity and love of God for mankind.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the sending of chain prayers/letters in order to obtain a desired outcome in the future in Section 2115.
“God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.”
Some people do not see any wrong in sending a chain letter. They may do it for “fun”- but is it right? It is not. We are to be role models to others of what a Christian is, and when we send chain prayers or letters, we are not being true to that call. As we find Christ and proclaim Him as Lord of our lives, we need to search for the truth and what He wants of us. It is in that spirit of truth that I choose not to forward any “prayer chains”.
Consider this next time you receive a prayer chain email, pick one up in church or feel the temptation to pass one on.