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How Should We Pray for So Many Prayer Intentions?

February 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Intentions, Prayer

How Should We Pray for So Many Prayer Intentions?


With all the causes in this world that need prayer, I have kind of thrown up my hands and asked our Blessed Mother to take my prayer beginning with daily Mass, and apply them where she sees fit. Heaven knows about our five children and how much they need prayer, and including my wife who just suffered a stroke at seventy years old. As time goes forward, I often think I should single out one cause and pray like a warrior, but our thoughts are known; why not give them to our Mother? Is this an acceptable way to travel towards the end?

This is a great question because I am sure you aren’t the only one of our readers who struggle with finding ways to pray for all the needs that burden our hearts. I invite our readers to share in the comment boxes how they have dealt with the struggle. You may find some good ideas from their comments. But I also have a few thoughts to share.

As a direct answer to your question: Yes, this is an acceptable way to travel towards the end, of lifting up in prayer the needs of this fallen world. Yet, on the other hand, I think there may be an even better way.

Combining Extremes
for post on prayer intentionsYour question (at least as I read it) proposes two extreme options: 1) just generally entrust all our intentions to the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary and leave it at that; 2) try to keep track of all the intentions that move our hearts and mention them explicitly in our prayers on a regular basis. I would like to propose a middle way, a third alternative. It consists in praying regularly for certain specific intentions that move your heart in a particular way, and also entrusting to the Blessed Virgin’s care all the other intentions that are moving you in a general way – you can do that, for example, at the beginning of a daily Rosary, or during a visit to an image of the Blessed Virgin before you go to bed.

Giving Space to the Holy Spirit
The advantage of this “combination method” is simple. It allows you to channel your love and your zeal in a focused way, without becoming overwhelmed with ALL the needs of the world and of your circle of influence. Sometimes someone in our lives needs prayers in a special way. Sometimes certain circumstances, events, or situations really move our hearts and we want to lift them up in prayer with special intensity. But then the intensity diminishes, or the need goes away – this is in accordance with the natural rhythm of our lives as human beings. It is also in accordance with the inspirations of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He is the one who guides the whole Church, so he gives each of us unique sensitivities and situations as part of our mission to support the entire family of believers. The “combination method” allows us to stay flexible and docile to his motions, without feeling overwhelmed or irresponsible.

St. John Paul II’s Wise Tactic
As an example, you may recall that St. John Paul II used to receive thousands of letters asking him to pray for specific intentions. He would make the intentions into lists and keep the lists near the kneeler where he prayed. Every day he would pray for some of those intentions specifically, but he couldn’t go through all of them. So he would also pray in general for all the needs and intentions that he wasn’t able to mention individually.

In my opinion, that’s a good model for all of us. Pray for specific intentions as well as general intentions each day (possibly by putting them under the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession), and allow the natural rhythms of Providence to determine which specific intentions we focus on during particular days, weeks, or months.

In the end, the important thing is to keep praying! I hope these thoughts will help you do that. God bless you!

In Him, Fr John


Art for this post on prayer intentions: La oración [The prayer], César Alvarez Dumont, 1884, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Laura

    Great suggestions. May I also add to pray that the people we are praying for have what they need to know God’s will and the strength to do God’s will.

  • Desert Sun Art

    Thank you for this. I wish I could offer some suggestions but I only have more questions. I used to have a specific “way” of praying for specific persons in my life and over time I have gotten tired of mentioning these intentions as I had been doing. I suppose this is understandable and we do need to change things up a bit. What I mean is, I was getting tired of being specific, so now I pray more generally for my family and loved ones, being specific only when the need arises or things come up. Does this make sense?

    • Desert Sun Art- it sounds to me like you’re doing what Fr Bartenuk was describing.

  • Anneli Sinkko

    Recently I have been meditating about the world we live in; on its pain and suffering. And I realized that the prayer for our world is really a prayer for the people. But who are the people … there are so many; some close by and some far away – but their pain and suffering is equal … help me in this, thank you.

  • Dom C

    Father, thanks for this timely post! What works for me is something close to what you mentioned that Pope St. John Paul II was doing. (I didn’t realize that he was doing this, but just ended up using this process to stay on top of my intentions). For my lists, I keep a small “circa”notebook that has removable pages in it with my intentions, updating the list of folks I pray for as needed, and adding special intentions for recovery from illness, surgery, etc. as they arise. And, as the Holy Spirit moves me, I will mention some of them specifically. Gives me more time to actually pray.

  • Pamela

    Inspired by a friend’s suggestion, I started a prayer journal this year. It’s a small, hard-cover, green diary that I decorated with a beautiful image of the Nativity. In this book, I write down my prayer intentions daily, or as they occur. Then, when I pray my Morning Offering, I ask Jesus, through Mary, to remember all of the intentions in “my little green book”. Of course, the most pressing intentions I state specifically, but when memory fails me or when I’m pressed for time, I feel confident that all of my intentions are made known through my journal.

    • Kimberley Mangum Welter

      Yes. Incorporate a prayer journal. We use a very small notebook that we keep near our prayer space at home.

    • mtq33n

      I too have been struggling with trying to even remember members of my family or people for whom I have promised to pray. Your method is very appealing to me and I am going to try it. I think it will help me keep my mind more organized and focused so I don’t wander around in my prayer time trying to remember.

  • Jean

    Great question that I have also wrestled with. To that end, I try to fit in 4 Rosaries per day – 1st for my immediate family, 2nd for my extended family, 3rd for souls in Pergatory, all Religious, all Catholics to find their true vocations, all other Christians to find closer relationship to Christ, and all non-Christians including enemies of the Church. And for the 4th, my most general intentions (but I try to think about the persecuted and oppressed).

  • onesmartbroad

    I too struggled with how to remember to pray for everyone who has asked for prayer, the global needs, the Church’s needs, etc. I pray throughout the day but each session starts with a prayer of gratitude. When I thank the Lord for what is on my heart- even minor things- I feel grounded and orderly and my thoughts seem to organize. I then pray for the most pressing particulars on my heart (a friend’s dying family member, perhaps) and take it from the particular to the general (for all those who will pass away today). I pray for my children and marriage and mention specific needs and then expand it to include all others similarly situated. I ask the Holy Spirit throughout the day to remind me of whom or what to pray for. This is a great little thing I do while driving. When I hear the news I use that as a prompt to remind me to pray for persecuted Christians, or for wisdom and protection for our military. At the end of the day I ask the Blessed Mother to cover all of the people I forgot to pray for and all of Her intentions that I may have neglected.

  • CatherineA

    A friend of mine introduced me to a practice she and her husband do. They have six grown and married children, with many grandchildren and a few great-grands.

    They pray for all of them together, daily, in their morning prayers. But they pray for each one individually as their birthdate arrives each month. For example, I offer special prayers, like a rosary, a holy hour, or daily Mass for my mother each month on the 26th, since her birthday is June 26. I also offer special prayers for the marriage of one of my sisters on the 17th of each month, since her anniversary is May 17.

    As the years have gone by I have entered dates into my smartphone as reminders. I pray for a particular priest on the anniversary of his death, for example, or for the souls who died untimely deaths in a tragedy.

    Dividing it up this way makes it more manageable, and helps me feel like my prayers are more focused and less scattered.

  • William Ford

    I’ve heard of the Grandmother who prays a rosary for each of her 13 grandchildren every day. I couldn’t do that for my 6 grandchildren and 5 greats, so I came upon another method. I have three lists for which I pray a rosary for each day, My A list is for the Church and the world, B list is for Family at each level and the C list is for all other specific intentions. I break each whole list up into the decades so that I am praying for the entire list each rosary but mentioning the individual intentions as I go through each decade. I am retired of course and it is easier for me yet it takes commitment. I also say three Chaplets of Divine Mercy for specific intentions which many times is done behind the wheel of my vehicle while on short runs around the community. I started out with a few intentions and added other intentions as I became aware of those areas of need. There are many Our Fathers and Hail Marys throughout the day and while driving, for clergy, those living in sin and souls in purgatory.

  • Inspired by something I saw on EWTN, I offer each day, my prayers, joys, sufferings and sorrow, for one of my children. Monday is child #1. Tuesday is child #2 and so on. Wednesdays are for my husband. Of course, I pray for them other times too, but at least this way, I know I’m making some sort of reparation for each child.

    • Olivia Gentilello

      I do the same thing. I’ve been doing this for about 2 years and it is so comforting knowing that my husband, and children have a special day dedicated to each one for prayer. On Monday I pray for all my 3 grandchildren.

    • I like this idea – I think I’ll try to remember to do this for my 3 children!

  • CatherineA

    Another useful practice is to say a quick, ejaculatory prayer every hour. I have a silent, vibrating alarm on my watch to remind me.

    I began this practice about two years ago after feeling called to pray for an atheist. I began by praying a Hail Mary for him every hour. Then a priest suggested I should take the opportunity to also pray for the souls most in need of mercy. I eventually modified the prayer this way:

    “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, please have mercy on [name] and on the whole world, especially the souls most in need of mercy at this hour.”

    I modify the prayer regularly as needed, as I did recently for a friend who suffered a massive stroke and was in danger of death. For a few weeks, as he lay in an apparent coma, I prayed for him hourly (he is recovering, by the way, thanks be to God).

    I try to keep this prayer short so it will not become burdensome, and I ask my guardian angel to say the prayer for me if I forget, or while I sleep. It gives me a sense of peace to know that every hour, the souls most in need of mercy have received a prayer on their behalf, wherever they may be in the world.

  • Deacon Roger Jude Riesberg

    As I pray the rosary, each Hail Mary has an intention, whoever the Holy Spirit invokes me to pray for at that moment. At Mass, the special intentions that I remember, and for those in my intention prayer book.

    • Gina101

      Oh I like that idea. 🙂

  • Fran

    Besides praying for specific special intentions for loved ones or other specific intentions, I pray daily at the beginning of my prayers/rosary:
    1). For Healing for ALL people in body, mind and spirit
    2). For St Michael the Archangel and everyone’s guardian angel and all the angels and saints to protect ALL people from perpetrating or experiencing evil.
    3). For Mary to give us ALL the graces we need to draw closer to her Son, our Lord.
    4). For the Holy Spirit to guide us ALL with our crosses in life.
    4). And I thank God for ALL His gifts and Blessings. Actually I say that FIRST.

    It gives me peace to pray this way because it seems to cover just about any possible prayer requests or situations in the world. I always have a lot of other specific intentions but this seems to me good way to pray for those who don’t have much time. I also keep a typewritten list of specific intentions requested by other people and hold onto it as I offer my rosary or prayer time for those intentions, as a group. This seems like a good way for people who don’t have much time.

  • Laura Chapman Rosics

    If you havent read “33 Days To Morning Glory” its life changing. It is preparation to consecrate your self to the Blessed Mother. This way all that you pray and do, all of your sorrows and good works go directly to our Mother to use where it is needed most. Her promis is that you will be rewarded infinatly as she knows even more than we do your needs and the needs of thoes that pray for. She knows what is in our hearts.

  • LD

    Whenever I tell someone I will pray for them, I add it to my “spiritual prayer list” which I have asked Jesus and Mary to keep track of for me. I will pray for some specific intentions, and then add “and for everything on my spiritual prayer list.” Jesus and Mary keep track of it so nothing is ever forgotten.

    • ShirleyAnne Dunaway Vachon

      Love this idea

  • Gina101

    I always make a mental note and say “I will pray for…at my next rosary.” If I remember it, great, if not I say “for those intentions attached to this rosary time, for those intentions I can’t remember” and then any new and/or specific ones I remember at the time.
    And sometimes some prayers are so urgent that if I have the time at that moment I begin a rosary right then; if I don’t, I pray some mental prayers and then further attach that intention to my next rosary as well.

  • Jeanette

    At times when I’m not sure what or whom to pray for next, I ask the Holy Spirit to inspire me. What He inspires may not even be a prayer for someone…it may be thanksgiving, praises or adoration of God that comes to mind for these are prayers also.

  • Lisa

    I love this question…. and it’s been very helpful to read Fr. John’s wise response and through the comments on how other “prayer warriors” integrate intercessions/petitions into their spiritual life. We are so blessed to have each other to lift us up and to be able to offer to God our own prayers and sacrifices for those in need.

    I received some advice on this topic from my spiritual director which seems to be working well in my situation. He suggested praying for certain intentions on particular days. On Sunday, I offer prayers (Mass, Adoration, Rosary, etc.) for those in my immediate family, (which are indeed also part of my DAILY petitions); Monday, I move slightly beyond to all our Godparents, and other members of our family (naming specifically my prayer intentions); Tuesday is for all those outside of our family who need prayers (close friends and others); Wednesday is for the Organizations/Apostolates/Religious Order Communities we feel called to pray for (including RC Spiritual Direction, esp. Fr. John and Dan); Thursday is for our local bishop, priests of our community/parish, and those we know who are discerning their vocation to the priesthood and/or consecrated life; Friday is for those who have died and for the souls in purgatory (from our family and friends) with a special prayer to St. Gertrude; finally, Saturday is for Our Lady’s intentions. This is what works for me, but it can easily be adjusted. It’s not that I don’t pray on other days for those on my prayer lists — but I call them by name on the days I’ve designated. My lists have changed, grown, and decreased over the years. I remembered the way Dan explained it on one of his Divine Intimacy radio shows how God chooses to send His graces to us through the prayers of others. This has been a powerful realization for me and helps me persevere in praying for others.

    I’m also very blessed to being on the receiving end of prayers others offer for me. I have a family member who has often had Masses set up, offered Novenas, and small sacrifices for me. Her example has inspired me to do this for her and others. We have a little Carmelite Monastery in a nearby city, and we can submit our more serious prayer requests to them. It’s been so comforting knowing that in addition to my own petitions, the Sisters are also offering their beautiful, faithful, holy prayers to God.

    We are certainly in need of many prayers at this time of history. Let us do whatever we can, in the place God has us, and never grow weary. And may we always remember to give prayers of Thanksgiving…. Give thanks to God, for He is good! His Mercy endures forever!

  • Sandra

    I turn my prayers over to Our Blessed Mother. She know who And what I should be praying for. I do say The Chaplet of Divine Mercy for all the religious I’ve ever met. As I’m saying it My mind will settle on many different priests or nuns that have come my way. A very powerful seven minutes.

  • Love the advice! I’ve been struggling with the same thing for a many years. When I made my consecration to Mary I felt like it didn’t matter what/who I prayed for since all my prayers belonged to Mary and would be used however best. Then I’ve realized that it’s still a good thing to offer intentions when I feel them, because God tells us to ask for what we want. Praying for the individual intentions makes my prayer more human. In order to not be overwhelmed by so many intentions, I often will jot them down in a beautiful book full of people with needs, world situations, or whatever someone asks me to pray for. It’s good to read what Father Barunek wrote and feel like what I’m doing is okay. (Since I still sometimes get that overwhelmed feeling – and then I give up altogether. Balance is better!)

  • a French Chef

    I have felt that I come up short because of my spotty memory. I’ll be in the soup aisle and mumble something like you, you forgot to pray for Father Ed again or the community at Portsmouth Abbey…. Thank you for an elegant solution.

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