Can Catholics “Pray Over” People? Answering 3 Objections to the “Laying On Of Hands”

I grew up in a very “charismatic” family. To me, though, we were just Catholic.

As far as I was concerned, everybody who was Catholic went to mass on Sundays, listened to Scott Hahn tapes (yes, TAPES) on long car rides, and had grandfathers who would pray over people, receive words of prophecy, and experience God manifesting physical healings through the laying on of hands.

It wasn’t until I grew up and met other devout Catholics that I learned that there are some within the Church who are not on board with the “style” of prayer on which I was raised. There are those who view laypeople praying over one another as maybe not-totally-ok or perhaps even not in line with Church teaching.

Well listen here, y’all. There is nothing in Scripture or in Church teaching that prohibits laypeople from laying hands on one another and asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Not a thing. I promise.

When you look this up, the closest “objection” from any official Church teaching you’ll find is to point out that praying over someone is not the same thing as a sacrament. There is a difference between a layperson praying over someone and a bishop conferring the sacrament of confirmation, or a priest giving absolution. Of course, those in the Charismatic Renewal will be the first to tell you this. We need the sacraments. Praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is something we should all be doing regularly as Christians, in addition to receiving the sacraments.

But because praying over people is still sometimes seen as “weird” or “not ok” in some Catholic circles, I wanted to write to answer some common objections I’ve encountered over the years.

 “God Doesn’t *Need* You To Lay Your Hands On Someone”

This is absolutely true. God can work miracles in whichever way He pleases, and He is certainly not bound to our physical actions. There is nothing *magical* about physically laying your hands on someone to pray for them.

Still, there is no denying that throughout Salvation History, God employs physical means to carry out His Divine power. We see this from the very beginning. Adam is formed from the dust of the ground, Eve is taken from his rib. In Exodus, Moses must hold his arms in the air in order for the Israelites to defeat the Amalekites in battle. When his arms inevitably grow tired, Aaron and Hur have to come to his side to hold his arms for him, because when they drop, the Amalekites begin to win the battle. It seems so arbitrary (and how foolish they must have looked!). Surely God could’ve told Moses that all He needed to do was pray fervently and silently for the duration of the battle—but for whatever reason, that’s not what God wanted. Even in Jesus’ ministry, He heals a blind man with spittle and dirt. Surely He didn’t need either, but for some reason, Jesus used physical matter to do His Father’s work.

Of course God doesn’t need us to lay our hands over every person we pray for, but if He asks you to, will you?

“It’s ‘Too Showy’”

This one goes with the previous objection, and perhaps even gives some context for it. Yes, praying over someone makes a bit of a scene. And to some extent that’s probably the point.

Laying your hands on someone to pray for them is a physical witness to your belief in the power of God. When you lay your hands on someone and ask for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you’re saying that you believe that God will answer when He is called upon. You’re counting on Him to show up, right then and there. You’re not demanding for Him to do so, of course, but as Christians we believe our God is faithful, good, and loving to His children. Why wouldn’t we expect Him to show up?

This is not presumption. It’s faith. God may not answer our prayers in the way we expect or want Him to, but God answers the prayers of His children.

“It Ought To Be About The Giver, Not The Gifts”

I agree with this. And I think most people I’ve met who pray over others agree with it, too.

The thing is, the Giver wants to bestow His gifts on us. Sometimes we’d prefer that He did not, as His gifts are often heavy crosses that seem impossible to bear. But as we progress in holiness, we learn that it is when we embrace these crosses that we come closest to Jesus.

Ironically, many who raise this objection of “Giver and not Gifts” to those in the Charismatic Renewal are among the first to point out that we should not reject the gifts of God when they are crosses, but for whatever reason these same people struggle to accept that God also might have sweet gifts of charisms of the Spirit to bestow on His children, too. Well, just as “charismatic” Catholics must be cautious of not becoming distracted by gifts of the Spirit, so should “traditional” Catholics be cautious of rejecting the gifts God wants to bestow on them in the name of fear masquerading as a kind of false piety.

To be honest, I’ve found myself leaning towards both directions at different points in my life. The fact is that we need to embrace all the gifts God has for us, simply because He wants us to have them.

Conclusion

So rest assured, my friends. There is nothing “unCatholic” about praying over one another! It is completely in keeping with Scripture and with Church teaching.

By the way, if you’re new to this “style” of prayer–or even if you’re not!– I highly encourage you to check out “The Wild Goose Is Loose” produced by 4PM media. It is a great overview and introduction to praying to and with the Holy Spirit!

In the Name of Jesus

 

Whenever evil is committed in the name of some religion, we’re told to conclude that all religions are essentially the same. Religion serves only to divide us and to spread messages of fear and hatred.

But the Gospel is GOOD news. It is life-giving. We see this in today’s first reading:

“Leaders of the people and elders:
If we are being examined today
about a good deed done to a cripple,
namely, by what means he was saved,
then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

 

Jesus was murdered. He was killed in the name of pride masquerading as religious piety. The religious leaders were afraid to arrest Him in broad daylight because they were afraid they’d have an angry mob on their hands, so they did it under the cover of night. They were threatened by Jesus’ following, so they sought to stamp out this “Jesus thing” by killing Jesus and thereby silencing His followers once and for all. They put guards at the tomb because they were afraid His followers would try to pull one over on them.

But Jesus rose anyway.

He came back to life–can you imagine the civil war that could have sprung from this event? 

Yet the Apostles do not retaliate evil for evil. The Gospel is not spread through fear and intimidation. Jesus’ followers do not go around killing in His name.

They go about healing in the name of Jesus. They go about preaching a Gospel of LIFE.

And this wasn’t just some clever “PR-strategy,” by the way. The apostles weren’t going around preaching a gospel of “can’t we all just get along?” They were healing and preaching eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ. And for that last bit, they were threatened, tortured, and killed.

It’s a pretty hard sell actually, “Join our religion! Heal the blind! Make the lame walk! –And be killed for it!”

Yet they went about healing and spreading life anyway, because that is who our God is. That is who Jesus is. The apostles were compelled to tell the world that the God who created us calls us to newness of life.

It is Jesus who heals. It is Jesus who gives life.

There is no salvation through anyone else–that is not a threat, it is simply the truth. And it is GOOD NEWS!

 

 

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A Contemporary(ish) Playlist For Holy Week

I put together a playlist of some more contemporary(ish) songs to pray along with during this Holy Week! There is soo much out there to choose from so I obviously couldn’t include everything, but below is what I came up with.

Anything you’d add?

Hosanna – Hillsong

“I see His love and mercy washing over all our sin / The people sing, “Hosanna!”

Come As You Are – Crowder

“Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been / Come broken hearted, let rescue begin / Come find your mercy, O sinner come near / Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal”

Jesus – Chris Tomlin

“There is one born for our salvation, Jesus”

Letting Go – Matt Maher

“I stand in awe of You, and everything You’ve done for me.”

Dry Bones – Gungor 

“My soul cries out for you … Jesus you’re the one who saves us / Constantly creates us…Surely our Messiah will make all things new”

Love Has Come – Matt Maher

“Love has come to show the way”

Lead Me To The Cross – Hillsong

“Lead me to the Cross, where your love poured out”

Cry Out To Jesus – Third Day

“There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary, and love for the broken heart / There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing / He’ll meet you wherever you are / Cry out to Jesus”

Watch The Lamb – Ray Boltz

“‘Daddy, Daddy, what will we see there? There’s so much that we don’t understand.’ So I told them of Moses and Father Abraham. And /i said, ‘Dear children, watch the Lamb'”

The Old Rugged Cross – Alan Jackson

“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down / And I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown”

Thy Will – Hillary Scott

“Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is, ‘Thy Will Be Done’ “

Amazing Love – The Newsboys

“I’m forgiven because you were forsaken. / I’m accepted because you were condemned”

Were You There – feat. Andrea Thomas

“O, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

 

My Baby, My Way

 

The 3 and 2 year olds are in the shopping cart–one in the seat, and one in the basket itself. The baby is strapped to me in a baby carrier. I cram groceries around the big kids and bounce the baby when she gets fussy.

You don’t have to tell me that I have my hands full. But you probably will, and I’ll smile back and laugh as I say, “I know, right?” as if this thought has never crossed my mind.

Having three so close together gets me a lot of comments when we’re out. The vast majority are totally polite, encouraging, and mean no harm. There’s an odd mixture of admiration and terror in their eyes that says, “Girl you’re crazy! I could NEVER do that!”

Oh but you could. And if you found yourself in my shoes, you would!

I get it. Kids– though hilarious at times– are no joke.

Still, it’s always somewhat astounding to me how radical and crazy others find it for my family to simply have babies on my body’s natural schedule.

For my husband and I, marriage means the possibility (and extreme probability, in our case) of babies. In fact my youngest is approaching the age at which we tend to conceive another baby. So, if we were to get pregnant again, it would be a bit of “Oh wow, FOUR!” but honestly not all that shocking to either myself or my husband (…right, babe??). This is natural. This is normal. It’s good, even.

Of course there is some level of parental responsibility that has to play into this. Is it the best time for another baby? Can we afford another baby? Can we mentally cope with another baby? All of these are questions we have to prayerfully consider and are discussions my husband and I have on a regular basis. When we discern that postponing pregnancy is something we think would be best for our family, we use NFP to do so (which is no fun for anyone, because NFP is hard). But for us, fertility is a good and healthy part of a marriage, and not something we want to suppress, or “fix” in any way.

When I was pregnant with our third, there was a birth control pamphlet in my OB’s office. There were a lot, actually, but this one in particular had a picture of a woman in her mid-to-late-twenties on the front of it. She was at a children’s playground happily pushing a baby swing, except in the swing where the baby ought to be, there was a video camera. The tagline read: “My career is my baby right now.”

When we lived in La Jolla, the buses that would run for UCSD had these big ads on the sides of them promoting UCSD’s hospital system (which is great, by the way). The ads were in all caps and said: YOUR BABY, YOUR WAY. 

As a woman I am supposed to feel empowered by all of this ON MY TERMS rhetoric around the baby decision, but if I’m being honest, the prevalence of birth control, and the whole, “your baby your way” mindset has come with enormous societal pressure.

I mean, can you imagine being pregnant (happily!) for the third time in three and a half years, in an office surrounded by birth control ads full of women who–thanks to birth control–are actually doing something with their lives?

Truthfully, having babies is a little scary sometimes. And I think one unintended, and truly unfortunate, consequence of birth control is that women now feel hesitant to express these totally normal and legitimate anxieties about motherhood. You wanted this, didn’t you? Of course having 4 kids is hard. Why did you do that to yourself?

Your Baby, Your Way.

Flip side: Your Decision, Your Fault.

And, by the way, it isn’t just us “Fertile Myrtles” who get the flack for being “weird.” In a world where everyone thinks fertility is as simple as taking or not taking a pill, those who struggle to conceive have to deal with judging eyes and yet another person asking, “So when are you guys going to have kids?” after over a year of trying.

It’s not always as simple as “My Baby, My Way.”

So, yes, I totally get that me out with my crew of three, three and under is somewhat crazy. Nobody understands this better than me, I assure you.

But I’m not crazy simply for having babies close together. I’m just a woman, no more or less than the woman who decides she would rather focus on her career than have babies. I’m just a woman, no more or less than the woman who’d love to have babies, but struggles to conceive. My children are neither trophies awarded to me for being good, nor are they punishments for my poor decision making.

Ain’t nothing wrong with a little planning and knowing your own limitations. But if you ask me, the sooner we all let go of this need to control each and every aspect of our lives, and the crazy nuts illusion of being able to control life itself, the better off we’ll all be.

And P.S. – No, I’m not pregnant.  😉