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!