Prayer in Christ’s name: sermon on the fifth Sunday after Easter
By a Dominican Friar | 10 May 2023
“Amen, Amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it to you.”
Our Lord often begins His teaching with the words, “Amen, I say to you”. Only in St John’s Gospel do we find an even more emphatic phrase, with the word Amen repeated: “Amen, Amen, I say to you.” Amen is a Hebrew word that means “faithful”, or “faithfully”. In the Apocalypse of St John, Christ also uses it as a title for Himself. So, when it is repeated in this way, it means something like: “I, the faithful one, say to you faithfully”. But if we find it thus repeated only in the Gospel of St John, this seems to be because the Gospel of St John tells us of the greatest mysteries, of things which men find especially difficult to believe, and about which therefore they need more reassurance. Thus, in St John’s Gospel, Christ uses this double Amen when He tells the rabbi Nicodemus that He will bring people into the kingdom of God by means of water, and when He tells the crowds at Capharnaum that He will feed them with His flesh and His blood.
How does He use the phrase here? “Amen, Amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it to you.” This, then, is also one of the greater mysteries: the power of prayer made in Christ’s name. Our Saviour knows that men find it hard to believe that God is really interested in their prayers. Even believers, because they do not yet see Him, easily imagine that God is far away from them. So, to heal us of this false idea, Christ says, “I do not say that I will pray the Father for you.” That sounds surprising. Don’t we read in St Paul that Jesus is “ever living to make intercession for us”(Heb 7:25)? And St John says that if any of us sins, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Just” (1 Jn 2:1). But if He is our advocate, ever living to make intercession for us, how can He say here, “I do not say that I will pray the Father for you?” He explains it in what follows: “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me.” In other words, if He makes intercession for us, it is not to try to induce His Father to begin to take an interest in us. By looking upon Christ with love, God the Father is already looking upon us with love. If the farmer looks at the vine, he cannot help seeing the branches as well. If he loves the vine, he cannot fail to love the branches.
Our Lord in this gospel is addressing the eleven apostles as a group. Judas has already gone out. So His promise about the power of prayer in His name is a promise made to the Church. He promises that when the Church prays to the Father in His name, her prayer will be granted. This is why at Mass, and in the Divine Office — for example at Vespers or Compline — we finish our prayers by saying Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum (“through our Lord Jesus Christ”) or Per Christum Dominum nostrum (“through Christ our Lord”). This is how the apostles taught us to pray, in His name, as they did themselves. In the silent part of the Mass, when the sacrifice of our Lord becomes present on the altar, and the priest is praying more earnestly for the needs of the whole people, he makes this kind of prayer again and again, per Christum Dominum nostrum. He repeats these words or similar ones nine times, praying to the Father in the name of His Son. But even when we do not use these very words, we are still praying in the name of Christ whenever we ask for what is useful for our salvation. The name Jesus means “Saviour”; so to pray for our salvation with faith in Him is already to pray in His Name.
When the Church prays in the name of Christ, her prayer is granted. Sometimes this happens in dramatic ways. You remember the passage in the Acts of the Apostles, when St Peter has been arrested and is being kept in prison. King Herod is taking no chances: there is a soldier on either side of St Peter, Peter himself is chained with two chains, and there are guards on duty just outside. But St Luke tells us that while this was going on, “Prayer was made without ceasing by the Church unto God”. What happens? God sent an angel from heaven to release St Peter by a miracle. We still have the chains which fell from his hands. They are kept in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.
Or take the example of Arius, several centuries later. Arius was the heretic who held that Jesus Christ is not truly God, but only a very exalted creature. The Church excommunicated Arius, but he won the Roman emperor to his heresy. The Roman emperor started sending into exile orthodox bishops like St Athanasius, and protecting heretical ones. It was a terrible time for faithful Catholics. The emperor decided that Arius himself must be restored to his position, and a splendid ceremony was arranged, to escort him with honour to his church. He was the hero of the hour. The faithful prayed that God might intervene to vindicate the truth of the divinity of Christ; in the middle of the procession, Arius felt unwell, he went to rest in a private place, and a few minutes later when people went to look for him, they found him dead. God had heard the prayers of His people.
One more example. In the sixteenth century, the Protestant reformation broke out. Whole nations were torn away from the Church. In city after city, churches were vandalised, monasteries closed down, never to re-open, priests put to death. To the wise men of the time — those who were wise with a merely human wisdom — it seemed to be a blow from which the Church would never recover. But the faithful prayed, the orthodox bishops prayed and offered Mass, and the religious, where they survived, besought God to have mercy. He heard their prayers. How? He converted an entire continent, to replace what had been lost. The Blessed Virgin Mary herself appeared in Guadalupe, in the heart of the Americas, she whom the Church calls “the Mediatrix of All Graces”. Within a few years, millions of souls were baptised, and what had been lost in the old world was made up for in the new.
These are the great moments of history. But do not think that Christ’s words apply only to such dramatic events. Every Sunday, every day, every hour, the Church is praying to the Father in Christ’s name. None of us would be here today if it were not for the graces which these prayers have won for us, even before we were born. And we, in turn, by our prayers, are gaining graces for ourselves, and for others, even for those who are not yet born. No human force, no created force of any kind, can prevent this work from continuing and bearing fruit. By making us a part of His body, as the branches are a part of the vine, Christ has given us a share in His power to pray and obtain blessings from the Father. So, let us make use of this power; let us change the world by our prayers.