What is the difference between intercessory prayer and supplication? Along with prayers of petition, these terms are often used interchangeably. Perhaps supplication includes a quality of looking to God’s overall power and the need for the petitioner to be especially cognizant of that power.
154. Prayer of supplication is an expression of a heart that trusts in God and realizes that of itself it can do nothing. The life of God’s faithful people is marked by constant supplication born of faith-filled love and great confidence. Let us not downplay prayer of petition, which so often calms our hearts and helps us persevere in hope. Prayer of intercession has particular value, for it is an act of trust in God and, at the same time, an expression of love for our neighbor. There are those who think, based on a one-sided spirituality, that prayer should be unalloyed contemplation of God, free of all distraction, as if the names and faces of others were somehow an intrusion to be avoided. Yet in reality, our prayer will be all the more pleasing to God and more effective for our growth in holiness if, through intercession, we attempt to practice the twofold commandment that Jesus left us.
God knows everything, and as the Scriptures remind us, before we even speak a need, God is aware of it. So, why ask?
Intercessory prayer is an expression of our fraternal concern for others, since we are able to embrace their lives, their deepest troubles and their loftiest dreams. Of those who commit themselves generously to intercessory prayer we can apply the words of Scripture: “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people” (2 Maccabees 15:14).
Some people have the spiritual gift–a knack if you will–for praying for others. It still doesn’t exclude us from the practice any more than if we are the weakest, most out-of-tune singer in the assembly. We are still urged to do it.
You can check the full document Gaudete et Exsultate on the Vatican website.
My mother spent 40 years raising children, and then had a decade of reasonably good health but where things took longer, then almost 15 years of declining health. During her homemaker years, she confessed she didn’t have the time to pray as she wished. During her decline, even into her last few months, she was dogged about taking at least an hour to offer her daily prayers, including a rosary (finding rosaries the she could see and feel with her neuropathy and macular degeneration but without irritating her was a challenge). I believe she became a fierce intercessor. Like St Mary of Bethany: took after her mother and got in God’s face, as it were. One thing my mother showed was that, as her physical world grew smaller and smaller, her spiritual world became vaster. Her frustrations and downright anger with her physical world were her life force that enabled her to be a fierce prayermaker. She was greatly comforted by my idea that, when her day was just too vexing (her regular day took four-five hours to get ready, and two to go to bed; more time to get ready if she had to go out, say, to a doctor appointment) to be able to focus on her preferred daily prayer, that she simply offer this “Lord, I offer you my daily prayers that I would normally offer you today” et cet. The habit of the relationship was honored, with trust, not scrupulosity.
Say what you may about monthly “devotional” confessions, but I am aware of how people practice that in the context of the hope to offer plenary indulgences for the dead – not just their near and dear departed, but also for people they don’t necessarily even know. That’s another kind of prayer warrioring that I wish were also better appreciated. They are not people who call attention to themselves, and the regularity of their practice may be misunderstood as a kind of antiquated scrupulosity. (There are scrupulants, to be sure, but I am not talking about them as such.) Rather, these are people who seize an opportunity for works of mercy that are free for the asking.
Likewise, people who persevere in the regular habit of prayer also satisfy a condition for the unique plenary indulgence at the hour of death, which can be a comfort when a priest is unavailable* to pronounce the Apostolic Pardon at the hour of death. (A technical explanation can be found in many places, but this is my first grab: http://www.ewtn.com/library/liturgy/zlitur467.htm)
This may sound fussy, but I offer it as a testimony about ways of prayer that seemed to be sidelined unnecessarily over the decades.
* Or unable/unwilling, as was the case of the hospital chaplain who ministered to my mother and told my father at bedside that it wasn’t done any more, in essence (which priest was quite wrong). I did much later learn that some hospital chaplains don’t have the practice of offering it because the blessing is not in the ritual book for the Sacrament of the Sick that they may carry to the exclusion of anything else – one would need to bring another book, memorize it or copy and paste a sheet into that ritual book (which last option seems to be a common practice of choice).