What does the Church mean by public prayer?


As far as I understand, 20,000 people praying the rosary in a sports arena are not praying publicly. Yet, a single nun in her cell praying the Liturgy of the Hours is praying publicly. What is the definition of a public prayer according to Church teaching.
PS- have a slice with your morning coffee. My treat.


Thanks for the cake.

I’ve always wondered that, too, so I went to the Catholic encyclopedia and found this:

The classification of private and public prayer is made to denote distinction between the prayer of the individual, whether in or out of the presence of others, for his or for others needs, and all prayer offered officially or liturgically whether in public or in secret, as when a priest recites the Divine Office outside of choir. All the liturgical prayers of the Church are public, as are all the prayers which one in sacred orders offers in his ministerial capacity.


Yummy, but I’ll pass…:wink:

The short answer is there is a difference between the public prayer of the church and praying in public.

The example you gave of the Divine Office is perfect as it if formal, it is liturgical, and we are all called to say it.

The rosary, however, is a private devotion, not meant for liturgical use.


Public prayer of the Church (liturgy): 1) Mass, 2) Divine Office

In both a person ordained or under vows prays with the entire Church, on behalf of the entire Church, and for the entire Church. A layperson saying the Divine Office alone is not considered public prayer (liturgy), but is still very good. A group of laypeople saying the Divine Office is not considered public prayer (liturgy), but is also very good. A group of laypeople saying the Divine Office led by a deacon is considered public prayer. A deacon saying the Divine Office by himself is considered public prayer.


I can’t speak for what the Church considers public prayer but here is what the gospel of Matthew chapter 6 - starting with verse 5 says about it. Looks pretty instructive and easy to understand to me:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”


This is absolutely false. A single, or group of laypeople praying the Divine Office using approved texts most certainly are participating in the public liturgy and prayer of the Church. This had been amply discussed on other threads. It is also encouraged that the laity pray the Divine Office. Read the General Indtructions of the Liturgy of the Hours.


Thanks again. When we talk about the public prayer of the Church, do we mean that all of heaven and all those engaged on earth are praying that same prayer? For example, who is praying at the Mass in your local parish with the priest and four congregants assisting?


The word public can be thought of as meaning official.

The Mass and Liturgy of the Hours are the official prayers of the Church.

Example: A Public Association of the Faithful is able to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church. A Private Association of the Faithful cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic Church.



Thanks Tim. That settles my question. Signed, the OP


I think one addition: the other Sacraments would probably qualify as liturgy even outside of Mass.


I think the ‘intent’ of the public prayer is important. The ‘hypocrites’ are praying ‘to be seen by others’. Alas, if we only prayed in our rooms, we would not have adoration, Mass, Rosary, and many other prayer occasions. In fact, if someone were to ask you for a prayer for them at that moment, should we turn them down? What about Grace before Meals?


i want to be able to explain to myself who is praying with me when i am praying a public prayer of the Church. Please describe. For example, are all the angels and saints praying with me? What about the souls in purgatory? are all earth bound people who are praying a public prayer mystically praying with me in and through Christ?

Who is praying with us at the Mass?
please describe all those present- even the invisible ones


I’m simply relaying what’s found in the good book. With that said, I believe praying in a church or your private residence is ok. On street corners, probably not. There is a time and place.


The time and the place is always! :slight_smile:
1 Thessalonians 5:17
17 Pray without ceasing.

In the Scripture quoted above as reference in Matthew, Jesus does not make provisions for praying in church, so if we are going strictly by the Words that Jesus spoke in the Bible, instead of interpretation, then Rosaries, Mass, Adoration and such are not allowed either. But Jesus Himself prayed publicly, did He not? He taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, in public. He blessed the loaves and fishes, again, in front of others.

However, if we are going to interpret and understand what Jesus means, and listen to all the words, including
(Matthew 6:5) 5 And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets,** that they may be seen by men:** Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.

So that they may be seen by men. They are not praying to God, so that God will hear them. They are praying to God to be seen by men.

1 Timothy 2:8
8 I will therefore that men pray in every place, lifting up pure hands, without anger and contention.

Although the following references are not Catholic websites, they do give a very good explanation of the passages referenced in this thread regarding public prayer:



Commentary on National Catholic Register on this subject:

And on Catholic Online/Inside Catholic:

And a story on the Church (in England at least) calling for public prayer:

I have very personal reasons and words written on my heart that implore me to pray in public, not for myself, but for others; not for my benefit, but for theirs. The first time I offered a very public prayer, it wasn’t my thoughts or my words. I know 100%, that I was to pray that time and since, with others in public.

Thank you so much for ‘tickling’ my brain on this subject, each of you in this thread. I myself have learned from you.

Let us remember that praying is not just speaking to our Lord, but also in listening to Him.

God bless each of you,


The terms public prayer and private prayer have nothing to do with whether they are prayed in out in the open where others can see or not.

Praying in a Church or on the street corner where everyone can see you is not the public prayer of the Church. You are praying in public but it is not part of the official public prayer of the Church. These are private prayers even if you do them in public, because you are not speaking on behalf of the Church. You are speaking only on behalf of yourself or other private individuals.

Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, the sacraments, Eucharistic benediction, monks and nuns chanting the divine office - these are public prayers, even if they are performed in private behind locked doors. They are public because one who participates in them prays the official prayers of the Church, with the Church on behalf of the Church.

**Public **: with and on behalf of the Church, official prayer of the Church.
Private :your own, not the official prayer of the Church.

Example: a public official can speak on behalf of the government. He speaks publically, with the authority of the government. He can also speak as a private individual, on behalf of himself.



I agree with you, in part, yes - pray often but pray to yourself, in the church, and in your private residence, not on the street corners and in the public square like the hypocrites do.


I think that I’m not making my point very well.

Do not pray AS the hypocrites do; do not seek the rewards of praying in front of others. Pray in front of others, but not for their reward from them. The hypocrites want only to be recognized by their peers, which is why they pray publicly. It’s what is in your heart and your intent that is the difference, not the location.


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