What is your understanding of a "virtual intention" in prayer?


It is my understanding that you can ask God to hear your “virtual intention” for someone - a prayer that is perpetually recalled to God every single time you pray about anything else. Because our own minds are limited and can’t possibly remember every single prayer we make, yet God is beyond time and limitation, by asking for a virtual intention we ask God to remember when we can’t.

I will often make a virtual intention for someone who will need prayers for the rest of their life perhaps, or for the soul of someone, not knowing how long they may be in Purgatory before reaching heaven.

Does anyone else do this? What is your understanding of a virtual intention in this manner?



I never heard the term “virtual intention.”

Occasionally I offer a prayer “for all those who have asked me to pray for them, whom I may have forgotten; and for all in need of my prayers.” I suppose that amounts to the same thing.


Wow - I’m really surprised no one has ever heard of this! Hmmm - interesting.




I wouldn’t have called it a ‘virtual’ intention either - it is very much a real intention (‘virtual’ seems to me to imply that it isn’t real, as in ‘virtual reality’) - I’d call it a ‘perpetual’ intention.

I guess a Morning Offering is an intention of this sort, since you’re including all the prayers you say that day and offering them for certain intentions.


Lizaanne, don’t fret, I’ve heard of “virtual intention”. What’s more it’s a fairly common concept in sacramental theology and moral theology manuals. Its a shame when such useful and precise concepts get lost, so I hope you’ll help recover them!

The easiest way to explain a virtual intention is 1)etymologically and 2)by example.

  1. Virtual in this context derives from the Latin virtus – power. One is said to have a *virtual *intention when the power of one’s intention continues to exert an effect on one’s actions. In other words one’s previous act of the will continues to exert influence.

  2. The classic example is when you form the intention to travel to a destination. Along the way you do not constantly avert to your original intention, you look at the scenery, you engage others in conversation, you think about this or that, but you still arrive at your destination. You had a virtual intention, which constantly had an effect, or exerted power.

As far as intention goes there are generally four broad classes (in order from more perfect to least perfect):

a. Actual intention
b. Virtual intention
c. Habitual intention
d. Interpretive intention

For a minister to perform the sacraments either an actual or a virtual intention is required. To receive a sacrament a habitual intention is usually sufficient, however I believe that in some cases of emergency an interpretive intention can also be sufficient. Contrariwise I think that in the case of the sacrament of Matrimony, at least a virtual intention is required because the couple receiving the sacrament also administer it.

It is often noted that to gain indulgences a habitual intention suffices. Thus people will often intend to gain all indulgences available that day (i.e. they make that intention in the morning). A habitual intention is also involved in the “morning offering” whereby we offer all our prayers, works, and sufferings of that day.

I’m not entirely sure how to classify your example, however, whether between a virtual or a habitual intention. My inclination would be a habitual intention since the intention is not exercising any effect on your actions after it is made as with a virtual intention, but rather the intention once made, is never withdrawn, as in the case in a habitual intention.

I note however, that you might be using the word “intention” in the alternative sense of “a prayer for someone or something”. In that sense I have never seen anyone use the term “virtual intention”. Given the above types of intention (in the sense of “movement of the will”) I would think it would think that your “virtual intention” would more likely be called “habitual intention to pray for someone”.

What do you think?



Hi liza…I’ve never heard the term “virtual intention” but certainly at times I ask The Lord to look after for me ***all those who have asked for my prayers, to whom I have promised them and who may need my prayers. My intentions book was put away somewhere during the interior housepaint and still has not (annoyingly) revealed its current location.

My original priest director/confessor (dec’d) had been a theologian and he told me that the way he recalled his intentions was as per above *** . I must admit that I really like to recall all intentions to mind with my intentions book, albeit sufficiently lengthy to only address once weekly but daily by the method above ***. This is very much along the same lines as a sincerely offered Morning Offering covers our whole day, even if we do not recall it again that day.

God reads our hearts…He knows the disposition of our hearts even more than we do although we have a pretty good notion. And for most all of us, our intentions if collated into a book are quite a few pages indeed. Does God ask that we remember and pray every single one of them by precise intention…I don’t think so. God is far bigger than that!


Thank you for this very informative post, VC. Could you please provide a definition for “interpretive intention” to cover all our bases? Thanks.



I think this is wonderful!! Thank you for that extremely informative response! I will need to read it again more closely when I’m not supposed to be working so I can absorb it a bit better. :blush:



Yes, maybe its best to go through all of them. The easiest way is to focus on their influence on one’s action

  1. Actual Intention – a movement of the will concurrent with the action, i.e. at the actual time the action is performed. It is directly influencing and controlling the action. (Example: I throw the ball.)

  2. Virtual Intention – a movement of the will, and never retracted, which was made sometime prior to some action but which nevertheless continues to influence the action. (Example: I walk to the store, while talking on my cellular phone.)

  3. Habitual Intention – a movement of the will, and never retracted, which was made sometime prior to some action but which has no influence on the current act. (Example: I will to receive the indulgence from all indulgenced acts that I just happen to perform today.)

  4. Interpretative Intention – no prior or present movement of the will, but rather presumed to exist because of other indications. (Example: Administering the sacrament of anointing of the sick to a unconscious and dying Catholic, because of the interpretive intention of the person to receive the sacrament.)

Each of these can be perhaps explored in greater depth, but this general schema is often useful in regard to sacramental and moral theology.

What do you think?


In the Byzantine Liturgy of St. Basil there’s a line about asking the Lord to remember those “we have forgotten because of a multitude of names.”


I heard this term for the first time while listening to the One True Faith podcasts this summer. (I’m not sure exactly which episode - I think it was the “Communion of Saints” episode.)

The way Michael Voris describes it sounds like the first time you pray for someone, offer the prayer as a “virtual intention” to be included with every prayer you say for the rest of your life.

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