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.
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.
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any effect on your actions after it is made as with a virtual intention, but rather the intention once made, is never withdrawn, as in the case in a habitual intention.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?