Why do catholics pray, fast and offer sacrifices to attain certain petitions?


I have never understood this… sure i can understand prayer, that is straight forward and biblical. I am having a hard time understanding the offering of fasts, masses, and sacrifices (the whole ‘offer it up’ theology) of roman catholicism. Can someone explain it to me (and please do not be simplistic in citing purely scriputre… i am a anglican who has ‘tradition’ as part of our church)


Because fasting, etc have obvious spirtiual benefits, such as building willpower.

Jesus himself ordered us to offer the Mass, and Jesus also warned us that following Him would not be easy. “offering it up” is accepting what happens as part of our individual “cross” to bear as Christ’s followers


thats not the way its presented though its like we have to work for Gods blessing by doing such things… ive never understood offering multiple masses for a single thing either as if the more will make more ‘merit’ (whatever that is)… the death on the cross was sufficient, it seems like were making up for it somehow.

I just cant wrap my head around any of this stuff. It reminds me too much of the age old debate that arose in the medieval times of works vs. faith (although i do not want to go down that route as i have read plenty of cookie cutter apologetics on that)


I’m a bit confused as to what you’re asking here. Care to explain?


First of all, all three monotheistic religions encourage prayer, fasting, and sacrificing our goods by giving alms. They are biblical as well as traditional practices.
Secondly Jesus in dying on the cross earned every bit of merit and grace that mankind will ever need. What we are allowed to do is to share in that sacrifice by offering up our own pains and sufferings, not that we need to add to what is already sufficent, but because the sharing is of benefit for ourselves and others.
I think that the graces and merit are already earned by Jesus, but we can in a sense ask that they be applied to those in need. One example would be the prayer that Stephen said while being stoned(see Acts 7) asking that God forgive those who were killing him.


Let’s see what scripture says on this topic:

Matthew 6:17-18
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Mark 2:19-20
And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

Luke 2:36-38
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanu-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Acts 13:2-3
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 14:23
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.

Eph 6:18
Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

Romans 12:1
I APPEAL to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Phil 4:18-19
I have received full payment, and more; I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

The above quoted scriptures demonstrate that the Catholic practices of prayer, fasting, and sacrifice are in keeping with scipture and apostolic practice. They benefit us in numerous ways. The quoted verses are by no means exhaustive, but they should be enough to get you started in appreciating the Catholic way.

I hope this helps and may God bless.


hmm … yes but in those situations the fasting was never to call upon God’s blessing, as if had they not fasted the blessing would not have been delivered… i just feel all this ‘man’ work imposes itself on the Love of God.

I see no benefit in anything i do apart from what has already been accomplished


As to fasting actually being necessery as to bring about ‘blessings’ or something similar, I can offer this verse:

"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.** But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.**”—Matthew 27:19-21

So obviously fasting has some spiritual benefit.

Also, I’d like to point you to this verse:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Colossians 1:24

In response to your statement:

I see no benefit in anything i do apart from what has already been accomplished



If you believe that, then you do not appreciate what God really wants for you. God’s purpose for the elect is to conform them to the image of His son[Romans 8:29]. We are conformed to that image through growth in holiness. We grow holy by separating ourselves from the attachments of the world and the flesh, and by becoming more and more in love with God and our fellow man.

Much is accomplished to that end through prayer, fasting, and sacrifice. Through these things, God’s grace gives us more control over the body. We thus live by the Spirit and not in the flesh. The Spirit leads to life while living in the flesh leads to death.

I hope this helps.


When casting out a particular recalcitrant demon, Christ’s disciples wondered why they couldn’t cast it out, and He replied, "This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting. We fast because fasting actually does something, it adds something to our prayers.


What better sacrifice can we offer to God but Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which is one in the same with the Eucharist at mass?

and sacrifices (the whole ‘offer it up’ theology) of roman catholicism.

Paul told the Romans, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” We join our sufferings with Christ because that’s how we will be glorified with Him.

Furthermore, we, like Paul, offer our sufferings alongside Christ’s for the benefit of our fellow Christians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”

Suffering is an essential part of the Christian life.



PAx i would agree with you 100%… the definition of fasting you offer i would call a spirtual discipline… and i couldnt disagree but its when fasts are offered up with sacrifices to attain things… thats when it bothers me.

A spritual prsonal growth is one thing but to attain blessings because of some merit inherant in the action i cant accept


liek i understand fasting is to experience true hunger so as to feel solidarity with the starving poor of the world…also to help free us from temptations of the senses, to induce humily, obedience and charity, etc… this is fine

but the part above i mentioned is where im stuck. I see prayer and fasting as very personal spirtual growth tools… nothing realy else


Mark 9:18
I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able."
…Mark 9:29
29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

You are absolutely right, there is no benefit apart from what has been accomplished. However, there are things we can do to be grafted into what has been accomplished. These disciplines bring us into the sufferings of Christ.

1 Cor 9:27-10:1
I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

2 Cor 6:4-5
4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger;

Joining our sufferings with those of Christ brings us closer to Him and through it, “we commend ourselves” to Him.


1 Tim 6:6
6 There is great gain (merit) in godliness with contentment;

We are enjoined to “make every effort”

5 For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Peter 1:4-8

Of course, if all this effort does not proceed from grace through faith, in the knowledge that Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice is what makes it possible, it will be of no benefit.

Perhaps you are underestimating your relationship with the Body. Paul teaches us that every action on the part of one member affects the others. When we accept suffering, and pray that it benefit others, we know that we are spiritually connected to them through the Spirit.


hmmm thats a good point! The whole community of saints thing. Could you elaborate on the concept of our suffering benefiting others. I can see maybe personal spirtual growth coming from suffering but i dont see any intrinsic value in the suffering itself which can be passed on to others. Thats like were glorifying being the victim/slave because it has some inherant merit to it


I will leave the point of suffering for a moment, and move to a verse that says something about things we do that have spiritual benefit to others.

Romans 4:29
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

Pretty amazing isn’t it? There are things we can say that can actually impart grace to those that hear. It is truly awesome that God would let us participate in the distribution of His grace in this way.


It goes back, as has been pointed out, to the taking up of our own personal crosses. Since we are to be the image of Christ, taking up our own personal crosses must be effecacious in some way. Just as Christ’s actual taking up of an actual cross brought grace into the world, our figurative taking up of figurative crosses acts as an avenue for His grace. In other words, we are cooperating with grace by offering up sacrifice for the good of others, and for ourselves.

Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient – there’s no denying that. But God has through His mercy enabled us to participate in our salvation and in the building of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth – which cannot be done but by loving one another as Christ loves us. If we are to love in this way, we must be willing to suffer for one another.



What Catholics obtain is a reward (merit) or grace. The word “merit” in Latin means “meritum” which means reward not strict earning which only Christ can do since He is perfect and without sin.

When Catholics (or any other Christian) offers sacrifices what they are doing is essentially giving up something, volitionally for the sake of the body of Christ and uniting that personal sacrifice with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus’ oblation (Col 1:24) as Paul says…giving up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Well, at first glance it seems like Paul is saying something is “lacking” in Christ’s sacrifice, His afflictions, and something IS lacking and that is our YES to Jesus’ perfect sacrifice.

And since the body of Christ is the church and one, Jesus being the head and we are the body, as Paul was asked by Jesus in Acts 9…“why are you pursecuting Me?” Jesus = His church.
Ergo,when we sacrifice ourselves in whatever way, we do so in order to receive a reward (merit) of grace for ourselves or for others. When a Christian goes beyond what God would ask of them, when that Christian gives up all for the sake of Christ (like St. Francis of Assisi or perhaps Mother Theresa) or gives up much for the sake of Christ as do those in Mt 25:34-40, God rewards them with grace (blessings) and potentially to others because of their intercessory and sacrificial life. God is pleased by obedience and He rewards it in what is known as condign merit. Here is a portion of a good article to read that explains what Catholicism means by merit (reward)…

The Church teaches only Christ is capable of meriting in the strict sense. The most merit humans can have is condign - when, under the impetus of God’s grace, they perform acts which please him and which he has promised to reward (Rom. 2:6-11, Gal. 6:6-10). Thus God’s grace and his promise are the foundation for all human merit (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2007-2008).



2 Cor 1:5-7
5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

St Paul teaches us that our comfort benefits others, as well as our suffering.

Whatever one member of the body does, it will affect the others:

Rom 12:5
5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

1 Cor 6:15
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?


guano - i dont see the correlation in what your citing (Scripture wise) and your comments about it. Everything youve cited has backed up my belief that any struggle benefits the individual themselves, whether it be for sanctification, etc… not some transfer of merit, inherant in the suffering, to some other celestial being part of the body of Christ.

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