Oratio Imperata

While scanning the Inquirer.net today, I happened upon a page that displayed today’s (19 Oct 2009) editorial cartoon


… and I thought, okay, three interesting elements all together in one image: (a) a black cloud labelled with the words “super-typhoons”, (b) a pair of hands clasped together as if to pray, and (c) the words “oratio imperata” just above these hands; there has got to be a story in there.

I logged on to (where else?), Google.com to look up oratio imperata and found this succinct definition: mandated prayer. Bizarrely enough, aside from that page, I could not find any other Web page (well, within three pages of Google results for the search text “definition of oratio imperata”) that exists primarily for the purpose of defining oratio imperata. Even Wikipedia lacks a specific entry.

From what I glean from the Google results I skimmed, most “mandated prayers” aim to seek divine intervention (or at the very least graces) to strengthen the lot of “the faithful” as they face what are considered to be insurmountable earthly challenges such as war, disease, pestilence, and natural disasters. I specifically found calls for oratio imperata to beseech deliverance from the swine flu epidemic and for good weather.

Makes sense now (I think…). The Inquirer.net Editor today presumably echoes a call for us to oratio imperata our way out of the coming typhoons. I presume so, despite not finding any particularly specific official statement from the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) pre-empting the coming storm, though it is heartening to read that there is some preparation work being mobilised by both public and private sectors.

Interestingly enough, back in 2007, a different sort of mandatory prayer was being called:

MANILA, Philippines — Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales on Wednesday urged priests and the laity to storm the heavens with prayers and seek divine intervention for more rains to come.

Rosales said “the lack of rains in what is already the rainy season of the country calls for divine intervention.”

“Our relief will come from nature. And so we implore the Master of all creation, God, our Father, at whose command the winds and the seas obey, to send us rain,” the cardinal said in a statement.

Rosales issued an Oratio Imperata Ad Petendam Pluviam (Obligatory Prayer to Request for Rain) and Intercessory Prayers for Rain to be said in all Masses in the Archdiocese of Manila beginning Friday.

The Oratio Imperata was issued to all parish priests, shrine rectors, chaplains and school directors.

The prayer for rains will be said until the rains come, said archdiocese spokesperson Peachy Yamsuan.

[As a bonus, I also found in that article this definition of oratio imperata: “an ordered prayer for a special intention besides the ones prescribed by ritual that the Pope or the bishop of a diocese may require to be said at Mass.”]

Funny how the pendulum of strategic prayer can swing mightily from one end of the pole to another within less than three years — a timeframe considerably shorter than timeframes used in most strategic planning initiatives underpinned by a bit more thinking. Of course the Global Financial Crisis has taught us that even the most scientifically formulated forecasts developed by the best analytical minds fail to predict the proverbial Black Swan that often lies in wait just outside our respective lines of sight into our futures.

But then I wonder about the sense (not even the logic) behind doctrines such as oratio imperata. Why would God, on one hand, listen to one bunch of peoples’ prayer for deliverance while allowing his forces of nature to annihilate another bunch (most likely praying just as hard) on the other? Is it perhaps because the latter happened to be sitting on his left hand at that precise moment? Of course who am I to presume to begin to understand God’s prioritisation criteria? After all, whatever the outcome, his will be done.

All this reminds me of one of those “three-wish” jokes which reminds us of that simple tenet we ought to live by: Be careful what you wish for:

A company boss was driving with his manager and an employee to lunch at a fancy restaurant when the company car stopped. They all got out to see that the closest building was an antique store, so they went to ask for a some gasoline. They went to the door to find a lamp outside of it. They picked it up and wiped the dust off when a genie came out and he said,”You know the drill, three wishes.”

They new they would get one wish each, so the young employee said,” I want to be in a warm personal island surrounded by girls and my own maid.” and WHOOSH he was gone.

The manager went next,” I wish I was back in my hometown with my family.” and WHOOSH, he was gone.

Finally it was the boss’s turn,” I want a full tank and to see those two in my office immediately after lunch!”

But that’s all beside the point.

What I really wanted to highlight was how my search on Google for oratio imperata yielded results dominated by Web pages related to or originating from the Philippines. Here’s my quick-and-dirty accounting of the stats:

Number of pages found on Google related to the Philippines and Filipinos for search string = “oratio imperata”

– Page 1 (search results 01-10): 8 out of 10 found
– Page 2 (search results 11-20): 6 out of 10 found
– Page 3 (search results 21-30): 7 out of 10 found

So as far as this armchair analysis goes (one that uses a sample size of 30 to describe a population of more than 8,000 — take it with a grain of salt if you must), 70% of Web pages out there that mention “oratio imperata” are somehow linked to Filipinos.

Right. We not only are a “prayerful” people with a taste for “prayerful” leaders, we also seem to be a people who prefer to pray on command.


About benign0

benign0 is the Web master of GetRealPhilippines.com
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25 Responses to Oratio Imperata

  1. makes you wonder why they didn’t just call for oratio imperata against global warming or climate change and not just the typhoons. failure to aim high even in matters of faith perhaps?

    • BenK says:

      That’s really the saddest thing about all of this. Rather than use the ecclesiastical context to make a useful and relevant social commentary, the best they can come up with is “pray for (more/less) rain”. Wow. Unless the Catholic Church is comprehensively removed from its position of influence in this country, there’s almost no point in trying to make improvements — every word that comes from the mouths of ministers sets society back a couple centuries.

      • Jarvis says:

        Oratio Imperata is a prayer mandated to the faithful to seek Divine Intervention in times of extraordinary circumstances. It reflects the faithful’s reliance and confidence in God’s design and the belief that God shall not forsake His people. Just because the Church prayed for rain during the dry season doesn’t mean they didn’t do anything else. Also, what’s wrong with asking the people to pray? Surely it is not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order, and public policy. If the faithful believe that God can grant them miracles, then people should respect that.

        Of course, to people who do not believe in God or the idea that He can grant miracles upon the collective request of His people, the idea would be absurd. But from a theological perspective, the idea is sound – like when Christ turned water into wine because the wedding party ran out of booze, or when he heals those who approach Him. it is not His mission to heal the sick and give away food, but by the goodness of His nature, he grants people’s requests. Being religious in nature, I do not see why it is being attacked on political grounds.

        Also, I do not agree that the influence of religion be removed or be completely shut off by the government. Religion is an important factor in the moral development of the people. The state, as expressed in it’s policies and jurisprudence, recognize that religion, although separate, is vital for the advancement of the nation. Separation of Church and State does not mean enmity between the same.

  2. Filo says:

    As if more people praying the same prayer gets God’s attention more than the unique prayer of one does.

    As if the typical Pinoy notion of democracy where majority gains favor, where there’s safety in numbers, applies to God’s decision making.

    Trouble with how faith is taught here, is that it is done at the expense of logic and/or reason. Blind unquestioning faith matters more in the present system. When you question dogma, you’re vilified.

  3. Chino F says:

    The Catholic church still believes it’s the most moral organization in the universe, and tries to enforce its morality by telling people how to run their lives. This Oratio Imperata is rather mild in this respect, but it sure reflects that premise. Jesus in the Bible advised followers to lock themselves in the room and wash their faces for their prayer. But aside from the Lord’s Prayer, he didn’t tell them what to pray for. “Mandated prayer” sounds like a contradiction of terms.

    • HusengBatute says:

      I remember being taught way back, that the Lord’s Prayer is actually a model on HOW, as opposed to about WHAT, we should pray. In your example, Jesus himself was giving the instructions.

      But, instead of prayer becoming a means for people to seek God’s will, it now becomes God seeking the people’s will–The tyranny of the masses now asserts itself over heaven. Instead of reading the signs of the times as a call to virtue, discipline, & resourcefulness, the masses are now asking God to curb natural forces to hide the effects of human stupidity as well as exempt them from working out a feasible solution for themselves.

      • GabbyD says:

        i agree with you huseng…

        in addition, prayer doesnt guarantee that it’ll come true. this isn’t a genie.

        so when people for the rain, NOBODY believes that there necessarily will be rain.

        looking at the text of the prayer itself (B0, could u include the text of the prayer?), you might find that the prayer itself doesnt speak of wish fulfillment.

        the swine flu prayer is an example. it has the following lines:

        “We ask for your grace for the people tasked with studying the nature and cause of this disease …”

        “. Guide the hands and minds of medical experts that they may minister to the sick with competence and compassion,”

        etc… its for people and for people’s actions , and not a prayer to be spared from the flu directly.

      • BenK says:

        Well, that swine flu prayer is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about. People and people’s action — the clergy has a powerful influence, they could be a big help. There are plenty of real issues they could bring up when it comes to typhoons and their effects.

        It would be easier to comment, I agree, if we actually knew what the prayer was, but the CBCP hasn’t seemed to have made a statement about it, at least as far as I could see.

      • GabbyD says:


        they ARE helping, according to the dictates of their beliefs.

        i found a link to the swine flu prayer, but didnt include it. the quotes i give above are directly from the prayer.

      • Chino F says:

        The funny thing in Catholicism was how they create prayers for this, for that. Now there’s a Swine Flu prayer? Wonder if there’s a Constipation prayer. hehehe

  4. GabbyD says:

    i dont get this:

    “we also seem to be a people who prefer to pray on command.”

    how else might one pray (or do anything)? randomly? not on command?

  5. benign0 says:

    Regardless of what is stipulated in the prayer itself, the way the Church struts around making their ecclesiastical pronouncement, edicts, or whatever term we use to call them, the message they seem to be trying to bring across to their flock is that they remain on top of the spiritual/religious (there’s a difference between the two) situation.

    It’s like everyone would already be in their own personal way engaging God in their times of challenge, and the Church in its obssessive drive to assert its relevance step up to say “ok let’s make it official: we hereby proclaim that all of Christendom will be praying for nice weather”.

    • GabbyD says:

      you write:

      “the way the Church struts around making their ecclesiastical pronouncement, edicts, or whatever term we use to call them, the message they seem to be trying to bring across to their flock is that they remain on top of the spiritual/religious (there’s a difference between the two) situation”

      indeed, this is integral in the catholic faith — the church IS on top of the spiritual/religious (both senses) situation AMONG CATHOLICS.

      note, this doesnt include non-catholics.

      further note: this isn’t prompting. this isnt a reminder, at least not mostly.

      this is about praying together as a community, which from the teachings of the church and bible, is very important.

  6. Parallax says:

    The Catholic Church is struggling to stay relevant, and it finds a terrific place to thrive in the Philippines.

  7. Chino F says:

    Has anyone noticed how Pope Benedict looks like Emperor Palpatine? hehehehe

    • BenK says:

      There’s all kinds of funny that can be made out of that, especially if you throw the whole Hitler Youth thing in there.

    • uncle pinoy says:

      Hahaha! Good one, Chino.

    • Chino F says:

      There was actually an avatar with the pope’s pic, with the caption “Yay, it’s the pope,” then it suddenly morphs into Palpatine, with the caption, “Oh, damn.” hehehe. Here’s something I found off the Net that contains those images, hehe: http://lolgod.blogspot.com/2009/04/pope-palpatine.html

    • Jarvis says:

      With all due respect, but that comment was both unethical and irresponsible. To implicate, based on appearance, the Pope to be a villain-in-disguise without clear and convincing evidence to prove the same reflects poorly on one’s sense of fairness. To do so is to be no different from racists and sexists who judge not based upon substantial grounds but upon unjust and irrational discrimination.

      One must still render the proper respect due to the beliefs and the right to believe (and to disbelieve) of others even if he does not share the same belief. It would be inappropriate (and at times criminal under the RPC) for any person to trample upon the beliefs of others without justifiable grounds.

      I sincerely hope that such a comment was merely a thoughtless remark and not a blatant disregard of the rights of others and the principles of fairness and mutual respect.

      • BongV says:


        Would you prefer we dunk the pope into a boiling tub of oil as was the Catholic prescription against witches during medieval times?

        Or maybe put him on a rack ala Torquemada?

        To do so is to be no different from racists and sexists who judge not based upon substantial grounds but upon unjust and irrational discrimination.

  8. Pingback: Why be part of the mad rush? | The Anti Pinoy :)

  9. Renato Pacifico says:

    Filipinos needed lobotomy. There is a function in our brain that can turn-off and on religion.


    Once we relieve ourselves of religion that is the only time we can use our brain’s maximum potential. Right now Filipinos still believe that prayers are still answered. That Filipinos in America believe they are blessed to get a Visa. Therefore, left-behind Filipinos are not blessed.

    Filipinos still believe that they get the most coveted American Visa thru devine intercession by their God. It is no wonder American Embassy in Manila looks like a church and a confessional. Filipinos lining up wrapping around the American embassy with rosaries and bible in hand praying for mercy to get a Visa.

  10. Diana says:

    No, the saddest thing here is how people laugh at and condemn what is essentially a Catholic picture. I mean, what is it about the picture that personally affronts some people that they must say something about it. So what if it is Catholic. So what if we Catholics pray for or about the weather. So what? Does it make any of you less of a person if we did? It is a religion’s belief that you all are making fun of (at the least). What happened to respecting other people’s beliefs? And you all talk about responsible journalism. And I had high hopes that GETREAL was going to raise the bar on journalism. Is there a dearth of good topics out there?

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