Published December 27, 2023
John Carroll (1735–1815) was the first Catholic bishop, not just in, but of the United States, for during the first eighteen years of his episcopate, his Diocese of Baltimore encompassed the entire country. Carroll was also, arguably, the greatest of American bishops, in that he created a stable structure for the Catholic Church in the new nation and defined the sensibility that has guided U.S. Catholicism ever since: loyal to Rome, committed to supporting and ennobling the American experiment in ordered liberty.
In 1791 Bishop Carroll convoked a diocesan synod, and on November 10 of that year, the synod adopted a prayer for the civil authorities that Carroll had composed. As we approach a year in which it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the United States will undergo a constitutional crisis even as the world burns, it would be no bad thing if parishes adopted Carroll’s prayer for occasional use during 2024—perhaps at the end of the General Intercessions at Sunday Mass:
We pray, O almighty and eternal God, who through Jesus Christ has revealed thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of your name.
We pray Thee, who alone are good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, the pope, the vicar of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, all other bishops, prelates and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise among us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct your people into the ways of salvation.
We pray, O God of might, wisdom and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness and be eminently useful to your people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality.
Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.
We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by your powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.
We recommend likewise, to your unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of your most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.
Finally, we pray to you, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of your servants departed, who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech you, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
In the Spring 2017 issue of National Affairs, I argued that our country needed a new Great Awakening. Six years later, after political divisiveness, partisan irresponsibility, and grotesquely selfish ambition have warped our public life beyond what was then imaginable, it seems ever more the case that the path of civic and political renewal in these United States lies through spiritual and moral renewal. A regular recitation of John Carroll’s eloquent prayer might be one small step toward the regeneration of the American spirit in the Year of Our Lord 2024.
George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.