When Fr. Leo O’Donovan and Rev. Silvester Beaman offer up prayers at today’s Presidential inauguration, they will be joining a modern tradition that began with President Theodore Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937. Yet the tradition of praying for Presidents and for the nation is one Catholics have embraced since the beginning of our republic, under the leadership of our first bishop John Carroll, who wrote the prayer for our nation we shared two weeks ago. It is only fitting today to continue that practice—to pray not only for the new President but for our nation.
Four prayers resonate with significance for us today:
The U.S. Bishops’ book of blessings includes this prayer on the occasion of a Presidential inauguration:
Almighty and eternal God,
you have revealed your glory to all nations.
God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the President of these United States,
that his/her administration may be conducted in righteousness,
and be eminently useful to your people over whom he/she presides.
May he/she encourage due respect for virtue and religion.
May he/she execute the laws with justice and mercy.
May he/she seek to restrain crime, vice, and immorality.
We likewise commend to your unbounded mercy
all citizens of the United States,
that we be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of your holy law.
May we be preserved in union and that peace which the world cannot give;
and, after enjoying the blessings of this life,
be admitted to those which are eternal.
We pray to you, who are Lord and God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The bishops also suggest prayers of petition for this day. The full text of these prayers is available from the USCCB.
Prayer for the First Catholic President
On the day we inaugurate the second Catholic American elected to be President, a prayer offered at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy still resonates. In it, Cardinal Cushing prayed:
We beseech Thee, oh Almighty God, to strengthen our resolve;
To enlarge our vision of the common good;
To implement with personal sacrifice the objectives of our national purpose;
To revere in every man that divine spark which makes him our brother –that human spark which can make him our friend — and that personal spark which makes him himself;
To learn to ask ourselves sincerely in every community effort, not what we can get out of it, but what we can put into it.
To defend my right to be myself; to defend my neighbor’s right to be himself, and to defend America’s duty to respect the rights of all men.
Strengthen our resolve, oh Lord, to transform this recognition of others into a principle of cooperation.
Inspire us to practice this principle of cooperation both in ideal and action in these most dangerous, but soul-stretching times.
The full text of the Cardinal’s prayer can be found here.
Te Deum Laudamus
While there was no inaugural prayer at the first Presidential inauguration ceremony, President Washington attended a prayer service that afternoon. The congregation lifted up the hymn “Te Deum Laudamus”—”You, O God, We Praise”—one of the oldest hymns in the Christian tradition. A recognition of the transcendent power of God, it concludes:
O Lord, save your people : and bless your heritage.
Govern them : and lift them up for ever.
Day by day : we magnify you;
And we worship your Name : ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord : to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us : have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let your mercy lighten upon us : as our trust is in you.
O Lord, in you have I trusted : let me never be confounded.
Because “those who sing pray twice,” offering up this Gregorian chant rendition of “Te Deum Laudamus” can be a uniquely powerful observance today:
As now-President Biden prepared to take on the responsibilities of this office this past November, he referenced both Psalm 91—which many modern Catholics know as the song “On Eagles Wings”—and Psalm 28.
Psalm 28 ends with these three verses, in themselves a worthy prayer for each of us and for our nation today:
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.
For the complete text of Psalm 28, click here.
No matter how we do it today, let us pray for our country, and those who lead us.