January 22 - A Day of Prayer and Penance for Life


In February 2002, the Catholic Church established that throughout the United States, January 22nd would be observed as a day of prayer and penance against abortion:

In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass 'For Peace and Justice' (no. 22 of the 'Masses for Various Needs') should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day.

                       – General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 373


Why a Day of Prayer and Penance?

In the U.S., the date of January 22nd as the Day of Prayer and Penance is significant because this date marks the anniversary of the deplorable Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The Roe v. Wade decision legally established in the U.S. that most laws against abortion in the United States were unconstitutional, for privacy rights reasons, under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Because abortion is immoral and intrinsically evil, we as faithful Catholics are obligated to teach against this grave evil. This is to be worked towards certainly through social and political actions; however, as an issue of faith, the weapons of prayer and penance are of significance:

Filled with this certainty, and moved by profound concern for the destiny of every man and woman, I repeat what I said to those families who carry out their challenging mission amid so many difficulties: a great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer.

Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As he taught his disciples, some demons cannot be driven out except in this way (cf. Mk 9:29).

Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love.- Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 100.

Ideas for Observing the Day of Prayer and Penance

There are multiple ways of observing this national day of prayer and penance. Of course, as noted above, the Mass for Peace and Justice is to be celebrated on the day of prayer and penance. However, there are many actions in which individuals and groups can engage to observe the day:

  • Peacefully praying outside of an abortion clinic

  • Fasting

  • Praying a rosary or chaplet for the unborn

  • Praying for those who have been wounded by abortion

  • Visiting and praying before the Blessed Sacrament

  • Reading and reflecting on Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae in full

  • Becoming involved with the pro-life group in your town or area

To view our selection of Pro-Life resources – books, audio, jewelry, and more – click here, and for books about abortion click here or here.


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