Prayer in the Christian Life
534. What is prayer?
Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God, or the petition of good things from him in accord with his will. It is always the gift of God who comes to encounter man. Christian prayer is the personal and living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is infinitely good, with his Son Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit who dwells in their hearts.
The Revelation of Prayer
535. Why is there a universal call to prayer?
Because through creation God first calls every being from nothingness. Even after the Fall man continues to be capable of recognizing his Creator and retains a desire for the One who has called him into existence. All religions, and the whole history of salvation in particular, bear witness to this human desire for God. It is God first of all, however, who ceaselessly draws every person to the mysterious encounter known as prayer.
THE REVELATION OF PRAYER
IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
536. How is Abraham a model of prayer?
Abraham is a model of prayer because he walked in the presence of God, heard and obeyed him. His prayer was a battle of faith because he continued to believe in the fidelity of God even in times of trial. Besides, after having received in his own tent the visit of the Lord who confided his plan to him, Abraham dared to intercede for sinners with bold confidence.
537. How did Moses pray?
The prayer of Moses was typical of contemplative prayer. God, who called to Moses from the burning bush, lingered in conversation with him often and at length, “face to face, like a man with his friend” (Exodus 33:11). In this intimacy with God, Moses attained the strength to intercede tenaciously for his people: his prayer thus prefigured the intercession of the one mediator, Christ Jesus.
538. In the Old Testament, what relationship do the king and the temple have to prayer?
The prayer of the People of God developed in the shadow of the dwelling place of God – the Ark of the Covenant, then the Temple – under the guidance of their shepherds. Among them there was David, the King “after God’s own heart,” the shepherd who prayed for his people. His prayer was a model for the prayer of the people because it involved clinging to the divine promise and a trust filled with love for the One who is the only King and Lord.
539. What is the role of prayer in the mission of the prophets?
The prophets drew from prayer the light and strength to exhort the people to faith and to conversion of heart. They entered into great intimacy with God and interceded for their brothers and sisters to whom they proclaimed what they had seen and heard from the Lord. Elijah was the father of the prophets, of those who sought the face of God. On Mount Carmel he achieved the return of the people to the faith, thanks to the intervention of God to whom he prayed: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me!” (1 Kings 18:37).
540. What is the importance of the Psalms in prayer?
The Psalms are the summit of prayer in the Old Testament: the Word of God become the prayer of man. Inseparably both personal and communal, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, this prayer sings of God’s marvelous deeds in creation and in the history of salvation. Christ prayed the Psalms and brought them to fulfillment. Thus they remain an essential and permanent element of the prayer of the Church suited to people of every condition and time.
PRAYER IS FULLY REVEALED AND REALIZED IN JESUS
541. From whom did Jesus learn how to pray?
Jesus, with his human heart, learned how to pray from his mother and from the Jewish tradition. But his prayer sprang from a more secret source because he is the eternal Son of God who in his holy humanity offers his perfect filial prayer to his Father.
542. When did Jesus pray?
The Gospel often shows Jesus at prayer. We see him draw apart to pray in solitude, even at night. He prays before the decisive moments of his mission or that of his apostles. In fact, all his life is a prayer because he is in a constant communion of love with the Father.
543. How did Jesus pray during his passion?
The prayer of Jesus during his agony in the garden of Gethsemani and his last words on the cross reveal the depth of his filial prayer. Jesus brings to completion the loving plan of the Father and takes upon himself all the anguish of humanity and all the petitions and intercessions of the history of salvation. He presents them to the Father who accepts them and answers them beyond all hope by raising his Son from the dead.
544. How does Jesus teach us to pray?
Jesus teaches us to pray not only with the Our Father but also when he prays. In this way he teaches us, in addition to the content, the dispositions necessary for every true prayer: purity of heart that seeks the Kingdom and forgives one’s enemies, bold and filial faith that goes beyond what we feel and understand, and watchfulness that protects the disciple from temptation.
545. Why is our prayer efficacious?
Our prayer is efficacious because it is united in faith with the prayer of Jesus. In him Christian prayer becomes a communion of love with the Father. In this way we can present our petitions to God and be heard: “Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).
546. How did the Virgin Mary pray?
Mary’s prayer was characterized by faith and by the generous offering of her whole being to God. The Mother of Jesus is also the new Eve, the “Mother of all the living”. She prays to Jesus for the needs of all people.
547. Is there a prayer of Mary in the Gospel?
Along with the prayer of Mary at Cana in Galilee, the Gospel gives us the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) which is the song both of the Mother of God and of the Church, the joyous thanksgiving that rises from the hearts of the poor because their hope is met by the fulfillment of the divine promises.
PRAYER IN THE AGE OF THE CHURCH
548. How did the first Christian community in Jerusalem pray?
At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles it is written that in the first community of Jerusalem, educated in the life of prayer by the Holy Spirit, the faithful “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
549. How does the Holy Spirit intervene in the Church’s prayer?
The Holy Spirit, the interior Master of Christian prayer, forms the Church in the life of prayer and allows her to enter ever more deeply into contemplation of and union with the unfathomable mystery of Christ. The forms of prayer expressed in the apostolic and canonical writings remain normative for Christian prayer.
550. What are the essential forms of Christian prayer?
They are blessing and adoration, the prayer of petition and intercession, thanksgiving and praise. The Eucharist contains and expresses all the forms of prayer.
551. What is “blessing”?
The prayer of blessing is man’s response to God’s gifts: we bless the Almighty who first blesses us and fills us with his gifts.
552. How can adoration be defined?
Adoration is the humble acknowledgement by human beings that they are creatures of the thrice-holy Creator.
553. What are the different forms of the prayer of petition?
It can be a petition for pardon or also a humble and trusting petition for all our needs either spiritual or material. The first thing to ask for, however, is the coming of the Kingdom.
554. In what does the prayer of intercession consist?
Intercession consists in asking on behalf of another. It conforms us and unites us to the prayer of Jesus who intercedes with the Father for all, especially sinners. Intercession must extend even to one’s enemies.
555. When is thanksgiving given to God?
The Church gives thanks to God unceasingly, above all in celebrating the Eucharist in which Christ allows her to participate in his own thanksgiving to the Father. For the Christian every event becomes a reason for giving thanks.
556. What is the prayer of praise?
Praise is that form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It is a completely disinterested prayer: it sings God’s praise for his own sake and gives him glory simply because he is.
The Tradition of Prayer
557. What is the importance of Tradition in regard to prayer?
In the Church it is through living Tradition that the Holy Spirit teaches the children of God how to pray. In fact prayer cannot be reduced to the spontaneous outpouring of an interior impulse; rather it implies contemplation, study and a grasp of the spiritual realities one experiences.
AT THE WELLSPRINGS OF PRAYER
558. What are the sources of Christian prayer?
They are: the Word of God which gives us “the surpassing knowledge” of Christ (Philippians 3:8); the Liturgy of the Church that proclaims, makes present and communicates the mystery of salvation; the theological virtues; and everyday situations because in them we can encounter God.
“I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally. … My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath.” (The Curé of Ars, Saint John Mary Vianney)
THE WAY OF PRAYER
559. In the Church are there different ways of praying?
In the Church there are various ways of praying that are tied to different historical, social and cultural contexts. The Magisterium of the Church has the task of discerning the fidelity of these ways of praying to the tradition of apostolic faith. It is for pastors and catechists to explain their meaning which is always related to Jesus Christ.
560. What is the way of our prayer?
The way of our prayer is Christ because prayer is directed to God our Father but reaches him only if we pray – at least implicitly – in the name of Jesus. His humanity is in effect the only way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to our Father. Therefore liturgical prayers conclude with the formula: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
561. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer?
Since the Holy Spirit is the interior Master of Christian prayer and “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Romans 8:26), the Church exhorts us to invoke him and implore him on every occasion: “Come, Holy Spirit!”
562. How is Christian prayer Marian?
Because of her singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray to Mary and with Mary, the perfect ‘pray-er’, and to “magnify” and invoke the Lord with her. Mary in effect shows us the “Way” who is her Son, the one and only Mediator.
563. How does the Church pray to Mary?
Above all with the Hail Mary, the prayer with which the Church asks the intercession of the Virgin. Other Marian prayers are the Rosary, the Akathistos hymn, the Paraclesis, and the hymns and canticles of diverse Christian traditions.
GUIDES FOR PRAYER
564. How are the saints guides for prayer?
The saints are our models of prayer. We also ask them to intercede before the Holy Trinity for us and for the whole world. Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. In the communion of saints, throughout the history of the Church, there have developed different types of spiritualities that teach us how to live and to practice the way of prayer.
565. Who can educate us in prayer?
The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Daily family prayer is particularly recommended because it is the first witness to the life of prayer in the Church. Catechesis, prayer groups, and “spiritual direction” constitute a school of and a help to prayer.
566. What places are conducive to prayer?
One can pray anywhere but the choice of an appropriate place is not a matter of indifference when it comes to prayer. The church is the proper place for liturgical prayer and Eucharistic adoration. Other places also help one to pray, such as a “prayer corner” at home, a monastery or a shrine.
The Life of Prayer
567. What times are more suitable for prayer?
Any time is suitable for prayer but the Church proposes to the faithful certain rhythms of praying intended to nourish continual prayer: morning and evening prayer, prayer before and after meals, the Liturgy of the Hours, Sunday Eucharist, the Rosary, and feasts of the liturgical year.
“We must remember God more often than we draw breath.” (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus)
568. What are the expressions of the life of prayer?
Christian tradition has preserved three forms for expressing and living prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. The feature common to all of them is the recollection of the heart.