We’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, in thinking about prayer in the 4th section of the Catechism, how the currents of prayer continued in the Old Testament reach their perfection and fulfilment in the New Testament, in the prayer of Jesus, the Son of God’s perfect relationship with the Father. In this tradition, the apostles were taught by Jesus to pray, and they have established for us the ways of Christian prayer. I want to think today a bit about the different ways we pray.
First, there are different intentions in praying. That is, prayer is not just about asking for things, any more than any relationship is just about one asking the other for something. A relationship that is based entirely on one asking the other for things is bound to fail. There is more joy, says St Paul, in giving than in receiving. So, in the first instance Christian prayer is Adoration and Blessing. This means that our hearts are turned to God simply because He is God. The Lord blesses us, and we ‘bless’ His name, we adore Him in His majesty and glory as Creator and Ruler of all things. Sometimes we may well adore God simply in silence and in awe for who He is, His grandeur. This too is prayer — prayer doesn’t always have to be about words.
Petition & Intercession would be a second form of prayer, in which we ask for things, and seek the mediation above all of Christ the Son of God, for all our needs. We ask for good things for ourselves, not for selfish things. But we also ask on behalf of others, and we seek others’ help in prayer: as the Church, we pray for one another, raising a constant chorus of prayer — interceding all the time for our needs and the needs of others. It is one of the key characteristics of the Church that we pray as a body, as a whole, united in prayer. This was true of the Church from the beginning: the concerns of each one were the concerns of everyone. Perhaps we find it easiest or most compelling to pray when we are in need, or when one close to us is in need … and yet the mark of a true Christian is that we pray both in good times and in bad; just as we talk to our parents, or our friends, or our family, not only when they — or we — are in need, but simply at all times, building up our relationship in love. Yet, God does ask us to turn to Him in our necessities: for He is the one who knows us best, and has such concern for our well-being. But above all He wishes us to get to heaven, not to be tempted away from Him here on earth; so sometimes we may struggle to understand His answers to our prayers.
Thanksgiving & Praise is another dimension of our prayer. To thank God for all He does for us; and to praise Him for ever. The life of heaven will be filled with prayer of this sort; thanksgiving for our lives, given us by God, and praise of the Lord who has saved us and forgiven us, and brought us to eternal life. The very word ‘Eucharist’ — another name for the Mass — means ‘Thanksgiving’: in the Mass we sum up our thanks and praise in the praise and offering of the sacrifice of Jesus.
This brings us to the matter of the one to whom we pray. Much of our prayer is addressed to the Father — perhaps most. In the Mass, for sure, almost all the prayers are addressed to God the Father. He is seen as the source of all, the Creator and life-giver. It is natural that the bulk of our prayers are addressed to Him. Yet, as the Son of God, and equally God, Jesus is also prayed to by us. In the Mass, for example, the Kyrie — Lord, have mercy — is addressed entirely to Jesus: e.g. “You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us. Lord, have mercy.” He is the one who has sacrificed Himself for the forgiveness of sins, and He is the one whom we might visualize most easily in our minds, since He is God made man, God who has taken human flesh. Naturally we turn to Him: “through Him and with Him and in Him” can be offered all our prayers to the Father. And the Spirit too: prayer to the Holy Spirit is important, for He is the Lord and life-giver, the One who reigns in our hearts when they are free from sin. Invoking the Holy Spirit is a blessed way of asking for grace and the strength to do good and avoid evil. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love. It’s a good question to ask yourself: to whom do you most naturally pray? To Father, Son, or Spirit? And if it is most normally just one person of the Trinity, why not vary your prayer and address the others too?