Catechism of the Catholic Church / Part Four: Christian Prayer
Section One - Prayer In The Christian Life
Chapter Two - The Tradition Of Prayer
Prayer cannot be reduced to the spontaneous outpouring of interior impulse: in order
to pray, one must have the will to pray. Nor is it enough to know what the
Scriptures reveal about prayer: one must also learn how to pray. Through a
living transmission (Sacred Tradition) within "the believing and praying
Church,"1 The Holy Spirit teaches the children of God how to pray.
The tradition of Christian prayer is one of the ways in which the tradition of
faith takes shape and grows, especially through the contemplation and study of
believers who treasure in their hearts the events and words of the economy of
salvation, and through their profound grasp of the spiritual realities they
AT THE WELLSPRINGS OF PRAYER
The Holy Spirit is the living water "welling up to eternal
life"3 in the heart that prays. It is he who teaches us to accept
it at its source: Christ. Indeed in the Christian life there are several
wellsprings where Christ awaits us to enable us to drink of the Holy Spirit.
The Word of
The Church "forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful .
. . to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ'
(⇒ Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine
Scriptures.... Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the
reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and
man. For 'we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the
The spiritual writers, paraphrasing Matthew 7:7, summarize in this way the
dispositions of the heart nourished by the word of God in prayer "Seek in
reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be
opened to you by contemplation."5
of the Church
In the sacramental liturgy of the Church, the mission of Christ and of the Holy
Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation,
which is continued in the heart that prays. the spiritual writers sometimes
compare the heart to an altar. Prayer internalizes and assimilates the liturgy
during and after its celebration. Even when it is lived out "in
secret,"6 prayer is always prayer of the Church; it is a communion
with the Holy Trinity.7
One enters into prayer as one enters into liturgy: by the narrow gate of faith.
Through the signs of his presence, it is the Face of the Lord that we seek and
desire; it is his Word that we want to hear and keep.
The Holy Spirit, who instructs us to celebrate the liturgy in expectation of
Christ's return, teaches us - to pray in hope. Conversely, the prayer of the
Church and personal prayer nourish hope in us. the psalms especially, with
their concrete and varied language, teach us to fix our hope in God: "I
waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my
cry."8 As St. Paul prayed: "May the God of hope fill you with
all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may
abound in hope."9
"Hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our
hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."10 Prayer,
formed by the liturgical life, draws everything into the love by which we are
loved in Christ and which enables us to respond to him by loving as he has
loved us. Love is the source of prayer; whoever draws from it reaches the summit
of prayer. In the words of the Cure of Ars:
I love you, O my God, and my
only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my
infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving
you. 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.11
We learn to pray at certain moments by hearing the Word of the Lord and sharing
in his Paschal mystery, but his Spirit is offered us at all times, in the
events of each day, to make prayer spring up from us. Jesus' teaching about
praying to our Father is in the same vein as his teaching about
providence:12 time is in the Father's hands; it is in the present that
we encounter him, not yesterday nor tomorrow, but today: "O that today you
would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts."13
Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the
kingdom revealed to "little children," to the servants of Christ, to
the poor of the Beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of
the kingdom of justice and peace may influence the march of history, but it is
just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations;
all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the
2661 By a living transmission
-Tradition - the Holy Spirit in the Church teaches the children of God to pray.
2662 The Word of God, the
liturgy of the Church, and the virtues of faith, hope, and charity are sources
THE WAY OF PRAYER
In the living tradition of prayer, each Church proposes to its faithful,
according to its historic, social, and cultural context, a language for prayer:
words, melodies, gestures, iconography. the Magisterium of the Church15
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, always in relation to Jesus Christ.
There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is
communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we
pray "in the name" of Jesus. the sacred humanity of Jesus is
therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our
The prayer of the Church, nourished by the Word of God and the celebration of
the liturgy, teaches us to pray to the Lord Jesus. Even though her prayer is
addressed above all to the Father, it includes in all the liturgical traditions
forms of prayer addressed to Christ. Certain psalms, given their use in the
Prayer of the Church, and the New Testament place on our lips and engrave in
our hearts prayer to Christ in the form of invocations: Son of God, Word of
God, Lord, Savior, Lamb of God, King, Beloved Son, Son of the Virgin, Good
Shepherd, our Life, our Light, our Hope, our Resurrection, Friend of
But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God
received in his incarnation: JESUS. the divine name may not be spoken by human
lips, but by assuming our humanity the Word of God hands it over to us and we
can invoke it: "Jesus," "YHWH saves."16 The name
"Jesus" contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation
and salvation. To pray "Jesus" is to invoke him and to call him
within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies.
Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the
Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.17
simple invocation of faith developed in the tradition of prayer under many forms
in East and West. the most usual formulation, transmitted by the spiritual
writers of the Sinai, Syria, and Mt. Athos, is the invocation, "Lord Jesus
Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners." It combines the
Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican and the
blind men begging for light.18 By it the heart is opened to human
wretchedness and the Savior's mercy.
invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When
the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not
lost by heaping up empty phrases,19 but holds fast to the word and
"brings forth fruit with patience."20 This prayer is possible
"at all times" because it is not one occupation among others but the
only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every
action in Christ Jesus.
prayer of the Church venerates and honors the Heart of Jesus just as it invokes
his most holy name. It adores the incarnate Word and his Heart which, out of
love for men, he allowed to be pierced by our sins. Christian prayer loves to
follow the way of the cross in the Savior's steps. the stations from the
Praetorium to Golgotha and the tomb trace the way of Jesus, who by his holy
Cross has redeemed the world.
"No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit."21
Every time we begin to pray to Jesus it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the
way of prayer by his prevenient grace. Since he teaches us to pray by recalling
Christ, how could we not pray to the Spirit too? That is why the Church invites
us to call upon the Holy Spirit every day, especially at the beginning and the
end of every important action.
If the Spirit should not be worshiped, how can he divinize me through
Baptism? If he should be worshiped, should he not be the object of
The traditional form of petition to the Holy Spirit is to invoke the Father
through Christ our Lord to give us the Consoler Spirit.23 Jesus insists
on this petition to be made in his name at the very moment when he promises the
gift of the Spirit of Truth.24 But the simplest and most direct prayer
is also traditional, "Come, Holy Spirit," and every liturgical
tradition has developed it in antiphons and hymns.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the
hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.25
Heavenly King, Consoler Spirit, Spirit of Truth, present everywhere and filling
all things, treasure of all good and source of all life, come dwell in us,
cleanse and save us, you who are All Good.26
The Holy Spirit, whose anointing permeates our whole being, is the interior
Master of Christian prayer. He is the artisan of the living tradition of
prayer. To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who
pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all. It is in the
communion of the Holy Spirit that Christian prayer is prayer in the Church.
communion with the holy Mother of God
In prayer the Holy Spirit unites us to the person of the only Son, in his
glorified humanity, through which and in which our filial prayer unites us in
the Church with the Mother of Jesus.27
Mary gave her consent in faith at the Annunciation and maintained it without
hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to
the brothers and sisters of her Son "who still journey on earth surrounded
by dangers and difficulties."28 Jesus, the only mediator, is the
way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she
"shows the way" (hodigitria), and is herself "the Sign" of
the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.
Beginning with Mary's unique cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the
Churches developed their prayer to the holy Mother of God, centering it on the
person of Christ manifested in his mysteries. In countless hymns and antiphons
expressing this prayer, two movements usually alternate with one another: the
first "magnifies" the Lord for the "great things" he did
for his lowly servant and through her for all human beings29 The second
entrusts the supplications and praises of the children of God to the Mother of
Jesus, because she now knows the humanity which, in her, the Son of God
twofold movement of prayer to Mary has found a privileged expression in the Ave
Hail Mary [or Rejoice, Mary]: the greeting of the angel Gabriel opens this
prayer. It is God himself who, through his angel as intermediary, greets Mary.
Our prayer dares to take up this greeting to Mary with the regard God had for
the lowliness of his humble servant and to exult in the joy he finds in
Full of grace, the Lord is with thee: These two phrases of the angel's greeting
shed light on one another. Mary is full of grace because the Lord is with her.
the grace with which she is filled is the presence of him who is the source of
all grace. "Rejoice . . . O Daughter of Jerusalem . . . the Lord your God
is in your midst."31 Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made
his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the
place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is "the dwelling of God . .
. with men."32 Full of grace, Mary is wholly given over to him who
has come to dwell in her and whom she is about to give to the world.
Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. After
the angel's greeting, we make Elizabeth's greeting our own. "Filled with
the Holy Spirit," Elizabeth is the first in the long succession of
generations who have called Mary "blessed."33 "Blessed
is she who believed...."34 Mary is "blessed among women"
because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord's word. Abraham. because of
his faith, became a blessing for all the nations of the earth.35 Mary,
because of her faith, became the mother of believers, through whom all nations
of the earth receive him who is God's own blessing: Jesus, the "fruit of
Mary, Mother of God: With Elizabeth we marvel, "and why is this granted
me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"36 Because she
gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother; we can entrust
all our cares and petitions to her: she prays for us as she prayed for herself:
"Let it be to me according to your word."37 By entrusting
ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with
her: "Thy will be done."
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: By asking Mary to pray
for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to
the "Mother of Mercy," the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to
her now, in the Today of our lives. and our trust broadens further, already at
the present moment, to surrender "the hour of our death" wholly to
her care. May she be there as she was at her son's death on the cross. May she
welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing38 to lead us to her
son, Jesus, in paradise.
piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute
for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and
the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches,
while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and
songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of
St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the
Mary is the perfect Orans (prayer), a figure of the Church. When we pray to
her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to
save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus' mother into our
homes,39 for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray
with and to her. the prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary
and united with it in hope.40
2680 Prayer is primarily
addressed to the Father; it can also be directed toward Jesus, particularly by
the invocation of his holy name: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have
mercy on us sinners."
2681 "No one can say
'Jesus is Lord', except by the Holy Spirit" (⇒ 1
Cor 12:3). the Church invites us to invoke the Holy Spirit as the
interior Teacher of Christian prayer.
2682 Because of Mary's
singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to
pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things
the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.
GUIDES FOR PRAYER
A cloud of
The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,41 especially those
whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer
by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their
prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those
whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master,
they were "put in charge of many things."42 Their intercession
is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to
intercede for us and for the whole world.
In the communion of saints, many and varied spiritualities have been developed
throughout the history of the churches. the personal charism of some witnesses
to God's love for men has been handed on, like "the spirit" of Elijah
to Elisha and John the Baptist, so that their followers may have a share in
this spirit.43 A distinct spirituality can also arise at the point of
convergence of liturgical and theological currents, bearing witness to the
integration of the faith into a particular human environment and its history.
the different schools of Christian spirituality share in the living tradition of
prayer and are essential guides for the faithful. In their rich diversity they
are refractions of the one pure light of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is truly the
dwelling of the saints and the saints are for the Spirit a place where he
dwells as in his own home since they offer themselves as a dwelling place for
God and are called his temple.44
The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the
sacrament of marriage, the family is the "domestic church" where
God's children learn to pray "as the Church" and to persevere in
prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first
witness of the Church's living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit.
Ordained ministers are also responsible for the formation in prayer of their
brothers and sisters in Christ. Servants of the Good Shepherd, they are
ordained to lead the People of God to the living waters of prayer: the Word of
God, the liturgy, the theological life (the life of faith, hope, and charity),
and the Today of God in concrete situations.45
Many religious have consecrated their whole lives to prayer. Hermits, monks,
and nuns since the time of the desert fathers have devoted their time to
praising God and interceding for his people. the consecrated life cannot be
sustained or spread without prayer; it is one of the living sources of
contemplation and the spiritual life of the Church.
The catechesis of children, young people, and adults aims at teaching them to
meditate on the Word of God in personal prayer, practicing it in liturgical
prayer, and internalizing it at all times in order to bear fruit in a new life.
Catechesis is also a time for the discernment and education of popular
piety.46 The memorization of basic prayers offers an essential support
to the life of prayer, but it is important to help learners savor their
Prayer groups, indeed "schools of prayer," are today one of the signs
and one of the driving forces of renewal of prayer in the Church, provided they
drink from authentic wellsprings of Christian prayer. Concern for ecclesial
communion is a sign of true prayer in the Church.
The Holy Spirit gives to certain of the faithful the gifts of wisdom, faith and
discernment for the sake of this common good which is prayer (spiritual
direction). Men and women so endowed are true servants of the living tradition
According to St. John of the
Cross, the person wishing to advance toward perfection should "take care
into whose hands he entrusts himself, for as the master is, so will the
disciple be, and as the father is so will be the son." and further: "In
addition to being learned and discreet a director should be experienced.... If
the spiritual director has no experience of the spiritual life, he will be
incapable of leading into it the souls whom God is calling to it, and he will
not even understand them."47
favorable for prayer
The church, the house of God, is the proper place for the liturgical prayer of
the parish community. It is also the privileged place for adoration of the real
presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. the choice of a favorable place is
not a matter of indifference for true prayer.
- For personal prayer, this can be a "prayer corner" with the Sacred
Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our
Father.48 In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters
prayer in common.
- In regions where monasteries exist, the vocation of these communities is to
further the participation of the faithful in the Liturgy of the Hours and to
provide necessary solitude for more intense personal prayer.49
- Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally
very special occasions for renewal in prayer. For pilgrims seeking living
water, shrines are special places for living the forms of Christian prayer
2692 In prayer, the pilgrim
Church is associated with that of the saints, whose intercession she asks.
2693 The different schools of
Christian spirituality share in the living tradition of prayer and are precious
guides for the spiritual life.
2694 The Christian family is
the first place for education in prayer.
2695 Ordained ministers, the
consecrated life, catechesis, prayer groups, and "spiritual
direction" ensure assistance within the Church in the practice of prayer.
2696 The most appropriate
places for prayer are personal or family oratories, monasteries, places of
pilgrimage, and above all the church, which is the proper place for liturgical
prayer for the parish community and the privileged place for Eucharistic
1 DV 8.
2 Cf. DV 8.
3 ⇒ Jn 4:14
4 DV 25; cf. ⇒ Phil 3:8; St. Ambrose,
De officiis ministrorum 1, 20,88: PL 16, 50.
5 Guigo the Carthusian, Scala Paradisi: PL 40, 998.
⇒ Mt 6:6[ETML:C/].
7 GILH 9.
⇒ Ps 40:2.
9 ⇒ Rom 15:13.
10 ⇒ Rom 5:5.
11 St. John
12 Cf. ⇒ Mt 6:11,
13 ⇒ Ps 95:7-8.
14 Cf. ⇒ Lk 13:20-21.
15 Cf. DV 10.
16 Cf. Ex 3:14; 33: 19-23; ⇒ Mt
17 ⇒ Acts
2:21; ⇒ Gal
18 Cf. ⇒ Mk 10:46-52;
⇒ Lk 18:13.
19 Cf. ⇒ Mt 6:7[ETML:C/].
20 Cf. ⇒ Lk 8:15.
⇒ 1 Cor 12:3.
22 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio, 31, 28: PG 36, 165.
23 Cf. ⇒ Lk 11:13.
24 Cf. ⇒ Jn 14:17;
25 Roman Missal,
26 Byzantine Liturgy, Pentecost Vespers, Troparion.
⇒ Acts 1:14.
28 LG 62.
29 Cf. ⇒ Lk 1:46-55.
30 Cf. ⇒ Lk 1:48;
⇒ Zeph 3:17b.
31 ⇒ Zeph 3:14,
32 ⇒ Rev 21:3.
33 ⇒ Lk 1:41,
34 ⇒ Lk 1:45.
35 Cf. ⇒ Gen 12:3.
36 ⇒ Lk 1:43.
37 ⇒ Lk 1:38.
38 Cf. ⇒ Jn 19:27.
39 Cf. ⇒ Jn 19:27.
40 Cf. LG 68-69.
41 Cf. ⇒ Heb 12:1.
42 Cf. ⇒ Mt 25:21.
43 Cf. ⇒ 2 Kings 2:9;
⇒ Lk 1:1; PC 2.
44 St. Basil, De
Spiritu Sancto, 26, 62: PG 32, 184.
45 Cf. PO
46 Cf. CT 54.
St. John of the Cross, the Living Flame of Love, stanza 3, 30, in The
Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, eds K. Kavanaugh
OCD and O. Rodriguez OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite
Studies, 1979), 621.
48 Cf. ⇒ Mt 6:6[ETML:C/].
49 Cf. PC 7.
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