Catechism of the Catholic Church / Part Four: Christian Prayer
Section One - Prayer In The Christian Life
Chapter Three - The Life Of Prayer
Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment.
But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all. This is why the Fathers
of the spiritual life in the Deuteronomic and prophetic traditions insist that
prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart
"We must remember God more often than we draw breath."1 But
we cannot pray "at all times" if we do not pray at specific times,
consciously willing it These are the special times of Christian prayer, both in
intensity and duration.
The Tradition of the Church proposes to the faithful certain rhythms of praying
intended to nourish continual prayer. Some are daily, such as morning and
evening prayer, grace before and after meals, the Liturgy of the Hours.
Sundays, centered on the Eucharist, are kept holy primarily by prayer. the
cycle of the liturgical year and its great feasts are also basic rhythms of the
Christian's life of prayer.
The Lord leads all persons by paths and in ways pleasing to him, and each
believer responds according to his heart's resolve and the personal expressions
of his prayer. However, Christian Tradition has retained three major
expressions of prayer: vocal meditative, and contemplative. They have one basic
trait in common: composure of heart. This vigilance in keeping the Word and
dwelling in the presence of God makes these three expressions intense times in
the life of prayer.
EXPRESSIONS OF PRAYER
I. Vocal prayer
Through his Word, God speaks to man. By words, mental or vocal, our prayer
takes flesh. Yet it is most important that the heart should be present to him
to whom we are speaking in prayer: "Whether or not our prayer is heard
depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our
Vocal prayer is an essential element of the Christian life. To his disciples,
drawn by their Master's silent prayer, Jesus teaches a vocal prayer, the Our
Father. He not only prayed aloud the liturgical prayers of the synagogue but,
as the Gospels show, he raised his voice to express his personal prayer, from
exultant blessing of the Father to the agony of Gesthemani.3
The need to involve the senses in interior prayer corresponds to a requirement
of our human nature. We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to
translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give
all power possible to our supplication.
This need also corresponds to a divine requirement. God seeks worshippers in
Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths
of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body
with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due.
Because it is external and so thoroughly human, vocal prayer is the form of
prayer most readily accessible to groups. Even interior prayer, however, cannot
neglect vocal prayer. Prayer is internalized to the extent that we become aware
of him "to whom we speak;"4 Thus vocal prayer becomes an
initial form of contemplative prayer.
Meditation is above all a quest. the mind seeks to understand the why and how
of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is
asking. the required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually
helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the Sacred Scriptures,
particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season,
writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of
creation, and that of history the page on which the "today" of God is
To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with
ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from
thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover
in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern
them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light:
"Lord, what do you want me to do?"
There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual
masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate
regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the
parable of the sower.5 But a method is only a guide; the important
thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ
Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization
of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt
the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ.
Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in
lectio divina or the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great
value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of
the Lord Jesus, to union with him.
III. Contemplative Prayer
What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa answers: "Contemplative prayer
[oracion mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between
friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves
Contemplative prayer seeks him "whom my soul loves."7 It is
Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the
beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be
born of him and to live in him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but
our attention is fixed on the Lord himself.
The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined
will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative
prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm
determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may
encounter. One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner
prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state. the
heart is the place of this quest and encounter, in poverty ant in faith.
Entering into contemplative prayer is like entering into the Eucharistic
liturgy: we "gather up:" the heart, recollect our whole being under the
prompting of the Holy Spirit, abide in the dwelling place of the Lord which we
are, awaken our faith in order to enter into the presence of him who awaits us.
We let our masks fall and turn our hearts back to the Lord who loves us, so as
to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed.
Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner
who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to
it by loving even more.8 But he knows that the love he is returning is
poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God.
Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the
Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son.
Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is
a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty. Contemplative
prayer is a covenant relationship established by God within our
hearts.9 Contemplative prayer is a communion in which the Holy Trinity
conforms man, the image of God, "to his likeness."
Contemplative prayer is also the pre-eminently intense time of prayer. In it
the Father strengthens our inner being with power through his Spirit "that
Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith" and we may be
"grounded in love."10
Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. "I look at him and he
looks at me": this is what a certain peasant of Ars used to say to his
holy cure about his prayer before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a
renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance
of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in
the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns
its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the
"interior knowledge of our Lord," the more to love him and follow
Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such
attentiveness is the obedience of faith, the unconditional acceptance of a
servant, and the loving commitment of a child. It participates in the "Yes"
of the Son become servant and the Fiat of God's lowly handmaid.
Contemplative prayer is silence, the "symbol of the world to
come"12 or "silent love."13 Words in this kind
of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love.
In this silence, unbearable to the "outer" man, the Father speaks to
us his incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose; in this silence the Spirit
of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus.
Contemplative prayer is a union with the prayer of Christ insofar as it makes
us participate in his mystery. the mystery of Christ is celebrated by the
Church in the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit makes it come alive in
contemplative prayer so that our charity will manifest it in our acts.
Contemplative prayer is a communion of love bearing Life for the multitude, to
the extent that it consents to abide in the night of faith. the Paschal night
of the Resurrection passes through the night of the agony and the tomb - the
three intense moments of the Hour of Jesus which his Spirit (and not "the
flesh [which] is weak") brings to life in prayer. We must be willing to
"keep watch with (him) one hour."14
2720 The Church invites the
faithful to regular prayer: daily prayers, the Liturgy of the Hours, Sunday
Eucharist, the feasts of the liturgical year.
2721 The Christian tradition
comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer,
meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of
2722 Vocal prayer, founded on
the union of body and soul in human nature, associates the body with the interior
prayer of the heart, following Christ's example of praying to his Father and
teaching the Our Father to his disciples.
2723 Meditation is a
prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. Its goal is
to make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the
reality of our own life.
2724 Contemplative prayer is
the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on
Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real
union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his
THE BATTLE OF PRAYER
Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always
presupposes effort. the great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before
Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us
this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles
of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from
union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not
want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray
habitually in his name. the "spiritual battle" of the Christian's new
life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.
I. Objections to Prayer
In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous
notions of prayer. Some people view prayer as a simple psychological activity,
others as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void. Still others
reduce prayer to ritual words and postures. Many Christians unconsciously
regard prayer as an occupation that is incompatible with all the other things
they have to do: they "don't have the time." Those who seek God by
prayer are quickly discouraged because they do not know that prayer comes also
from the Holy Spirit and not from themselves alone.
We must also face the fact that certain attitudes deriving from the mentality
of "this present world" can penetrate our lives if we are not
vigilant. For example, some would have it that only that is true which can be
verified by reason and science; yet prayer is a mystery that overflows both our
conscious and unconscious lives. Others overly prize production and profit;
thus prayer, being unproductive, is useless. Still others exalt sensuality and
comfort as the criteria of the true, the good, and the beautiful; whereas
prayer, the "love of beauty" (philokalia), is caught up in the glory
of the living and true God. Finally, some see prayer as a flight from the world
in reaction against activism; but in fact, Christian prayer is neither an escape
from reality nor a divorce from life.
Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer:
discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have
"great possessions,"15 we have not given all to the Lord;
disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride,
stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea
that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. the conclusion is
always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we
must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.
II. Humble Vigilance of
difficulties in prayer
The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction. It can affect words and their
meaning in vocal prayer; it can concern, more profoundly, him to whom we are
praying, in vocal prayer (liturgical or personal), meditation, and
contemplative prayer. To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall
into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a
distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness
before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely
to offer him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of
which master to serve.16
In positive terms, the battle against the possessive and dominating self
requires vigilance, sobriety of heart. When Jesus insists on vigilance, he
always relates it to himself, to his coming on the last day and every day:
today. the bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; the light that must not
be extinguished is that of faith: "'Come,' my heart says, 'seek his face!'"17
Another difficulty, especially for those who sincerely want to pray, is
dryness. Dryness belongs to contemplative prayer when the heart is separated from
God, with no taste for thoughts, memories, and feelings, even spiritual ones.
This is the moment of sheer faith clinging faithfully to Jesus in his agony and
in his tomb. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it
remains alone; but if dies, it bears much fruit."18 If dryness is
due to the lack of roots, because the word has fallen on rocky soil, the battle
temptations in prayer
The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses
itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we
begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for
priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real
love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe
he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains
presumptuous. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share
in the disposition of a humble heart:
"Apart from me, you can do nothing."20
Another temptation, to which presumption opens the gate, is acedia. the
spiritual writers understand by this a form of depression due to lax ascetical
practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart. "The spirit indeed
is willing, but the flesh is weak."21 The greater the height, the
harder the fall. Painful as discouragement is, it is the reverse of
presumption. the humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to
trust more, to hold fast in constancy.
III. Filial Trust
Filial trust is tested - it proves itself - in tribulation.22 The
principal difficulty concerns the prayer of petition, for oneself or for others
in intercession. Some even stop praying because they think their petition is
not heard. Here two questions should be asked: Why do we think our petition has
not been heard? How is our prayer heard, how is it "efficacious"?
Why do we complain of not being heard?
In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God
or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly
concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we
demand to see the results of our petitions. What is the image of God that
motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus
Are we convinced that "we do not know how to pray as we
ought"?23 Are we asking God for "what is good for us"?
Our Father knows what we need before we ask him,24 but he awaits our
petition because the dignity of his children lies in their freedom. We must
pray, then, with his Spirit of freedom, to be able truly to know what he
"You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your
passions."26 If we ask with a divided heart, we are
"adulterers";27 God cannot answer us, for he desires our
well-being, our life. "Or do you suppose that it is in vain that the
scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell
in us?'"28 That our God is "jealous" for us is the sign
of how true his love is. If we enter into the desire of his Spirit, we shall be
Do not be troubled if you do
not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do
something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.29
God wills that our desire
should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is
prepared to give.30
How is our
The revelation of prayer in the economy of salvation teaches us that faith rests
on God's action in history. Our filial trust is enkindled by his supreme act:
the Passion and Resurrection of his Son. Christian prayer is cooperation with
his providence, his plan of love for men.
For St. Paul, this trust is bold, founded on the prayer of the Spirit in us and
on the faithful love of the Father who has given us his only Son.31
Transformation of the praying heart is the first response to our petition.
The prayer of Jesus makes Christian prayer an efficacious petition. He is its
model, he prays in us and with us. Since the heart of the Son seeks only what
pleases the Father, how could the prayer of the children of adoption be
centered on the gifts rather than the Giver?
Jesus also prays for us - in our place and on our behalf. All our petitions
were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross and, in his
Resurrection, heard by the Father. This is why he never ceases to intercede for
us with the Father.32 If our prayer is resolutely united with that of
Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his
name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who
contains all gifts.
IV. Perservering in Love
"Pray constantly . . . always and for everything giving thanks in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father."33 St. Paul adds,
"Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that
end keep alert with all perseverance making supplication for all the
saints."34 For "we have not been commanded to work, to keep
watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray
without ceasing."35 This tireless fervor can come only from love.
Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble,
trusting, and persevering love. This love opens our hearts to three
enlightening and life-giving facts of faith about prayer.
It is always possible to pray: the time of the Christian is that of the risen
Christ who is with us always, no matter what tempests may arise.36 Our
time is in the hands of God:
It is possible to offer fervent
prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop,
. . . while buying or selling, . . . or even while cooking.37
Prayer is a vital necessity. Proof from the contrary is no less convincing: if
we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of
sin.38 How can the Holy Spirit be our life if our heart is far from
Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible it makes possible,
what is difficult, easy.... For it is impossible, utterly impossible, for the
man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin.39
Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly
Prayer and Christian life are inseparable, for they concern the same love and
the same renunciation, proceeding from love; the same filial and loving
conformity with the Father's plan of love; the same transforming union in the
Holy Spirit who conforms us more and more to Christ Jesus; the same love for
all men, the love with which Jesus has loved us. "Whatever you ask the
Father in my name, he [will] give it to you. This I command you, to love one
He "prays without
ceasing" who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this
way can we consider as realizable the principle of praying without
THE PRAYER OF THE HOUR OF JESUS
When "his hour" came, Jesus prayed to the Father.43 His
prayer, the longest transmitted by the Gospel, embraces the whole economy of
creation and salvation, as well as his death and Resurrection. the prayer of
the Hour of Jesus always remains his own, just as his Passover "once for
all" remains ever present in the liturgy of his Church.
Christian Tradition rightly calls this prayer the "priestly" prayer
of Jesus. It is the prayer of our high priest, inseparable from his sacrifice,
from his passing over (Passover) to the Father to whom he is wholly
In this Paschal and sacrificial prayer, everything is recapitulated in
Christ:45 God and the world; the Word and the flesh; eternal life and
time; the love that hands itself over and the sin that betrays it; the
disciples present and those who will believe in him by their word; humiliation
and glory. It is the prayer of unity.
Jesus fulfilled the work of the Father completely; his prayer, like his
sacrifice, extends until the end of time. the prayer of this hour fills the
end-times and carries them toward their consummation. Jesus, the Son to whom
the Father has given all things, has given himself wholly back to the Father, yet
expresses himself with a sovereign freedom46 by virtue of the power the
Father has given him over all flesh. the Son, who made himself Servant, is
Lord, the Pantocrator. Our high priest who prays for us is also the one who
prays in us and the God who hears our prayer.
By entering into the holy name of the Lord Jesus we can accept, from within,
the prayer he teaches us: "Our Father!" His priestly prayer fulfills,
from within, the great petitions of the Lord's Prayer: concern for the Father's
name;47 passionate zeal for his kingdom (Glory);48 The
accomplishment of the will of the Father, of his plan of salvation;49
and deliverance from evil.50
Finally, in this prayer Jesus reveals and gives to us the
"knowledge," inseparably one, of the Father and of the Son,51
which is the very mystery of the life of prayer.
2752 Prayer presupposes an
effort, a fight against ourselves and the wiles of the Tempter. the battle of
prayer is inseparable from the necessary "spiritual battle" to act
habitually according to the Spirit of Christ: we pray as we live, because we
live as we pray.
2753 In the battle of prayer
we must confront erroneous conceptions of prayer, various currents of thought,
and our own experience of failure. We must respond with humility, trust, and
perseverance to these temptations which cast doubt on the usefulness or even
the possibility of prayer.
2754 The principal
difficulties in the practice of prayer are distraction and dryness. the remedy
lies in faith, conversion, and vigilance of heart.
2755 Two frequent temptations
threaten prayer: lack of faith and acedia - a form of depression stemming from
lax ascetical practice that leads to discouragement.
2756 Filial trust is put to
the test when we feel that our prayer is not always heard. the Gospel invites
us to ask ourselves about the conformity of our prayer to the desire of the
constantly" (⇒ 1 Thess 5:17). It is
always possible to pray. It is even a vital necessity. Prayer and Christian
life are inseparable.
2758 The prayer of the hour
of Jesus, rightly called the "priestly prayer" (cf
⇒ Jn 17), sums up the whole economy of
creation and salvation. It fulfills the great petitions of the Our Father.
1 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Orat. theo., 27, 1, 4: PG 36, 16.
2 St. John Chrysostom, Ecloga de oratione 2: PG 63, 585.
3 Cf. ⇒ Mt 11:25-26;
⇒ Mk 14:36.
4 St. Teresa of Jesus, the Way of Perfection 26, 9 in the Collected
of St. Teresa of Avila, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez,
(Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1980), II, 136.
5 Cf. ⇒ Mk 4:4-7,
6 St. Teresa of Jesus, the Book of Her Life, 8, 5 in the Collected
of St. Teresa of Avila, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez,
(Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1976), I, 67.
⇒ Song 1:7; cf.
8 Cf. ⇒ Lk 7:36-50;
9 Cf. ⇒ Jer 31:33.
10 ⇒ Eph 3:16-17.
11 Cf. St.
Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 104.
12 Cf. St. Isaac of Nineveh, Tract. myst. 66.
13 St. John of the Cross, Maxims and Counsels, 53 in the Collected
of St. John of the Cross, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez,
(Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 678.
14 Cf. ⇒ Mt 26:40.
15 Cf. ⇒ Mk 10:22.
16 Cf. ⇒ Mt 6:21,
17 ⇒ PS 27:8.
18 ⇒ Jn 12:24.
19 Cf. ⇒ Lk 8:6,
20 ⇒ Jn 15:5.
⇒ Mt 26:41.
22 Cf. ⇒ Rom 5:3-5.
23 ⇒ Rom 8:26.
24 Cf. ⇒ Mt 6:8[ETML:C/].
25 Cf. ⇒ Rom 8:27.
26 ⇒ Jas 4:3; cf. the whole context:
⇒ Jas 4:1-10;
27 ⇒ Jas 4:4.
28 ⇒ Jas 4:5.
Ponticus, De oratione 34: PG 79, 1173.
30 St. Augustine, Ep. 130, 8, 17: PL 33, 500.
31 Cf. ⇒ Rom
10:12-13; ⇒ 8:26-39.
32 Cf. ⇒ Heb 5:7;
33 ⇒ 1
Thess 5:17; ⇒ Eph 5:20.
⇒ Eph 6:18.
Ponticus, Pract. 49: PG 40, 1245C.
36 Cf. ⇒ Mt 28:20;
37 St. John Chrysostom, Ecloga de oratione 2: PG 63, 585.
38 Cf. ⇒ Gal 5:16-25.
39 St. John Chrysostom, De Anna 4, 5: PG 54, 666.
40 St. Alphonsus Liguori, Del gran Mezzo della preghiera.
41 ⇒ Jn 15:16-17.
42 Origen, De orat. 12: PG
43 Cf. ⇒ Jn 17.
44 Cf. ⇒ Jn 17:11,
45 Cf. ⇒ Eph 1:10.
46 Cf. ⇒ Jn 17:11,
47 Cf. ⇒ Jn 17:6,
48 Cf. ⇒ Jn 17:1,
5, ⇒ 10,
49 Cf. ⇒ Jn 17:2,
9, ⇒ 11,
50 Cf. ⇒ Jn 17:15.
51 Cf. ⇒ Jn 17:3,
⇒ 6-10, ⇒ 25.
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