Here’s a glossary that help unlock the mystery of prayer.
What was the first Christian prayer? It was a prayer that Christ himself recited. It was in observing Jesus in prayer that one of his disciples asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1). Jesus did not compose a prayer to be recited. He has placed his own prayer on our lips and the Holy Spirit has placed it into our heart, – it is his boundless trust, his loving adoration, his ardent prayer and his constant praises. In one word, his personal cry “Abba” (Father).
In Latin, “adoratio” evokes the sending of a kiss. In Greek, however, the term “proskynesis” evokes an act of prostrating oneself – a human being recognizing his personal insignificance in the face of Eternity.
These are very short, vocal prayers that we send to God like arrows (jacula) amidst our daily activities, and we call them orations: they are like signals of joy or distress, admissions of hardship or declarations of love. Numerous verses from psalms could be used in this way: “Lord, help me!”, “Oh Lord, my God how great is thy Name,” “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God!” etc.
“Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (Cor 6:19). It was created to be given. It helps to internalize the simplest of prayers and to express them in a solemn and grandiose liturgy, a silent oration or a prayer learned by heart. There are prayer gestures, which are common to all religions even if their ideas of the divine diverge: standing, sitting, prostrating, hands joined together in adoration, or hands raised in supplication.
How far we are from God, when He is so near! We confirm his presence, his faithfulness, his closeness and we are right, but at the same time, we have to acknowledge the distance that separates us from Him. It is an infinite distance, which is doubled. First of all there is an ontological distance – our condition as creation. Then, there is our sin. We cannot penetrate into the presence of God without asking Him for forgiveness.
Do we love our children, our spouses, our friend in hospital, our aging parents? Is it enough to give them a thought sometime in our day? They would most certainly appreciate it, but it will never replace those few minutes we actually spend with them. If we wish to see each other, we need to take time to get together. It’s the same with God. We need to take at least 15 minutes a day to pray Him.
“Plant in us the words that we tell you,” prayed Patrice de La Tour du Pin. Jesus’ name is the easiest and simplest prayer, available to all, especially to the poor and the suffering. St. Symeon the New Theologian explained, “Constant repetition of the name of a loved one with all our heart, with all the power of our tenderness, safely makes us the beneficiary of kisses of love.”
Liturgy is an “act of being.” With its rites, words, gestures, chanting, and music, liturgy teaches us how to pray while offering us an experience – to encounter the Resurrected One who leads us to the Father while offering us the Spirit.
“The important thing is not to think much but to love much”, said St. Teresa of Avila. And Blessed Charles de Foucauld said, “When we love, we would like to constantly talk about the one we love, or at least to constantly contemplate them: the prayer is nothing else.”
The most important prayer of the Church is the Mass. It is the Meal to which God invites his children to fill them with grace and to receive their offerings. It is the celebration for the people of God, summoning us to commune and to share. It is the highest point, culminating in the prayer of Jesus who gave his life to save mankind. Our free response to the gift of God in the form of Jesus, made in Church, is the greatest act of grace, the most beautiful chants of praises, and our most sublime prayer.
In the course of a day, let us take any occasion, which presents to us, to pull ourselves together and commune with God.
A personal silent prayer, that consists in pausing to think about God in a loving way, – as “a friend talking to a friend who must stop talking to listen” (St. Ignatius of Loyola). The mystic Marthe Robin agreed: “You can never find a soul that prays every day and remains in sin.”
We must praise the Lord, to thank him with our own words that come from our hearts and from our everyday lives. Praising God for who He is, for what He has done for us. Praising the Lord is to applaud him, to thank Him for being God and for having filled us with joy. We have to remember his great acts when we praise God, to search our own lives and experiences for things for which we can praise the Lord.
For all those who are having hard time praying, why not let yourself be carried by a prayer from the Psalms? All the emotional states are expressed in these 150 poems that served as prayers even to Christ himself.
THE HOLY SACRAMENT
St. John Paul II used to prostrate himself before the tabernacle in his private chapel to salute the King of kings, in the most modest guise of Eucharistic bread, over ten times a day. “There is no risk in exaggerating the attention that we bear for this mystery,” he used to say, “Because this sacrament resumes the whole mystery of our salvation.”
Jesus thirsts, and his desire comes from God who desires us. Whether we know it or not, a prayer, is an encounter between our thirst, and that of God. God thirsts for us to thirst for Him.
We have overused the verb “to do” in what concerns prayer. The most important verb is “to be” — to be His, to be with Him and in Him, here and now. This is the whole purpose of praying – to “be” with Him in prayer.
In the Bible, this verb literary means “to say good things” and it has a wide range of uses, from a mere greeting we exchange when we are on our way to the expression of the most sacred gifts of God. Quintessentially, he who gives his blessing is God, blessing makes life spring forth. And when we bless someone, we do it in God’s name, for he is the only one who can give a blessing. Numerous blessings customary in Christianity always recall the fundamental blessing of the Eucharist.
The value of our prayer is not measured by the quantity of sophisticated ideas or by the wonderful sensation that it procures us, but by the fact that in the place in the world where we find ourselves, the moment in our lives where we find ourselves, we have dared to open up to God. We have dared to open up to this meeting of one being with another. The Bible calls it “face to face.” The authors of spiritual literature call it “heart to heart.”
When a Christian prays, he is not trying to make a void around him. He is permeated with the Word of God, and these “declarations of love” of his Lord replace the thoughts and worries of his daily life. There is a difference between the mental techniques of creating a void and the path of Christian prayer where a preliminary silence is not indispensable but a logical consequence of peacefully listening to the Word of God.
Praying is not a goal, but a means. The goal is life with Christ. To be able to utter together with the Apostle Paul: “For me, life is Christ.” However, in order to always be with the Lord, we must from time to time belong only to Him and abandon everything for Him, so He will be at the center of everything.
Father Alain Bandelier, Jean Plya, Father Pierre Descouvemont and Jacques Gauthier
Support Aleteia takes a minute
If you’re reading this article, it’s precisely thanks to your generosity and to that of many other people like you that make possible the evangelization project of Aleteia. Here some numbers:
- 20 million of users around the world read Aleteia.org every month.
- Aleteia is published daily in eight languages: French, English, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Slovenian.
- Each month, our readers view more than 50 million pages.
- Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia’s social media pages.
- Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos.
- All of this work is carried out by 60 people working full-time and approximately 400 other collaborators (writers, journalists, translators, photographers…).
As you can imagine, behind these numbers there is a big effort. We need your support so we can keep offering this service of evangelization to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.
Support Aleteia from as little as $1 – and only takes a minute. Thank you!