What is prayer? What is its purpose? St. Theresa of Avila says, “Prayer is to realize how much it means to you to have God’s friendship and how much he loves you.” She also says, “Prayer is when we raise our hearts and minds to God.” St. Therese of Liseux offers this beautiful explanation about prayer: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look, turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
Stages of prayer
The life of prayer has been divided into various stages by ancient Christian spiritual writers. By stages, these writers mean “stages of growth,” or “stages of development,” whereby, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the soul experiences and progresses. These stages can be further simplified into three categories based on the action of the Holy Spirit on the soul: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Let’s explore these three areas beginning with vocal prayer.
This is the kind of prayer we use when we speak out loud (or in our hearts) reciting either memorized prayers or spontaneous sentiments spoken throughout the day. Examples of this kind of prayer: the Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, Our Father, Hail Mary, rosary, Litanies, Way of the Cross or Divine Mercy Chaplet.
St. Theresa of Avila points out, “For any prayer to be prayer; it must be recited with devotion.” Vocal prayers recited with great devotion means that the one engaged in prayer is offering the prayer with heart and mind present to the Lord, with the aim of being with him with great love. Hence, the rosary (as well as others of these prayers) is a kind of “cross-over” prayer, being both an example of vocal prayer and meditation.
Vocal prayer will always be a staple of our spiritual diet. It has the advantage of allowing for a group of people or community to pray together. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: This is a Latin phrase which means, “The law of prayer is the law of belief.” A more loose and colloquial translation may be, “Our faith is contained in our prayers.” Hence, vocal prayers have always been an essential part of learning and passing on the faith, especially to those who have not yet learned to read.
Coming up next issue: Mental prayer or meditation