August 20, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Prayer reminds us how necessary God is in our lives

It is helpful to know the various ways in which the Catholic Church distinguishes the tradition of Christian prayer. There is the common or public prayer of the Church, and there is personal, sometimes called private, prayer.

The pre-eminent public prayer of the Church is the Eucharist. We refer to the Eucharist—or Mass—as the source and summit of life in the Church.

Without the Eucharist, there would be no Church. Understandably, our foundational, central prayer is the Mass established as such by Christ. We will focus on the Eucharist and the other sacraments in a special way during 2011.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has raised to a new level of awareness another public prayer, namely the Liturgy of the Hours. A number of parishes celebrate Morning Prayer and, sometimes, Evening Prayer—or Vespers—on Sundays and holy days. Monasteries and religious communities generally celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is required of ordained clergy, but not of the lay faithful.

The public liturgical prayer of the Catholic Church is shaped by the annual solemnities and feasts that celebrate the mysteries of Christ, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. We speak of the liturgical or Church year with its seasons of Advent, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time.

Of course, the mystery of the life of Christ is the central focus of our liturgical prayer. Over the centuries, the faith of the Church has given rise to remembering holy people who mirror the mystery of Christ’s life in exemplary ways. And so we celebrate various saints’ feast days.

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Way of the Cross, the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet are examples of devotional prayers of the Church, but they are not, strictly speaking, part of the actual liturgical and sacramental life of the Church. These and other devotions, such as various approved novenas and litanies, are encouraged as supportive prayers for supporting and nurturing our faith.

A study of the Gospels gives us a pretty dramatic insight into the understanding of Jesus concerning prayer to his Father. Some of the citations are clearly public prayers offered by Jesus. And there are numerous instances where we are told that Jesus went off “to a lonely place” to pray alone.

Jesus is a witness of both public and private prayer. There are also many episodes where it is clear that Jesus hears the prayers of those who address him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites a quotation of St. Augustine, who summarizes three dimensions of Jesus’ prayer: “He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in him and his in us” (cf. #2616).

A study of the history of the praying faithful of the Church reveals several kinds of prayer that are generally familiar to us. First, there is the prayer of blessing and adoration. The prayer of blessing is our response to God’s gifts—every good gift comes from him. Adoration is our basic acknowledgment that we are created by God and need to offer him homage.

Perhaps our most common awareness of prayer is that of petition. If we are honest, we are keenly aware of our need for God. Especially in times of adversity and crisis, humbly we seek his help and his love.

I am particularly conscious of the prayer of intercession. Jesus is, of course, our true intercessor before the Father. Yet I am to serve in his person, and so I hear from many of you over a period of time accepting my invitation to intercede with Jesus for your needs, worries and burdens.

There is the prayer of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving “characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is” (#2637).

“Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God” (#2639). This form of prayer is a humble recognition that we owe God praise and glory simply for who he is.

As I review these forms of prayer, I am reminded of a concern often expressed by the late Holy Father, John Paul II. He anguished about the loss of a sense of God and who God is in our contemporary secular culture. He often reminded us that we miss the fundamental meaning of life if we bracket God as unnecessary in our human endeavors.

I think it is easy to slide into this secular mentality if we do not pray to God. Prayer is essential in our relationship with Jesus and our Creator and Father. †

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