In our study of prayer as presented in Part IV of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, having already given a general overview of this section, we next briefly look at prayer as found and modeled in Sacred Scripture – in both the Old and New Testaments. Looking at the ways of prayer found throughout the ages recorded in the Scriptures show us how various forms of prayer are found in different times, with greater forms and greater perfection in prayer being fulfilled in the way that Jesus Himself prayed.
Beginning with the Old Testament, key figures that give us examples of prayer are found in the earliest times. In the book of Genesis, such persons as Noah, Abraham, and Jacob are related to us, with their ways of prayer showing us how at times prayer was simply understood as being in harmony with God (as was Noah), or as a battle, wherein we “wrestle” with God in seeking to persevere in faith and grow in knowledge (as with Jacob). Later, we have the way of Moses as “mediator,” where we see him both on Mount Sinai and in the tabernacle (the tent with the Ark of the Covenant) directly conversing with God and delivering God’s word to the people. Moses’s prayer in this way is both as intercessor and as one who is able to contemplate God in the midst of His presence. Later still we have figures such as King David, to whom the composing of many of the Psalms is attributed, reaching out to God with praises, with pleas, with admissions of humility, and in expressions of trust in God. Finally, we remember the Temple of Solomon, which would be central to the public worship of God’s people and a place for education in prayer and sacrifice.
While more could be said of the Old Testament, what is perhaps more pertinent for our focus is how Jesus Christ fulfills all the ways of prayer in the Old Testament, elevating these ways of prayer to a way of “filial” relationship, or as a son to his father. Indeed, when we hear of Jesus praying at varied points in the Gospel, He frequently went off by Himself away from the crowds and even from His disciples so as to be in union with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Even though what Jesus may have said or done remains largely unknown to us, what is clearly revealed is that His prayer was “being present” in the Trinity and not as a search for God or as an attempt to sway God to His human will. For in His teaching on prayer, Jesus speaks of such characteristics as conversion of our hearts to God unto learning to cooperate with God’s will – and thus asking God “anything” in His name is to pray in faith that God has our best in mind for us and that we are wanting only to live in His will.
Finally, exploring prayer as found in the Scriptures also includes looking at the life of the early Church. The Virgin Mary is a model of prayer: in her “Fiat,” (that is, her “yes” to the angel Gabriel) Mary shows us cooperation with and response to God. At the wedding feast at Cana she carries out prayer of “intercession.” Finally, as in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) Mary offers an example of a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. In addition to Mary, in Acts of the Apostles the apostles show us prayer to the Father “in the name of Jesus” to heal and to sanctify those to whom they preach and minister – aware that in baptism, the “filial” relationship with God is given to all of us as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father.
Minding that this overview only scratches the surface of ways and lives of prayer in the Scriptures, culminating in Jesus’ own prayer, what we might take from this are the basic ways of prayer that will be more formally defined and lived in the ongoing life of the Church, which will be the focus of the next installment.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2568-2622 give a more detailed survey of prayer in the Scriptures, upon which this article is based.