The Sacred Scriptures offer significant teaching and example on the life of prayer and on the ways of praying. Given these sources, the Church herself continues to follow the way of prayer as taught by God Himself and lived by many who lived before the foundation of the Church, or who were of the earliest days of the Church. For our benefit, the Catechism of the Catholic Church lays out five types or ways of prayer that exist in the life of the Church – all of which find their fullest expression in the Eucharist. (Please note that the ordering of these types is simply as the catechism itself presents them, and not as though they are listed in a particular way of priority or as though one leads to another).
First, we have the prayer of “Blessing and Adoration,” which is also rightly called “worship” in the most proper sense. In this way of prayer, we humbly offer ourselves to God, acknowledging Him who is Creator, Savior, Lord, and King. Our prayer of blessing and adoration includes our acceptance of God and our returning of self to Him – as happens (as one example) in every Mass, particularly in the Eucharistic Prayer when God comes to us and we are called to “lift up our hearts” in giving ourselves to him.
Next, we have the form of prayer called “Petition,” within which we ask and plead God as our Creator and Lord for what is needed. Often our personal and spontaneous prayer consists of asking God for help in whatever way we so desire it. However, such petition can also be done “corporately” (that is, as members of the body acting as one), such as in praying “The Lord’s Prayer” or in such elements of Mass as the Prayer of the Faithful.
A third form of prayer is the prayer of “Intercession,” which is similar to petitioning insofar as we make our requests known to God. However, intercession is unique as such prayer involves one (or more) praying on behalf of another/others for their good or needs. Surely too intercession points toward our Catholic way of invoking the saints – minding that it is the saints who are carrying out the prayer of intercession on behalf of those who call upon them or for those whom we ask them to pray. Once again, throughout the Mass such prayer of intercession occurs, whether that be in the Prayer of the Faithful or even in the Eucharistic Prayer itself.
Fourth is the way of “Thanksgiving,” where God is thanked for all that He is, does, offers, creates, etc., from our individual and corporate hearts. Minding that the word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” the offering of the Holy Mass is in a real way a sacrifice of thanksgiving, offering to the Father that which He Himself has given us and what Jesus has offered on our behalf, unto entrance into or growth into communion with Him.
Finally, the catechism presents to us the way of prayer called “Praise.” While this prayer is similar to blessing and adoration in many ways, (as it recognizes God for His own sake), praise also can incorporate the other ways of prayer already touched upon, by uniquely lifting up to God the Father “all glory and honor” through Jesus in the unity of the Holy Spirit, that He would be our “All.”
These five manners of prayer in the Church, all of which have been present throughout the entire history of the Church, by no means are exhaustive of the life of prayer. However, these ways of characterizing types of prayer aid us in providing a sure overview, from which the tradition of prayer flows unto “way” of prayer that is both individual and corporate. This tradition of prayer will be treated in the next installment
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2623 – 2649 speak more fully of the five types of prayer treated above.