In the last installment, five types of prayer that are formally defined by and found within the life of the Church were briefly explained: Blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. Now we turn our attention to the life of prayer as it flows forth in the Church and speak of her way of prayer as practiced, emphasizing first the sources of our prayer tradition.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies multiple “wellsprings” of prayer that inspire and inform the way we prayer. The catechism first acknowledges the Sacred Scriptures as the wellspring where God speaks and we are invited to receive His Word and respond to it. This wellspring operates first in the act of hearing the Scriptures as the active means to hear God speak, leading us to meditate upon what is spoken. In addition, the Scriptures are a wellspring of divine truth that is related to us, from which we are drawn toward God. Next, the liturgy of the Church is identified as a wellspring within which salvation in Christ is proclaimed, made present (in the sacraments), and offered to us (in our partaking of these sacraments). The “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and love, are labeled as wellsprings – as these virtues are fundamentally a gift from God through which we cooperate with Him and His grace. It is through faith that we enter prayer, in hope that we pray, and it is love that is received from God and then offered in return as the fruit of our prayer. Finally, we must always remember that prayer flows from God’s action in our lives – and that what is experienced in each moment invites us to accept God’s providential action more and more, allowing our lives to truly be directed by Him and toward Him. These wellsprings, as the word implies, form the sources from which a life of prayer comes and flows forth toward every greater union and communion with God.
Keeping these wellsprings in mind, it is important to consider what the catechism next calls the “way” of prayer – or the manner by which our prayer is effective. Minding that the perfect prayer that Jesus gave us begins with the invocation “Our Father,” a simple summary of the way of prayer is found within the conclusion of the prayer at each Mass called the “Collect,” or the opening prayer of each Mass. This prayer is typically offered to the Father “through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with [the Father] in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever.” In other words, the way of prayer is directed to God the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit. This way of prayer to the Father is further enhanced through our invitation to pray directly to each of the three divine persons of the Holy Trinity, as the final goal of prayer is unity in the Trinity. In our prayer to Jesus, we invoke the “name that is above every other name” (see Philippians 2:9), calling upon the name that the catechism says “contains everything…God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation.” (CCC 2666). Likewise, since “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (see 1 Corinthians 12:3), our prayer “Come, Holy Spirit” opens us to receive God’s life, leading us through Jesus to the Father.
Finally, the Church is gifted by God with the intercession of the saints - and particularly that of the Virgin Mary - to aid us on this way of prayer. In particular, as the Virgin Mary perfectly cooperates with God in the Holy Spirit, she in her own person praises or “magnifies” the Lord, and as the Mother of Jesus through whom He takes on our human nature, she is able to bring to Jesus the needs of all of humanity – thus being a way to God through one who is perfect in her human nature.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2650-2696 speak of the “Tradition of Prayer,” highlighting the wellsprings and ways that lead to prayer.