BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (230): What are the forms of prayer?

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

Following the example and teaching of Jesus Christ, the apostles cultivated both personal and community prayer from the very beginning of Christianity. The Compendium tells us: “At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles it is written that in the first community of Jerusalem, educated in the life of prayer by the Holy Spirit, the faithful ‘devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers’ (Acts 2:42)” (CCCC 548).

The CCCC points out the role of the Paraclete in this community of prayer: “The Holy Spirit, the interior Master of Christian prayer, forms the Church in the life of prayer and allows her to enter ever more deeply into contemplation of and union with the unfathomable mystery of Christ. The forms of prayer expressed in the apostolic and canonical writings remain normative for Christian prayer” (CCCC 549).

What are these “forms of prayer”? “They are blessing and adoration, the prayer of petition and intercession, thanksgiving and praise. The Eucharist contains and expresses all the forms of prayer” (CCCC 550). These forms of prayer are a continuation of the tradition of prayer that we have already seen in the Old Testament and in the Gospels.

BLESSING: This form of prayer shows that prayer is an exchange between man and God. “The prayer of blessing is man’s response to God’s gifts: we bless the Almighty who first blesses us and fills us with his gifts” (CCCC 551).  Blessing is a token of love. “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

ADORATION. “Adoration is the humble acknowledgement by human beings that they are creatures of the thrice-holy Creator” (CCCC 552). Saint John Paul II, speaking of Eucharistic adoration, wrote, “”Through adoration, the Christian mysteriously contributes to the radical transformation of the world and to the sowing of the Gospel. Anyone who prays to the Savior draws the whole world with him and raises it to God. Those who stand before the Lord are therefore fulfilling an eminent service. They are presenting to Christ all those who do not know him or are far from him: they keep watch in his presence on their behalf” (Letter To The Bishop Of Liege, 28 May 1996).

PETITION: This form of prayer is probably the most spontaneous and the one we tend to do all the time. “It can be a petition for pardon or also a humble and trusting petition for all our needs either spiritual or material. The first thing to ask for, however, is the coming of the Kingdom” (CCCC 553). We must ask because we are always in need of God. By asking, we acknowledge our need before God. By asking, we recognize that we are creatures and that we are His children.

INTERCESSION: “Intercession consists in asking on behalf of another. It conforms us and unites us to the prayer of Jesus who intercedes with the Father for all, especially sinners. Intercession must extend even to one’s enemies” (CCCC 554). Intercession helps us to think more about others. Intercession is the easiest way of loving our enemies. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:44-46).

THANKSGIVING: “The Church gives thanks to God unceasingly, above all in celebrating the Eucharist in which Christ allows her to participate in his own thanksgiving to the Father. For the Christian every event becomes a reason for giving thanks” (CCCC 555). That is what Saint Paul teaches us: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). In the Preface of the Mass, we always affirm, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.”

PRAISE: “Praise is that form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It is a completely disinterested prayer: it sings God’s praise for his own sake and gives him glory simply because he is” (556).

Praise is selfless prayer, yet it benefits us. Pope Francis once asked, “To whom is praise helpful? To us or to God? A text of the Eucharistic liturgy invites us to pray to God in this way, it says this: ‘Although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness, but profit us for salvation’ (Roman Missal, Weekday Preface IV). By giving praise, we are saved” (General Audience, 13 January 2021).