Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Short Catechism on Prayer

1. What is Prayer?

Prayer is talking to God. Prayer is the raising up of our minds and hearts to God, either to praise Him, or to thank Him, or to beg His grace; and therefore it is divided into Prayer of Praise, Prayer of Thanksgiving., and Prayer of Petition.

[Catechism of the Catholic Church, hereinafter ccc, sec. 2559 "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God."]

2. What does to praise God mean?

To praise God means to rejoice at His infinite Perfections, and to glorify and adore Him on that account (Ps. 9:2). [ccc 2649 "Prayer of praise is entirely disinterested and rises to God, lauds him, and gives him glory for his own sake, quite beyond what he has done, but simply because HE IS.]

Examples: David in his Psalms; the three children in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3.); the Blessed Virgin (Luke 1:46-55)

3. Are we obliged to praise God?

Yes, we are; for this we were created. and this will one day be our eternal occupation in Heaven. (Rev. 4.)

"My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless His holy name for ever, yea for ever and ever". (Ps. 145:21). "Be filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord." (Eph. 5:18-20.)
[ccc 2642 "The prophets and the saints, all those who were slain on earth for their witness to Jesus, the vast throng of those who, having come through the great tribulation, have gone before us into the Kingdom, all sing the praise and glory of him who sits on the throne, and of the Lamb.[Cf. Rev 18:24; 19:1-8] In communion with them, the Church on earth also sings these songs with faith in the midst of trial... ]

4. Must we also thank God for His gifts?

Yes, for ingratitude is a detestable vice, whereas gratitude is the best means to obtain new benefits.

"In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God In Christ Jesus".(1 Thess. 5:18).

5. Must we also beg graces of God?

"'Ask,' says Jesus Christ Himself, 'and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you' (Luke 11: 9).

6. Is Prayer necessary to all?

Prayer is necessary for salvation to all who have sufficiently the use of reason.

[ccc 2697 "Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all. This is why the Fathers of the spiritual life ... insist that prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart "We must remember God more often than we draw breath." (St. Gregory of Nazianzus)]

7. Why is Prayer necessary to all?

Because God has commanded it, and because, without it, we do not receive the graces necessary to persevere to the end. [ccc 2591 "God tirelessly calls each person to this mysterious encounter with Himself."]

See St. Alphonsus, Admonitions, "[P]rayer is necessary for adults as a means of salvation; that is to say, that a person who does not pray, and neglects to ask of God the help requisite for overcoming temptations, and for preserving grace already received, cannot be saved." See CCC 2744.

8. But does not God already know what we stand in need of?

Most certainly; but we do not pray to tell God what we stand in need of, but to acknowledge Him as the Giver of all good gifts, to testify our dependence on Him, and thereby to render ourselves more worthy of His gifts. [ccc 2559 "Man is a beggar before God."]

9. What are the principal fruits of Prayer?

Prayer, 1. Unites us to God; 2. Makes us heavenly minded; 3. Strengthens us against evil; 4. Gives us zeal and energy for good; 5. Comforts us in adversity; and 6. Obtains help for us in time of need, and the grace of perseverance unto death.

Examples: Moses (Exod. 17:11); Samuel ("And Samuel cried unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day." 1 Kings 12:18 in the Douay Rheims, and 1 Sam 12:18 in the NIV.); also in the Douay see Judith 9, Esther 14; and the Machabees (2 Mac. 15:27). The first Christians prayed while Peter was in prison. (Acts 12:5)

10. How must we pray that we may obtain these fruits?

We must pray, 1. With devotion; 2. With humility; 3. With confidence; 4. With resignation to the will of God; and 5. With perseverance.

11. When do we pray with devotion?

When our prayer comes from the heart, and we avoid all distracting thoughts as much as possible.

'This people honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." (Matt. 15:8).

12. Are all the distractions in prayer sinful?

They are sinful when we ourselves are the cause of them, or willfully admit or entertain them; but when we struggle against them, they increase our merit.

[Editor: This can be more easily understood if we think of the times we have a duty to pray, to direct our minds and hearts toward God, such as during the mass or sacraments. During worship we come to be in God's presence, to listen and speak with Him. Does it then make sense to willfully allow ourselves to be distracted? Also, it would be like calling someone over, by name, and making a standard request by rote but not paying attention to what you are saying, or to the person you are addressng. If you made a request like this to your employer, what do you think his response would be?]

13. What should we do in order that we may be less distracted in our prayers?

Before our prayers we should, as far as possible, banish all worldly thoughts, and represent the Omnipresent God in a lively manner to our mind.

Ecclesiasticus 18:23 "Before prayer prepare your soul: and be not as a man that tempts God."[But compare the NAB.] [St. Francis de Sales tells us: "Pray for your prayer's success."]

14. When do we pray with humility?

When we address our prayers to God with a sincere acknowledgment of our weakness and unworthiness.

'The prayer of him that humbles himself shall pierce the clouds." (Ecclesiasticus 35:21). See also the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke18:9-14.)

16. When do we pray with confidence?

When we firmly hope that God will hear our prayer, inasmuch as it is conducive to His honor and to our salvation.

"Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; for he that wavers is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (James 1:6-7).

16. Why may and ought we to have this firm hope?

Because God can give us all good things, and, for the sake of Jesus, will also really do so, as our Savior Himself solemnly assures us, saying: "Amen, amen I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it to you". John 16:23; compare Mark 9:23-24.

17. But why do we not always receive what we ask for?

1. Either because we do not pray as we ought; or
2. Because that which we ask for is prejudicial to our salvation; or
3. Because we do not persevere in praying; therefore we must also pray with resignation to the will of God, and perseverance.
[See also 1 John 3:22, John 15:7, 1 Peter 3:12, 1 John 5:14-15, Phil. 4:6 , i.e. have confidence, avoid evil and anxiety, and let God and his word abide in you, be part of you. Hebrews 11:6 ]
[Fasting can help, Acts 14:23, and Matt. 17:21, see footnote to this verse in the NAB.]
["Abbe Zeno said, 'If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.'" Desert Fathers. See Matt. 5:44.] [An "enemy" can be merely one who "opposes the interests of another" according to the dictionary.]

18. When do we pray with resignation to the will of God?

When we leave it entirely to Him to hear us when and how He thinks proper.

"Father, not my will, but Yours be done". (Luke 22:42).

19. When do we pray with perseverance?

When we do not desist, although we are not aware of being heard, but continue to pray the more fervently.

Example of the woman of Chanaan (Matt. 15:22-28.); parable of the friend who asked for three loaves (Luke 11:5-8, compare the NAB). [See also the Widow and unjust Judge. Lk 18:1-8.] [See also how Jesus prayed for long period in a quiet place. Luke 6:12.]

20. Must we always use a set form of words in our prayers?

No, this is done in Vocal Prayer only; but there is also an Interior or Mental Prayer, called meditation.

[For Vocal Prayer see the Catechism of the Catholic Church sections 2700 to 2704.]

21. In what does Meditation consist?

It consists in reflecting upon the life and sufferings of Jesus, upon the Divine Perfections, or other truths of our religion, in order to excite in our hearts pious sentiments, but especially good and efficacious resolutions.

[For Meditation see ccc sections 2705-2708. See also the meditation section in Awaken to Prayer.]

22. When ought we to pray?

Christ says 'that we ought always to pray, and not to faint' (Luke 18:1). [See ccc sections 2742-2743.]

[Pray constantly as St. Paul teaches in Eph. 6:18, 1 Thess 5:17; Eph 5:20. ]
CCC 2757: "Pray constantly" (1 Thess 5:17). It is always possible to pray. It is even a vital necessity. Prayer and Christian life are inseparable. See ccc 2742-43, cf. Jesus' hour of prayer.

23. How is it possible to pray always?

We pray always when we frequently raise up our minds and hearts to God, and offer up to Him all our labors, sufferings, and pleasures. Yet at certain times we are to pray in an especial manner.

1. In time of temptation and other urgent need, and during private and public calamities; 2. In the morning and at night; before and after meals; when the Angelus bell rings; and when we are in the Church. [See About Traditional Basic Catholic Prayers.] [See also the Prayer of the Heart and Prayer without Ceasing.]

26. Why should we particularly pray in the Church?

Because the Church is especially the house of God and of prayer, where all that we see and hear is intended to raise our minds and hearts to the meditation on Divine things.

[The modern catechism, published in1992, suggests places that are favorable for prayer. However they are not the only places. Actually anyplace can be a place for prayer.
"ccc 2696 The most appropriate places for prayer are personal or family oratories, monasteries, places of pilgrimage, and above all the church, which is the proper place for liturgical prayer for the parish community and the privileged place for Eucharistic adoration." See also, ccc 2691
"ccc 2743 It is always possible to pray: The time of the Christian is that of the risen Christ who is with us always, no matter what tempests may arise. Our time is in the hands of God:
It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop, . . . while buying or selling, . . . or even while cooking."St. John Chrysostom.]

26. For whom must we pray?

We must pray for all people: for the living and the dead; for friends and enemies; especially for our parents, brothers and sisters, benefactors, spiritual and temporal Superiors [such as employers and political leaders], and also for [separated Christians and non-Christians].

[ccc "2635 Since Abraham, intercession - asking on behalf of another has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy. In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ's, as an expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others," even to the point of praying for those who do him harm. (Phil 2:4; cf. Acts 7:60; Lk 23:28, 34.)"] See ccc 2635-36.
'I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings he made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in high station, that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity' (1 Tim. 2:1- 2 in the Douay-Rheims, compare the NIV). [See footnote to this passage in the NAB.]
Application. Consider how happy you are that you, [mere dust and ashes,*] are allowed to speak to God, the Most High, as a child speaks to his father. Pray, therefore, often and willingly, and always with as much devotion as you possibly can, both at home and in the Church.

[*On Ash Wednesday we are reminded of this when the priest marks us with ashes and says: "Remember thou art dust..."]


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