What is Prayer?

1. Prayer means standing before God and raising up our mind and heart to him with reverent attention and devotion.

2. Prayer is the devout offering of our entire self in the Holy Spirit to the Father through Jesus Christ.

To answer the question “What is prayer,” we must realize that our search leads, not to an activity, but to a way of being. Prayer is less a function and more a disposition. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us, prayer is “a vital and personal relationship with the living God … the living relationship of the children of God with their Father” (2558, 2565).

To understand the meaning of prayer, we must first believe that God exists, and that he is a personal being, a person who can be addressed and who responds. We must believe that God knows us, cares for us and loves us – even more than we love ourselves.

In fact, some describe prayer as “talking and listening with God.” Others call it “love letters” to God.

Since prayer engages and expresses our relationship with God, the essence of prayer is communication.

For the way that persons in love deepen their bond of charity with each other is through the sharing of their interior lives in an authentic and generous exchange of words, gestures, and feelings. The conversation of prayer deepens our intimacy with God by drawing us into the communication with him that leads to ultimate communion. In the process, prayer conforms us to the Lord we love so that, as Saint Teresa of Avila says, “the will becomes united in some way with the will of God.”

Prayer takes five basic forms:

• Adoration

• Petition

• Intercession

• Thanksgiving

• Praise

Adoration exalts the greatness of God, the Creator and Sustainer, in the spirit of humility and homage. The gracious generosity of God compels us to bless the One who remains the source of every blessing in our life.

The prayer of petition acknowledges our dependence on God the Father, especially as it prompts us to turn back to him in a spirit of repentance and contrition, asking for forgiveness.

Through the prayer of intercession we entrust ourselves to God’s mercy, especially by placing before the Father the concerns of others in need.

The prayer of thanksgiving gives voice to the gratitude that befits every mature and honest person, especially as it calls to mind the redeeming deeds of Jesus that save us and set us free.

Finally, as the Catechism explains, the prayer of praise “lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because he is” (2639).

In short, these five different forms of prayer enable us to love God for what he has created, to love God for his compassionate mercy, to love God for his presence and assistance in our lives, to love God for his redemptive tenderness, and to love God for himself.

This article is excerpted from the booklet A Life of Prayer: A Guide for Men by Father John Peter Cameron, O.P. Order a copy