If we were to ask every single saint in Heaven “What is Prayer?” each would probably give a different answer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), section four on Christian Prayer gives us many definitions to ponder, including:-
“…a surge of the heart…” (St Therese of Lisieux quoted in CCC2558),
“…the raising of one’s mind to God…” (St John Damascene quoted in CCC2559),
“…a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ…” (CCC2564) and
“…a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God…” (CCC2561).
This variety of responses to a seemingly simple question does not mean that prayer is ambiguous or that we cannot agree on what it is, or that it can be quickly explained by a simple definition but rather that it is a wonderful, profound mystery of God and how we might respond to Him.
In Acts of the Apostles, we see that prayer is one of the four pillars of how the apostles and early Church members lived their real and tangible relationship with Jesus Christ “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42). Prayer therefore is one of the vital aspects of entering into and living an ever-deepening relationship with God.
As you take your first few steps of your God Calls Adventure, take a few moments to read and ponder this passage from the Book of Jeremiah, in the Old Testament.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
What questions does this passage raise in your heart? On reading it carefully, where do your thoughts take you? What would you like to ask God about it, and your 40 Days of Adventure?
The Church offers a treasure trove of different forms and expressions of prayer. The greatest prayer we can offer is our active participation in Holy Mass. We also pray when we seek to enter the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and when we listen to the words of God in Sacred Scripture.
There are numerous other devotional practises offered by the Church which are useful and fruitful prayers for us to engage with, all of which help us live our baptismal promises, love God, and know our calling.
The Holy Rosary is a very ancient devotional practice, dating back to the 13th Century. It contains meditations on all the key moments in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We learn to ponder the whole of Jesus’ life by praying this regular pattern of set prayers in groups, as each group (called a decade) represents a different mystery or important part of Jesus’ life.
Usually, a set of beads is used to help us keep track of the repeating patterns and decades, thus freeing our minds from the distraction of counting prayers, but also providing a soothing action for our hands to engage in as we pray.
The words of the vocal prayers that make up the Rosary (Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be) start us off on our journey of prayer. We speak these prayers either silently or aloud. As we become more familiar with the repeating pattern of the prayers, the regular rhythm allows us to begin meditating on Jesus and the events of His life, that is as we pray the familiar words we begin to mull over their meaning and questions may present themselves in our hearts as to the relevance or implications for our own lives. These questions and musings enable a conversation to take place between us and God, through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, who is also our holy mother. As we grow in confidence in this two-way conversation we begin to pray in a contemplative way – that is the intimate gaze of love between God our Creator, and us His children.
Novenas – usually nine subsequent days of prayer. The original Novena is the period of nine days between Jesus ascending into Heaven after He rose from the dead (Ascension), until the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and Our Lady in the Upper Room – the point at which the Church was born (Pentecost). Those nine days were filled with intense prayer (Acts 1:6-14) and so we follow the example of Our Lady and the Apostles in praying persistently for nine days. Novenas are fruitful when praying for a particular intention, or to help celebrate a particular Church Feast or Solemnity or to ask a particular saint to pray for you (asking the intercession of the saint).
There are numerous other devotional practises to choose from including praying Litanies, for example the Litany of Loreto (an ancient tradition of a set form of alternating invocations or petitions, followed by a response) or Chaplets (like the rosary in that they consist of repeating groups of prayers, for example the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy).
You can find traditional Catholic Prayers on the GodCalls app available to download free for both Android and Apple platforms.
The Way of the Cross
What is it?
The Way of the Cross is central to the life of a committed Christian. In this devotion/prayer we unite ourselves with Jesus in His last few hours as He takes up his own Cross – the Cross of all our burdens, wounds, sin and sufferings, carrying it to Calvary, before being crucified and dying. As we fall more in love with Him, we see that we are invited to carry our own crosses through life – maybe we don’t enjoy good health, have financial worries, or experience difficult family relationships, or any other suffering or hardship we live with. Every soul will have a different experience of the Cross in their life.
Whatever cross we must bear in life, we can take comfort and strength that Our Lord Jesus Christ has already borne and conquered the Cross of the total sufferings of the entire human race, including for us personally. This was not a chance event but a definitive moment in God’s plan of salvation and redemption.
Why is it Important to Pray It?
Jesus shoulders the weight of our own trials as we follow Him. In keeping this in mind and uniting our suffering with that of Jesus our burden becomes easier, we learn to imitate Him as we willingly accept and offer our trials, and offer ourselves, in love for others. In keeping this focus on the life, passion and death of Jesus, we receive his redemptive love. Our burdens are lightened. We are more disposed to adore His most precious Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity and invite Him into our very being in receiving Him in Holy Communion. We suffer on behalf of our brothers and sisters. We partake in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ – both in receiving and giving.
“Why did you suffer for me, dear Jesus? For love! The nails…the crown…the cross…all for the love of me! For you I sacrifice everything willingly. I offer You my body with all its weakness, and my soul with all its love.” St Gemma Galgani
“Those who accept His offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 1.
How to Pray the Way of the Cross
Praying the Way of the Cross, also called Stations of the Cross, is a powerful and profound way of entering into the Mystery of Christ’s crucifixion and death. It can be prayed at any time, but it is particularly suitable to praying in Lent and on Fridays.
It consists of fourteen different stages, or stations, on Jesus’ journey. We journey alongside Jesus stopping to reflect and pray at each station.
Often the Way of the Cross is prayed physically as well as with words. All Catholic churches have images of the Way of the Cross around the walls and it is common to walk from image to image stopping at each one to pray the prayers for that particular part of Jesus’ journey. In physically walking and genuflecting, we enter more deeply into the prayers. It is also possible to pray the Stations of the Cross without moving around, simply making the journey in our hearts as we move from station to station. Many shrines and places of pilgrimage also have Stations of the Cross to physically follow. If you ever have the chance to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, you will have the opportunity to pray the Via Dolorosa. This is the Stations of the Cross following the actual geographic route that Jesus took as He carried the Cross to Calvary, through the streets of Jerusalem.
The fourteen Stations are:-
Jesus is Condemned to Death
Jesus Carries His Cross
Jesus Falls for the First Time
Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother
Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Jesus Falls a Second Time
Jesus Meets the Holy Women
Jesus Falls for the Third Time
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Jesus Dies on the Cross
Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
There are many versions of the Stations of the Cross prayers, available both online and as printed resources. They contain different reflections and images but are all the same in that they guide you through the fourteen stations mentioned above, helping you reflect on the Passion, Crucifixion and Death of our Redeemer, Our Lord Jesus Christ.