The Essentials of Prayer

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Guided by the Holy Spirit and the Church, we learn to praise, thank and present our needs to God

by Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori

Bishop William E. Lori

Guided by the Holy Spirit and the Church, we learn to praise, thank and present our needs to God

The 37th installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 548-566 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The memory that I cherish most of Blessed John Paul II was the privilege of seeing him absorbed in prayer in his private chapel prior to Mass. His prayer was deeply personal, yet was completely tied to the Church's life of prayer, rooted in the living Word of God and in the celebration of the Eucharist. Blessed John Paul II gave us a wonderful example of how the Holy Spirit forms the whole Church in prayer and in the ever-deeper contemplation of the mystery of Christ (Compendium, 548-549).

Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church teaches and practices the essential forms of prayer, which are most perfectly found in the Eucharist: blessing and adoration; petition and intercession; thanksgiving and praise (550).


In the prayer of blessing, it is God who first blesses us and enables us to "bless" him (551). Because God fills us with his gifts, we can live the Beatitudes and say with the Psalmist: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my being bless his Holy Name" (Ps 103). The prayer of adoration is a humble acknowledgement that we are creatures of God who owe our very existence and salvation to his goodness and generosity (Compendium, 552).

In the prayer of petition, we present our spiritual and material needs. Jesus taught us first to ask for the coming of his kingdom, which is realized in us when, through grace, we keep the commandments in the spirit of the Beatitudes. Seeking to live the heart of the Gospel, we ask God to forgive our sins and we pray not merely for the things we want, but for those things we truly need to grow in the likeness of Christ (553).

One of the most beautiful ways we can follow Christ is to pray, or intercede, for one another, just as the risen and exalted Lord "pleads for us at the right hand of the Father." Our prayer of intercession should include not only our family and friends, but also our enemies, for Jesus taught: "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you" (554; Mt 5:44).

At the heart of all Christian prayer is thanksgiving. On our own, we cannot thank God as we should, but in the Eucharist we join in Christ's prayer of thanksgiving to God the Father (555). Closely tied to thanksgiving is praise. Loving God above all things, we joyfully acknowledge God's greatness and glory (556). A spirit of praise and thanksgiving should permeate our whole lives.

As Christians, we never pray alone, but rather always as part of the Church's tradition. In fact, it is through this tradition and returning to the sources of Christian prayer that the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray (557). Our prayer is rooted in Scripture, the Word of God that leads us to "the surpassing knowledge" of Christ (Phil 3:8), and in the Church's liturgy, which communicates through sacramental signs the saving words and deeds of Christ.


In baptism, the Holy Spirit pours forth into our hearts the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. In this way, the Spirit teaches us to pray and enables us to believe in God, instilling in us a desire for the joy of God's kingdom and a love for God above all things (Catechism 1814, 1817, 1822). When we truly know, love and practice our faith, everyday situations become occasions for prayer. This is what St. Paul means when he tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:17; Compendium, 558).

There are, of course, many ways to pray. For example, we might be familiar with popular devotions that are tied to a particular country or culture. We also look to the Church to guide our prayer so as to ensure that it is centered on the person of Christ (559).

In fact, Jesus is "the way" of prayer. During his life on earth, he prayed constantly, and he continues to plead for us from his place in heaven. It is through the humanity of God's divine Son that the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray, and we always make our prayer "through Christ our Lord" (560). What is more, it is the Spirit who is "the artisan" and "interior Master" of all prayer. The Spirit teaches us to "pray as we ought" by leading us to Christ and pouring forth divine life into our souls (561; Rom 8:26).

At the same time, our prayer is always united with that of Mary. All generations call her blessed and echo her prayer of praise and thanksgiving, the Magnificat. Mary leads us to Jesus with maternal love and prays for us with special tenderness. We invoke her intercession through the Hail Mary, the rosary and many other beautiful prayers (562-563). We also look to the saints, many of whom were great masters of the spiritual life, to teach us how to pray. In interceding for us in heaven, the saints shine with the glory of Christ (564).

Lastly, the home should be a school of prayer, just as Jesus learned to pray in his home in Nazareth. Parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith (565).