TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Chapter 29: Prayer: The Fundamental Category of Christian Action

Question H: Why is personal prayer necessary in addition to liturgical prayer?

1. It should not be supposed that, because the liturgy is central in Christian prayer life, there is no need for personal prayer (see SC 12). On the contrary, the personal life of good deeds which God has prepared for each Christian (see Eph 2.10) is required to complete his or her unique share in the redemptive work; and this personal life must be shaped by personal prayer, just as Jesus’ life was.

2. It is precisely because prayer is necessary for the self-determination of each Christian’s personality that the liturgy, the Church’s common, public prayer, is not adequate by itself for any particular person. Private prayer and devotions are also needed, to specify for the individual what is common to all. In this way individuals personally assimilate the bread from heaven which is in the first place nourishment for the whole Church.14

3. God’s wisdom and love, most perfectly revealed in Jesus’ life, constitute the model of Christian life as well as its motive and goal. To conform to this model, one must examine it closely and make it one’s own; one must put on the mind of our Lord Jesus (see Rom 13.14; 1 Cor 2.16; Phil 2.5). This begins with prayer and is completed by putting into practice what one has come to understand in prayer. That is why recommended methods of meditation all lead to a practical resolution.

The prayers composed by the Church for liturgical use also provide an excellent model for personal prayer. Prayers are to be offered—supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings—for all humankind (see 1 Tm 2.1–2). The prayer formula most often used by the Church includes all these elements: Almighty, eternal God (prayer), who has given such and such a benefit (thanksgiving), grant, we beseech you (supplication) to give us such and such, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord (intercession). A complete prayer involves not four different prayer-acts, but one act with all of these aspects.

If Christians try to engage in activity of any sort without forming it by prayer, their efforts are likely to have several bad results for their relationship with God. First, being aware only of one’s own effort, one loses humility; self-gratification in the activity rapidly dominates. Second, being interested in what one is doing, one has definite goals and a passionate drive to succeed in attaining them. Without prayer, one will lose meekness, and so will shunt others aside and become angry or discouraged in the face of obstacles. Third, the strain of activity demands refreshment and recreation. If one does not find it in prayer, one is tempted to find it in self-indulgent escapism, thinking that one is entitled to compensation for all the good one is doing. Fourth, one will take success or failure much too seriously. One will not realize that even the most important work, such as pastoral activity, belongs to this passing world, and that the real treasure is elsewhere. Fifth, one will fail to form one’s action by faith; one will become fixated on particular objectives and begin to seek a kingdom and justice other than God’s.

14. See Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 39 AAS (1947) 533–37; The Papal Encyclicals, 233.31–37; Mystici Corporis Christi, 35 AAS (1943) 234–37; The Papal Encyclicals, 225.87–90.