by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
In the first article in this series I spoke about the material preparations for prayer. In this article, I will speak on the correct manner to say vocal prayers.
Vocal prayer, what is it?
Vocal prayer is prayer which is made through the instrumentality of words. This is the most common prayer. Indeed, most everyone thinks this is the only kind. I will explain why that is not so, in subsequent articles, but for now, let us speak about prayers which are expressed in words.
Vocal prayer can be in any language, whether you understand the language or not. If you do not understand the language, but you use those words to pray, the efficacy of your prayer depends upon your intentions and dispositions alone. Not on whether you pronounce that foreign language correctly or know what it means. It suffices to know its an approved prayer.
What makes a vocal prayer efficacious?
This was the first lesson in prayer which I had as a boy. My mom taught me how to say the Rosary, and suggested I say it every night. I said it for a whole month I think, and then one night my Mom had time to say it with me again. I found that I was saying it all wrong, and being very stupid I gave up saying the Rosary, because I thought my prayers were worthless if I did not do it perfectly and, since I realized I could not understand how to do that, I did not see the point in praying.
Years later, when speaking with my Confessor, he explained to me how wrong that reaction was. He was an old priest of the Missionary Order of the Holy Ghost Fathers, from whence came Archbishop Lebfevre. He explained that God rewards the intention. If we persevere and are humble, it does not matter even if we make mistakes out of ignorance. Because God looks first to the hearts and He rewards humility and zeal.
What does it mean, then, for a prayer to be efficacious?
Hence, it is important to understand that a prayer is efficacious in the sense that the praying of the prayer, not the prayer itself. A prayer written on paper or on your computer screen or cellphone display is simply words. But prayed it becomes a voice raised to God or the Saints.
Praying is efficacious when we pay attention to it. Just like your father it not apt to grant you any special request when you make it while engaged in watching your favorite TV program while he is trying to work at his desk, so your prayers to God require that you put yourself in the proper dispositions and present yourself to God in a manner pleasing to Himself.
I explained this in Part I, as regards Confession and being in the state of grace. But more than that is required for your prayers to be heard by God and for you to obtain the infusion of sanctifying grace and virtue, the grant of actual graces and favors, and the light to know, discern, recognize what you are and are not to do in serving God and fulfilling your duties or caring for those around you.
Pay Attention if you want God to pay attention to you
The most important requirement when you actually begin to pray is that you pay attention. This is overlooked in so many manuals of prayer, that it is astounding. God loves the humble, and humility requires that you pray in such a way as to show that you really mean what you say and you say really what you mean. And this requires attention.
It is very wrong to let vocal or oral prayer, as it is also called, become something which you chant over and over, but do not pay attention to the words, allowing your heart and mind to wander to your vain cares or worries or vain hopes.
Rather, the words you say aloud or silently must be willed by you with your whole heart and mind and spirit. You must not let their recitation be something in the background of your mind, nor something flying overhead like music, listened to, but they must be like the horse you ride and direct pulling the reins this way and that to arrive where you want.
Let me give an example, with the Our Father.
Praying the Our Father with attention, or efficaciously
Begin with the sign of the Cross, if you have not already done so.
Our Father, who art in Heaven….
The Saints urge us when we say these words, to look up to the Heavens. That is why it is so much more inspiring to do this outdoors or in a Church where Heaven is depicted high above, where our yes can focus.
But we should say the words, Our Father, with love and affection and confidence, recognizing that God as Our Father and Creator and Redeemer has truly a great desire that we speak with Him and talk to Him and ask Him for needs.
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Here, when saying these words our hearts should expand and our wills should surge in consent, that God’s Name be always held Holy and that His Dignity and Majesty be revered and respected by all.
Thy Kingdom come!
In this prayer we express our will to be loyal subjects of God’s Kingdom in Heaven and on Earth, and to see that Kingdom defended, grow and spread. We should say this prayer with much more enthusiasm than soccer fans or football fans shout out those words they usually shout urging their team to victory. It is really silly that modern man has more zeal at sporting events for their local team, that Christians have when they say these words.
Thy Will be done!
In this prayer, we submit our wills to God. We should say these words with profound humility and a spirit of sorrow for having failed to do the will of God perfectly, but with a profound penitence that we are now resolved to do that Will. And also with the desire to obtain the grace of God to do it, recognizing that without that grace we are not capable of doing it.
On earth as it is in Heaven.
With these words we should look to the Angels and Saints in Heaven and aspired to serve God as they serve Him. Nothing less. By this prayer we are to reject the imitation of any limited human examples of serving God and aspired to imitate the greatest examples which are the Saints in Heaven. We expressly reject the idolatry of earthly gurus, here.
Give us this day, our Daily Bread.
With these words, we begin the Petitions of the Our Father, that is, the requests. First we ask for all that is necessary for body and soul. Here the words daily bread refer to both, the first under the common metanym for food, bread. The second under the signification of the Most Holy Eucharist. This petition therefore is a Spiritual Communion, and while saying it we should understand that we are asking Lord Jesus Christ to enter our hearts and nourish them.
And forgive us our trespasses.
With these words we make a spiritual confession. And we should say them with a most profound humility and sorrow for our own personal sins, recognizing that they are not simply failings, mistakes, errors or deficiencies, but that they are sins, which we need to confess to God and in confession, when they are mortal.
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Here, we should forgive all our enemies from our hearts, recognizing that if we want great mercies from God, we need to grant mercy to those around us. Catholics have fallen into the worst habit of never admitting they were wrong or asking forgiveness. This prayer should be a confession that we will now undertake such a life.
And lead us not into temptation.
Here the Greek original and the Latin mean, and put us not to the test. This is because temptatio in Latin means a test. And the good monks of Britain loved Latin so much, they kept the word in English, though not all us are well schooled enough to know its meaning. I do not fault the monks, I fault our modern Church catechetical programs for not teaching us English.
But the prayer when prayed should be a supplication, a humble request, that God avert from us His anger and that we return to His paths, because of our selves we will fail the test, since the proud man is without the grace to stand, but the humble man walks always at the Lord’s side.
But deliver us from evil.
Here the Greek and the Latin say, from the Evil one. That is from the Father of Lies, Satan. But the English expands this, because the prayer not only should be said with the intention of not falling into the power of the Devil through sin, but suffering from the punishments for sin, which are the only true evils in this world. We also pray here to be delivered from the grasp and will of wicked men. And this petition, which is last, is the one most necessary in the present times.
This Hebrew word means, Let is be so! It is the assent to all which has been said. And we should never omit it, but say it with firm resolve.
Praying with Attention requires discipline
Praying with attention requires just as much discipline of the mind and heart as standing at attention required of a soldier when he is on parade or subject to review by his Commanding General. We should pray the Our Father with infinitely more care, without obsessing with our failures, but returning to saying the prayer. That is why Saint Francis has us his friars say this prayer 72 times daily. Because he knew that we simple minded men need to practice to get it right and to train ourselves in doing it correctly, but also because the ones we say rightly make up for the ones we say badly.
For these reasons, I included 72 Our Fathers in the Perpetual Supplica because so many of us do not know how to pray, and we need to practice doing it rightly on a daily basis.
But above all, keep in mind the great things you can obtain by prayer
It is important, obviously, to be motivated to pray. Here is a short excerpt from Saint Peter of Alcantara, a great Franciscan Saint, and spiritual director to Saint Teresa of Avila, to motivate you in praying. He is quoting the Franciscan Doctor of the Church, Saint Bonaventure:
“If you would suffer patiently the adversities and miseries of this life, be a man of prayer. If you would gain power and strength to overcome the temptations of the enemy, be a man of prayer. If you would mortify your will with all its affections and lusts, be a man of prayer. If you would understand the cunning devices of Satan, and defend yourself against his deceits, be a man of payer. If you would live joyfully, and with sweetness walk in the path of penitence and sorrow, be a man of prayer. If you would drive out the troublesome gnats of vain thoughts and cares from your soul, be a man of prayer. If you would sustain your soul with the richness of devotion, and kept it ever full of good thoughts and desires, be a man of prayer. If you would strengthen and confirm your heart in the pilgrimage with God, be a man of prayer. Lastly, if you would root out from your soul every vice and in their place plant the virtues, be a man of prayer, for in this is obtained the unction and grace of the Holy Spirit who teaches all things.
“And besides all this, if you would climb to the height of contemplation, and delight in the sweet embraces of the Bridegroom, exercise yourself in prayer, for this is the way by which the soul mounts up to contemplation and to the taste of heavenly things.
“You see, then, of how great virtue and power is prayer, and for proof of all that has been said (to say nothing of Holy Scripture) let this now be sufficient assurance that we have seen and heard, and see, day by day, many simple persons who have attained to all these things above mentioned and to others greater, through the exercise of prayer.”