The Many Faces of Prayer|
THE SILENT SACRAMENT
Prayer is a plethora of things, all focused on Almighty God. There is no more powerful means of communication than prayer as has been proven throughout history and is affirmed for all eternity. We may not hear God on the other end, but He is there. That is why prayer may well be the Silent Sacrament.
"If God Almighty forever reaches out to us despite our unworthy sinfulness through His Divine love, mercy, and compassion, then we, as His mere creatures, can only fully reach out to Him through the Sacraments formally and through prayer regularly. In this context prayer is a union between our unworthy status as servants of God and the Master who nevertheless accepts that service from such servants. When we pray, we create a union with God through our efforts and initiative, which is what God desires and prefers as such is the expression of our free will to love and follow Him."
The Many Faces of Prayer
It is not one of the official Sacraments of The Roman Catholic Church, but its importance is just as central to our faith. It is one of those things that get mentioned much more frequently than it is practiced. For most of us it hangs like some eternal New Year's Resolution that continually slips away even as we reach out for it. No matter how often we do it, there is always a continuous need to do it more frequently. Like many things in this world, it has its levels of quality, and few people ever reach all of the levels. There are many types of this practice, like ice cream flavors with their own fans and, like ice cream flavors, one wonders if anyone who has not explored each type can really appreciate the type they favor. It has existed since early on in our existence on this earth, but not all of its history is directed toward the proper and just Target it was meant to have. Like so many practices of mankind, its proper and good purpose can be distorted and twisted and abused into something much less than it was ever intended to be. Unlike those practices of mankind, however, once undertaken and properly directed, this practice transcends the mire and muck of mankind's weakness and defective nature. Once so raised, it carries us closer to our God and our true purpose and calling in this earth. Like a violin it can be done beautifully or poorly, and the difference can be heard and felt by the senses. Like a gift or talent, it can be offered as a treasured sacrifice to salve the suffering, sins, or sterility of this world, or it can be hidden, unused, selfishly stored and never released. It is prayer, and it may well be the Silent Sacrament.
Prayer as Union
If God Almighty forever reaches out to us despite our unworthy sinfulness through His Divine love, mercy, and compassion, then we, as His mere creatures, can only fully reach out to Him through the Sacraments formally and through prayer regularly. In this context prayer is a union between our unworthy status as servants of God and the Master who nevertheless accepts that service from such servants. When we pray, we create a union with God through our efforts and initiative, which is what God desires and prefers as such is the expression of our free will to love and follow Him.
Prayer as Choice
In an age where the concept of choice has been so stained with the dirt of the devil, prayer remains a great expression of that choice toward a God endlessly deserving of such a choice. Of what value is forced prayer? Conversely, how great is the value of choosing to approach the Almighty in humility, trust, love, and a desire to bond?
Prayer as Relationship
Is not a relationship an ongoing, freely entered, interaction between parties? Is this not what prayer is? Just as the value and integrity of any relationship can be measured by how consistent, dedicated, loving, caring, forgiving, sincere, and dynamic the interaction between its members is, so too prayer as a relationship with God can be so measured as well. Now God Almighty as all Perfection, all Truth, all Love, always does His part. It is up to us to follow with our side of the bargain. Prayer is one of the key ways by which we do that.
Prayer as Communication
The most popular definition of prayer is as a form of communication with a Higher Being, which we as Catholics hold to be God Almighty. Just as all relationships, all choices, and all unions require communication to survive and flourish, so too our relationship with God is nourished by prayer.
Prayer as Symbol
If we see someone handling a Rosary, we immediately assume that said person is praying and is a Catholic. Why? Because such actions and the Rosary itself are symbols of our faith. Just as the Cross is a symbol of Christ's sacrifice and love for us and a Rosary is a symbol of Mary's love and desire to protect us, so too prayer itself is a symbol of our desire to reach out to the Creator.
Prayer as Vehicle and Tool
Finally, does not prayer serve as a vehicle by which we transport our mind, our heart, and our soul to our God? It is a well-known fact that people who wake up at the same time everyday soon awaken instinctively at or near that patterned time. It is also a logical progression that the soul exists at a higher plane than the physical body. If the physical body, so vulnerable to weakness and evil, can so pattern itself at so simple a level, is it not logical that the soul, which exists at a higher plane, should likewise be able to pattern itself and naturally glide toward a predetermined target? Given this, is it then not logical that the soul that patterns itself in a habit of prayer will thus be better and better able to naturally and instinctively guide itself toward God through prayer? It may thus be said that while initial prayer is a function of the will, continued prayer becomes a vehicle of instant transport toward The Almighty. Likewise, just as a tool is used to carve and create good things, prayer too becomes an instrument to do God's Will in the spirit and words of St. Francis.
The Elements of a Sacrament
It was St. Augustine who called a Sacrament "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace" The elements of a Sacrament were thus identified as:
Sacramentum Tantum…The consecrated material sign taken in the context of a form or rite but not itself caused or signified in the rite and not remaining permanently in the subject following completion of the rite ( except perhaps in marriage with the rings). The water in Baptism and the consecrated bread and wine would be good examples of this element.
Res et Sacramentum…The symbolic reality or mystery whose presence is caused or signified by the Sacramentum Tantum and also signifies and causes (res tantum). This element remains in the subject permanently in the indelible Sacraments. In Baptism this would be the initiating seal of The Holy Spirit, and in The Eucharist this would be The Real Presence. This element creates a great problem for Protestants, as would be expected. This element is present ex opera operato (valid by virtue of being done properly).
Res Tantum…The inward and spiritual grace which is signified and caused by the res et Sacramentum but does not itself signify or cause. It remains in the subject ex opera operantes ( subject to the condition of the receiver, remaining only if there is no barrier to fruitfulness in the subject and the necessary condition to so remain, including faith). In Baptism we could cite the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the subject, and in The Eucharist we could cite the participation in the recipient in the death/resurrection of Our Lord and the benefits obtained from such participation.
Those Elements in Prayer
Does not prayer have the outward, material sign of one's actual posture, attitude, speech, and physical contemplation when in prayer? Just as the consecrated bread and wine and the water are visible for all to see in The Eucharist and in Baptism, so too is one's consecration of one's thoughts, heart, mind, and soul in prayer visible to the casual observer. Even the most private prayer compels the one praying to take on a different physical and material posture, appearance, or mindset that can at least be perceived as meditation or being "somewhere else". In fact, it can be said that even those who like to pray while doing some other activity like gardening add a different spin, a different outward projection, to that activity once prayer is involved. Perhaps the greatest illustration of this is that whether one prays while kneeling, with hands folded, and looking skyward, or while gardening, one cannot continue to do so effectively while carrying on a conversation. Likewise, this material, visible, tangible sign does not remain permanently in the subject since one takes on different postures, mindsets, and focus once prayer is completed. Even the saints, after all, actually stopped praying once in a while and did other things. Thus it is clear that this outward sign of prayer is not permanent in anyone. This visible, outward, and temporary demonstration of concentrated meditation and mental, emotional, and spiritual transport is a clear, material sign of prayer in a manner similar to the Sacramentum Tantum.
Just as the Res et Sacramentum is the bridge between the material reality of the Sacramentum Tantum and the inward spiritual grace of the Res Tantum, so too in prayer we see a symbolic reality or mystery that is caused and signified by the material act of praying and likewise causes the inward and spiritual grace of being in a greater union with God. If one prays with faith, devotion, sincerity, humility, and obedience, then there is a very real Presence of God within one's mind, heart, and soul. That presence could take the form of comfort, peace, love, acceptance, resolution, or understanding. When people speak of hearing "God's voice" within them upon praying, they could very well be talking about this "real Presence of The Lord" within them as a result of prayer. Conversely, to the extent that one prays superficially or without sincerity, that prayer becomes merely an empty symbol without true transcendence mirroring the Protestant problem with The Real Presence. In that case, then it may truly be said that prayer without faith and sincerity becomes idolatry in the sense that one ends up adoring prayer as a magic key or oneself as a meditating magician instead of surrendering completely to both the authority of God and the power of prayer itself as a tool by which to honor, obey, adore, and serve God. Simply put, prayer without faith and sincerity is empty prayer without God which becomes a god unto itself!
Finally, just as the Res Tantum is the inward and spiritual grace signified and caused by the Res et Sacramentum but not itself signifying or causing, so too in prayer we see that prayer well done creates and infuses an inward and spiritual grace of peace, acceptance, love, patience, consolation, or whatever other grace God can grant us based on the situation. Of course, this element is likewise found ex opera operantes in that these graces only remain in us to the extent that we continue to have the faith and other mental, spiritual, and emotional conditions needed to sustain and nourish such graces. Praying fervently for courage may endow one with the grace of fortitude, but such a grace will be lost if one then proceeds to live immorally and without regard for God's Will!
We thus see that prayer has all of the elements of traditional Sacraments. Of course, prayer has its own unique characteristics that set it apart those Sacraments as well. While we can pray in public or with the help of a priest, we do not need either to pray effectively. While prayer is always a special event in our day, we do not need to have a formal celebration and invite friends and family to pray, although group prayer is very powerful and desirable. We cannot give ourselves Communion, nor marry ourselves, nor confirm ourselves, nor confess our sins to ourselves, nor give ourselves the anointing of the sick, nor make ourselves priests, nor baptize ourselves, but we can pray by ourselves. Conversely, we can pray in public and make prayer as formal and celebrated as we want to, hence prayer is quite versatile. Christ told us that He is present where two or more gather in His Name, so perhaps we can argue that the more public that prayer is, the more that prayer approximates Sacramental character!
FRIDAY: Part Two - Levels of Prayer
Editor's Note: Heaven is once again under attack by those who would seek to ignore and overthrow God's majesty and authority. Gabriel Garnica, educator and attorney, submits regular insights and commentaries to remind and help guide readers toward a deeper and more assertive faith. Touching on topics and issues ranging from personal faith, doctrine, education, scripture, the media, family life, morality, and values, Gabriel's notes are music to traditional ears but unpleasant tones to those who have bought into the misguided notions so prevalent and spreading in today's Catholic world.