Types, Forms and Methods of Prayer
I. TYPES OF PRAYER
Prayer is divided into types according to its predominant content. Even though the divisions between them are not hard and fast, we can distinguish the following:
1. Prayer of Praise, Blessing and Glorification
Prayer of praise directly and unselfishly acknowledges that God is God. God is extolled for who God is, not for what God does for us or gives to us.
Because God blesses, the human heart can bless in turn the One who is the source of all blessings. Blessing discovers the marvels of God’s generosity and awakens in the human being awe at such generosity.
That pattern of the prayer of glorification is very similar to that of blessing. The believer discovers the glory of God, his manifestation radiating in the world (cf. Is. 6: 3), or in special moments (cf. Ex. 24:16-17; 1 K 8:11), or in Christ (cf. 2 Co. 4:6) and responds to God in turn with actions and words glorifying God.
2. Prayer of Adoration
Adoration adds to praise and blessing the human element insofar as the person is a creature and it involves recognition of ones smallness before God. It is the act by which the whole person, body and soul, acknowledges his or her total dependence on God.
Adoration is included in the category of worship called latría, or that worship that is directed to God alone, as found in the first commandment of the Decalogue. It is worship distinctly different from veneration shown, for example, toward the saints. Their veneration is called dulía. The specific veneration of the Virgin Mary is called hyperdulía.
3. Prayer of Thanksgiving
Prayer of thanksgiving is the human being’s natural and positive reaction to God’s love. The one who prays sees that love reflected in so many things: in the redemption effected by Christ, in the gift of the Spirit, in the Church of which he or she is a member, in the motherly presence of the Virgin in his or her life, in the sacraments… Whatever one is, then, except for sin, is already a gift from God and one goes back to God with feelings of gratitude. In this sense, all joy and sorrow, every event and every need can be material for the thanksgiving that, sharing in that of Christ, should fill all of life : “In everything give thanks” (1Th. 5:18).
4. Prayer of Supplication
Prayer of supplication is expressed in many forms, the most common ones are petition and intercession.
4.1. Prayer of Petition
Through prayer of petition we show awareness of our relationship to, and dependence on, God and consciousness of our sins, limitations and needs. Therefore, we ask. The most authentic Christian prayer of petition springs from what St. Paul calls the groaning of creation, ourselves and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rm. 8:18-27).
The specific object of this type of prayer is three-fold: first, to ask God for forgiveness (cf. Lk. 18:13) which is the beginning of all just and pure prayer. Secondly, one must ask for the Kingdom to come, which in turn involves the need to welcome it and cooperate with its coming (cf. Mt. 6:10,33; Lk. 11:2,13; Ac. 6:6; 13:3. Thirdly, we can ask for some need, confident that, if we ask it in the Lord’s name, it will be granted to us (cf. Jn. 14:13).
4.2. Prayer of Intercession
Through prayer of intercession we ask for something for others rather than for ourselves (cf. Ph. 2:4). It is a prayer that knows no frontiers (cf. 1 Tm. 2:1; Rm. 10:1;12: 14) and that even extends to enemies (cf. Ac. 7:60; Lk. 23: 28,34).
5. Apostolic Prayer
Claret, since he became aware in childhood of the possibility that many people might be damned because they could not anticipate it and help themselves, felt impelled to pray and work for the salvation of others with all his strength and ability. This attitude and awareness accompanied him throughout his life.
Apostolic prayer or missionary solidarity is that which arises out of contact with people and situations in the exercise of our mission. It presupposes being aware of situations, recognizing God’s love in these situations and seeking to shed the light of God’s Word on them. It unifies one’s personal life, community life and the exercise of the apostolate. It nourishes missionary commitment under the aspect of shared mission.
II. FORMS OF PRAYER
Forms are the attributes that prayer takes on in the various people who are praying. There is a traditional schema that distinguishes three main prayer forms: vocal prayer, meditation and contemplation.
1. Vocal Prayer
This is the recitation of prayer formulas through words, spoken or unspoken, harmonizing mind and heart and making present the one who is saying them. These prayer formulas need to be well chosen: the Our Father, the Creed, and the Hail Mary are the most venerable prayers of the Church. In the beginning, scriptural and liturgical prayers must be the primary sources for vocal prayer. The Church gives special importance to the Prayer of the Hours, which must be prayed in its name. Besides these, the Church proposes the Way of the Cross, the Rosary, the Angelus, etc.
There are also those who pray through spontaneous vocal prayers, without preestablished formulas. Then vocal prayer becomes a primary form of contemplative prayer.
2. Discursive Meditation
Meditation is an extended reflection on revealed truths and the events of salvation history in order to embrace them and respond to what the Lord asks.
In order to focus one’s attention, it is good to use the aid of the Word of God, of the day’s liturgical texts, of the great book of creation and history, God’s diary for today. Meditating on what we read leads us to make it our own and to confront ourselves with it. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. Thoughts pass into reality. If one meditates with faith and humility, one discovers movements that stir up the heart and can be discerned. It is a matter of attaining enlightenment in order to be able to say: Lord, what do you want me to do?
In meditation, thoughts, imagination, emotions and desire come into play. This mobilization is necessary for deepening our faith convictions, bringing about a change of heart, strengthening our will to follow Christ and readying us for contemplation.
This name is given to the moment at which the person attains the state of gazing calmly on the presence of God. It is the time when the activities of the one who prays are simplified into one where the heart’s gaze is centered on, and united with, the Lord, contemplating Him, adoring Him and listening to Him.
In contemplation, one can also meditate, but the gaze is focused on the Lord Himself. What one desires is to be alone with Him, looking at Him lovingly, no matter what the trials and the aridity of the heart, and placing oneself in His hands.
In contemplation, what matters is not only the faith-filled gaze of the one who prays, fixed on Jesus and the mysteries of His life. Jesus also gazes on the one who gazes on Him, illumines the eyes of his or her heart and teaching him or her everything in the light of His truth and His compassion for everyone. His gaze purifies the heart. Besides gazing, contemplation is listening to the Word of God and loving silence.
III. METHODS OF PRAYER
Deep prayer develops at the center of one’s being. Depending on how the self-concept of the one who prayers, that center will vary and so will the characteristics of his or her prayer. In the West, it is centered in the head, in the Near East (biblical culture), in the heart, and in the Far East, in the abdomen or belly (the “hara” point).
There are many methods of prayer. Those tied to Western culture tend to foster a centered prayer, primarily, an orderly way of thinking and words that expresses this. It is a matter of thinking, using the intellect to conceptually delve into life, naming things more precisely and thus guiding conduct in the light of an enlightened rationality.
The methods derived from biblical culture foster a prayer made from the heart: a heart that knows how to listen more than think, and acquire the power of love, channeling it into a humble journey with one’s God.
Other methods are inspired by the Eastern tradition of meditation, fundamentally based on the deepening of consciousness through relaxation, mental and emotional silence, concentration and the overcoming of desire.
1. Prayer of Consciousness-Raising
It is basic—and fundamental to later steps—to achieve the interiorization of one’s own consciousness through prayer, i.e., making our consciousness receptive, passive (still), silent, attentive and, out of that profound and deep consciousness, knowing ourselves and the world around us.
1.1. Process of Preparation
a. The process begins with the practice of bodily relaxation. The pedagogy of prayer includes learning how to relax in order to create the possibility of integrating the body into the rhythm of prayer. We are body and spirit; therefore, we must also pray bodily. Relaxation is the silence of the body. There are many techniques for relaxation.
b. Bodily relaxation is followed by emotional serenity, quieting down our internal busy-ness. The ability to listen is one of the clearest and most basic manifestations of our receptive consciousness. Listening basically consists in paying attention. This requires silence and stillness. And the most important silence is an interior one. This has to be created by progressively quieting down everything going on inside us through emotional serenity, centering and fixing our attention on something that unifies all our inner energies.
c. Thirdly, the process requires mental recollection or continuous attentiveness (concentration). This is a basic element for deepening one’s consciousness. There are many practices for increasing continuous attentiveness. The pedagogy of concentration begins with the awakening of the desire to pray. It also involves appropriate exercises and not working to eliminate distractions but rather to integrate them into the process of prayer. Not fighting distractions is not the same thing as giving in to them. It means not being deterred by the distracting message, turning one’s attention to techniques of relaxation and concentration that we are using and continuing to pray.
The next step is becoming more aware of ourselves and our divine sonship in Christ. In order to deepen our Christian and vocational experience one needs to be conscious of:
• of our own interiority as the setting for our encounter with God;
• of the praying of the Spirit in the depths of our heart;
• of the Father’s love that the Spirit pours out into our hearts;
2. A Method of Meditation Inspired by Claret
Now we present a meditation model practiced and proposed by Claret. It is based on the Ignatian methods of meditation current in Claret’s day and tries to be a compendium of the various aspects we find in his experience and his teachings on meditation. In practice, these elements can be used spontaneously and freely and in the way mostly suited to the temperament and experience of each individual.
The traditional methodology used in Claret’s time divides the practice of meditation into 3 parts: preparation, the body of the meditation and a conclusion.
a. Creating the Internal and External Attitude Necessary for a Good Meditation:
• Assume a suitable body position;
• Relax yourself (in order to pray with a peaceful mind and heart and with interior silence);
• Be conscious of what you are going to do;
• Assume an attentive and receptive attitude.
b. Placing Yourself in the Presence of Jesus:
• With an act of faith (it is Jesus himself inviting me).
• With an act of humility, acknowledging your total dependence on God.
• Directing your attention and inner gaze on Jesus (as the model we are going to contemplate and imitate).
c. Asking for the Grace Needed for Meditation:
• Invoke the Holy Spirit in order to be anointed like Jesus to proclaim the Good News.
• Ask for help from Mary, the model and formator of apostles (to mold you into the image of her Son in the forge of her Heart).
• Ask for the intercession of the saints, especially our Father Founder, to assist and accompany you in this meditation.
2.2. The Body of the Meditation
a. Directing Your Gaze on Jesus Christ as the Model You Must Imitate:
• Observe the model you have before you by reading a passage from the Gospel.
• Consider the life and mysteries of Christ.
• Focus you attention especially on his evangelizing activity.
• Copy the model you have observed, trying to internalize what you are observing by imitating him like an artist drawing a model.
• Apply to yourself what you are contemplating about Jesus.
• Conform yourself interiorly to the model you are contemplating.
b. Penetrating the Interiority of Christ Through Loving Dialogue with Him and Listening to His Word:
• Let Christ’s feelings and attitudes penetrate you.
• Deepen your loving relationship with the Father and your dedication to people.
• Internalize the Word in order to be able to later proclaim it to others.
c. Experiencing a Deep and Transforming Communion with Jesus Christ in a Contemplative, Loving and Quiet Attitude:
• Create a contemplative attitude of complete receptivity and availability, like a photographic plate which bears the image of what it reflects.
• Allow yourself to be set on fire with love of Christ who impels you and enkindles apostolic zeal in you.
• Let the Word become incarnate in you, as in Mary, becoming an incarnate Word for others.
a. Conversations and Petitions:
• In loving dialogue with Jesus Christ ask him for the grace you need to live and put into practice everything you have observed and contemplated in the meditation.
• Moved by zeal, make present in your prayer the needs and aspirations of humankind, especially the people you are called to evangelize.
• Offer yourself again to the Father along with Christ for the salvation of the world in order to fulfill God’s plan of salvation and collaborate in the building of the Kingdom.
• Renew your missionary commitment in the concrete situation in which you find yourself.
c. Final Prayer of Thanksgiving:
• Give thanks to the Father through Jesus, as He Himself did, filled with joy, for the marvels God has worked through His disciples upon their return to the apostolic company (cf. Lk. 10:21)
• Thank the Holy Spirit, Mary and the Saints for their assistance and company during the meditation.
3. A Method of Apostolic Prayer and Missionary Solidarity
Starting with Claret’s experience, we can develop the method of apostolic prayer and of missionary solidarity in the following steps:
3.1. Step 1: We Invoke the Holy Spirit
• The animator invites a member of the community to invoke the Spirit. Only the Spirit of Jesus can create in us an authentic attitude of prayer that opens us to the mystery of God-Abba.
• This prayer may be shared by all those who share the mission (Claretians, lay people, other religious men and women).
3.2. Step 2: We Examine a Life Event
• The members of the community choose some meaningful event from their missionary life. It may be an event related to a person, to a community within the Church or to the Church in general, or to the world. What is important is that it is a specific, desirable event that impacts the community’s life and mission.
• For a brief period, each member of the community writes about the chosen event from his own perspective. The object is to bring to prayer all the data that aid in getting in touch with that event.
• When the animator indicates, everyone briefly shares what he has written. Various symbols of the event (such as photos, articles, etc.) may also be used.
3.3. Step 3: We Listen to God’s Word
• The members of the community suggest one or more biblical texts that can shed light on the event described.
• Once the text is selected, the animator asks someone form the community to read it aloud.
• After listening to the text, the community remains silent for a time. This silence prepares us to share what the Word suggests to us.
3.4. Step 4: We Share the Light of the Word
• The participants share what the Word has suggested to them and the enlightenment they have found to shed light on the experience analyzed from a faith perspective.
• The object is not to provoke an animated discussion but to discern together what the Lord wants to gives us in order to discern His presence in that event.
3.5. Step 5: We Thank God for the Signs of His Presence
• The animator invites everyone to praise God and give God thanks for the concrete signs of His presence that have been discovered in the situation presented.
• Every situation, no matter how negative it may appear, always conceals a glimmer of God’s love. When the missionary fails to see this trace of God, he runs the risk of being pessimistic or of believing that he controls everything.
3.6. Step 6: We Intercede Before God for People and Situations
• After praise and thanksgiving comes intercession. The community presents to the Lord the needs of the people involved in the event that has been the focus of prayer.
• It is recommended that the pattern “For…that” be avoided. A simple presentation is enough. The Lord knows what each person needs before we ask.
3.7. Step 7: We Commit Ourselves as Missionaries
• When something has become clear in the course of prayer, the community formulates a commitment related to the situation prayed over.
• If there is no clarity, it better not to invent artificial commitments that do not respond to a true missionary zeal.
An abbreviated form of this method, without explicit reference to the Word of God, consists in arousing three basic attitudes:
• Openness to people’s needs. Raising consciousness, entering into communion with the needs of people.
• Com-passion. Suffering with the people, making our own their sufferings and hopes, their sorrows and joys, their struggles and conquests. To be aware is not only to know, but also to experience and share.
• Prophetic commitment. To put into practice what we have experienced in prayer. Thus this type of prayer and solidarity is strengthened.
Although during novitiate apostolic activities and contacts with people are more limited than in other stages of formation, the novitiate year is a unique opportunity for the novice to create these interior attitudes. They will allow him to later live the apostolic and prophetic commitment more fully.
 While the type of prayer is something generic that easily suits all those who pray, the form or manner is something more specific and personal and, therefore, no for is appropriate for everyone (it depends on different temperaments, times and places, and the spiritual situation one is currently in, etc.).
 External acts of adoration of God differ according to different cultures: kneeling, prostration, bowing the head, kissing the ground, dancing, raising the hands, etc. The important thing is that they express an inner attitude that seeks to “adore God in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24).
 In relation to this type of prayer there is an important datum to take into account: intercession is present in Christ (cf. Rm. 8:34; 1 Jn. 2:1; 1 Tm. 2:5-8; Hb. 7:27) and in the Church (cf. Ac. 12:5; 20:36; 21:5); and the prayer of the Christian, under the influence of the Spirit, who “intercedes for us” (Rm. 8:26-27), is the prayer of a son or daughter in the Son (“who always lives to make intercession” Hb. 7:25), in the intercessory Church.
 Inner silence is very arduous and difficult to achieve due to the many external stimuli that distract us, which we are always thinking about and which our imagination and emotions use to keep us constantly unfocussed. Thus distractions exist and the ability to pay attention is weak. The practice of listening to sounds with a passive, receptive attitude may be very powerful and effective for fostering our ability to pay attention and deepening our receptive consciousness.
 A variation of this method of consciousness-raising is that of attentive and receptive listening to the messages we become conscious of in the Word. It is not focused, like the one presented here, on one’s own self-awareness. After performing the preparation described here and reading a passage from the Word of God, the body of the prayer consists in not thinking, remaining silent and receptive in order to receive into one’s consciousness message or impulses for action (enlightenment, intuitions, spiritual hearing of brief messages, contact with the transcendent, etc.).