In discussions of prayer, a controversial issue is whether generalized or specific prayer is preferred. While some would argue that generalized prayer is alright in almost any circumstance, others contend that specific prayer is most needed. This is not to say that one type of prayer is worse than the other. Certain prayers handed down through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and History are extremely relevant in today’s age.
Of course some might object that prayer is prayer, no matter what you pray. Although I concede that prayer is good everywhere and in every situation, I still maintain that specific prayers handed down are what is required. For example, the “Lord’s Prayer” or “Our Father” was given to us by Christ Himself, as found in Scripture. Another example would be the “Hail Mary” or Ave Maria, formed by Scripture and in light of Tradition. Furthermore, another example is the Rosary, which is an integral part of Christian History.
Many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant alike, assume that vocal prayer is equal to mental prayer. On the one hand, vocal prayer has a certain ambience to it, allowing you to profess your Christian belief in God. On the other hand, mental prayer allows a certain “silent speak” to the Lord God, in where you pray in the most secret and intimate parts of your mind and heart.
For the author of biased articles on prayer, they contradict themselves. They contradict themselves in the fact that they are limited and closeminded to other people’s ideas on prayer, preferring their own. At the same time that they argue their biased opinion, they also imply ignorance and subtle strife within their daily prayer life. I agree that opinions on prayer should be stated.
This is not to say that opinions are bad, but the point I’m trying to make is when an author includes negativity about the style of prayer. Take the fights about Vatican II for example. The council itself was a type of universal prayer to the church, one that was answered and continues to be answered. Each Church council is a prayer within a prayer, one that should never be squandered or misinterpreted because of dislike for certain parts of it.
One may argue that praying in front of people is “being seen by others”, and I agree on part of this because you have to have the right intention when praying, or it becomes vanity. Their argument that vocal and public prayer is showing off is supported by new research showing the different beliefs of Christians about prayer. “92% say there is a God and 83% say this God answers prayers.” (1)
Logically concluded, you could assume that some of these people praying are trying to be seen by others. A specific rationale is if one person is being seen in prayer, they will thus lead others to pray as well. There are so many motives, but one thing is clear: you should never pray to be seen, but to see yourself humbled in the revealing light of God.
Another may claim that certain gestures are not needed during prayer, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I agree that being in the moment while praying, you may forget to do certain movements and this is okay. You may also do other actions spontaneously, which is also okay. On the other hand, I still insist that certain traditional and beautiful movements, like the Sign of the Cross or the Thrice Chest Strike during the Confiteor, give light and significance to one’s words. Actions speak louder than words, so why not have holy actions lead us to the Divine Word, Jesus Christ.
In recent discussions of prayer, a controversial issue has been whether a right mindset is needed. On the one hand, some argue that letting your mind free can draw you closer to the Lord. From this perspective, one could see that letting the mind free could possibly set your mind to be more open to Him.
On the other hand, however, others argue that focusing your mind using sacramental and traditional prayer formulas is most pleasing to God. In the words of St. Anthony of Padua, “the life of the body is the soul; the life of the soul is God.” (2) According to this view, using the body to express the soul’s joy in the reflections of the mind is what draws the Holy Spirit into the Soul.
In sum, then, the issue is whether the right intention is needed or the which prayer draws us closer to God. My own view is that both are needed: right intention and certain prayers. Though I concede that freedom of the mind is necessary to discover hidden truths, I still maintain that structure and formula is needed to keep the mind from going off into tangents and temptations of neglect.
For example, in St. Louis de Montfort’s “Hymn No. 30, 3rd Stanza”, this beloved servant of the Lord says, “In the Blessed Sacrament God loves us so tenderly, He empties Himself completely.” (3) So we should follow the example of Christ and empty ourselves completely to love so tenderly. This means emptying our vices, our pains, our weakness to Christ on the Cross. This also means we should give all our strife, all our suffering, all our temptations to the Lord on His Road to Calvary. He was willing to bear them then, He is willing to bear them now, once and forever in the Paschal Mystery.
Although some might object that we shouldn’t subject ourselves to suffering that we do not deserve, I would reply that in choosing sin, you turn away from Him. Suffering is the primary way we can relate to Him and His greatest moment. The issue of right mindset versus right formula is important because it brings up the very issue of uniting our sufferings to Christ on the Road to Calvary, the Way of the Cross, the Bridge to Salvation.