The Catechism of the Catholic Church #21


January 12, 1997

Brother John Raymond


I remember the first time I rode a bicycle. I had those famous training wheels to keep me up straight. Then when I was finally ready to ride without them I believe my brother ran beside the bicycle giving me a hand when I needed it to keep it straight. The Magisterium of the Church is like the training wheels and my brother — they keep us on the straight path and help us get back on it when we stray. This is true about prayer, also. Each Liturgical Rite within the Catholic Church has a living tradition of prayer according to its historic, social and cultural context. One can speak of a language of prayer expressed in words, melodies, gestures and iconography. The Catholic Church "has the task of discerning the fidelity of these ways of praying to the tradition of apostolic faith." (CCC #2663) I remember seeing in a film some Catholics praying in Rwanda. They prayed with their whole bodies in a dance-like way. This made me realize the diversity of expressions of prayer in the Church and that she embraces all that is good in cultures. Even with diversity there are essential elements common to all the Rites — prayer addressed to the Trinity and prayer in communion with the holy Mother of God.

Considering the Trinity we first consider God the Father. Jesus came to show us the Father. We have access to the Father in the Name of Jesus. His sacred humanity points out the way to the Father. The Holy Spirit constantly recalls to us all Jesus said and did ever leading us to a deeper prayer relationship with the Father. At the time of St. Teresa of Avila (The Church's Doctor of Prayer), certain people were teaching that one could rise so high in prayer that one could discard the sacred humanity of Jesus. They thought that one did not need to consider it anymore; one had access to God directly. St. Teresa of Avila taught that one never rises so high in prayer that one can discard consideration of Our Lord's sacred humanity. She should know as she arrived at the heights of prayer.

The Church's prayer is addressed above all to the Father. Jesus came not only to redeem us but to teach us about His Father. Next time you go to Holy Mass listen closely to the prayers. Who are they addressed to? Perhaps we need to consider addressing more of our prayers to God our Heavenly Father.

Of course, the Church teaches us also to pray to the Lord Jesus. In all her liturgical traditions there are forms of prayer addressed to Christ. Certain psalms used in the Prayer of the Church and the New Testament give us prayers to Jesus in the form of invocations such as Son of God, Word of God, Lord, Savior, Lamb of God, King, Beloved Son, Son of the Virgin, Good Shepherd, etc. But the name that says it all is simply "Jesus." "To pray 'Jesus' is to invoke Him and to call Him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies." (CCC #2666) "The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always." (CCC #2668) Besides the holy name the Church's prayer venerates and honors the Heart of Jesus.

God is a Trinity of Persons. So we can't forget the Holy Spirit. "The Church invites us to call upon the Holy Spirit every day, especially at the beginning and the end of every important action." (CCC #2670) The traditional petition to the Holy Spirit is to invoke the Father through Jesus to give us the Holy Spirit. The simplest and most direct prayer "Come, Holy Spirit" is also traditional and has been developed in every liturgical tradition in their antiphons and hymns. "The Holy Spirit is the interior Master of Christian prayer. He is the artisan of the living tradition of prayer." (CCC #2672)

You'll be happy to know that I can ride a bicycle now without training wheels or my brother's help. But I couldn't have done it without them. Neither can we learn to pray correctly without the guidance of the Church!