June 4, 2009

Christian Prayer

New friend Adore te Devote has a wonderfully honest and humble post today called Hypocrisy in Prayer. Check our her blog if you aren't already reading it. She outlines an experience that most serious Christian pray-ers have probably had, and certainly those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Her annotation of part of psalm 18 says it all:

He rewarded me because I was just, (When have I been just?)
repaid me, for my hands were clean, (My hands are filthy!)
for I have kept the way of the Lord (No, I haven't)
and have not fallen away from my God. (Yes, I have)

It's true. In praying these lines it is hard to own them. They seem to accuse the pray-er who knows that they aren't true. Rather than the bold proclamation of the psalmist, they seem to enforce upon the pray-er her sense of inadequacy and distance from God and his righteousness.

This experience demands a theological account of Christian prayer. What do Christians mean by prayer? Christian prayer is first and most completely the prayer of Christ. As Sancrosanctum concilium 83 puts it, "Christ Jesus, the high priest of the new and eternal Covenant, took our human nature and introduced into the world of our exile that hymn of praise which is sung in the heavenly places [in supernis sedibus] throughout all ages.

So, by Christian prayer we mean first and foremost the prayer of Christ. We who are Christians, then, have as our praying project to simply join ourselves to this prayer. Note the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours 6: "Prayer directed to God must be linked [conectatur oportet] with Christ, the Lord of all, the one mediator through whom alone we have access to God." This is why Christians always pray, 'through Christ our Lord;' our prayer is meant to be taken up into his.

In the end it is not us who pray at all, but the Spirit who prays within us. Thus prayer is the real fruit of our being baptized into the life of the Blessed Trinity. Just as the Spirit conceived the Word of God that He might borrow our humanity from Our Lady, so the Spirit delights to conceive the prayer of Christ in the lives of those who consent to be Christians.

So when we come to praying the psalms, for instance, the primary praying voice is not ours, but Christ's. He is the righteous one who can pray "my hands are clean' and 'I have kept the way of the Lord.' Christ can pray this prayer even thought we can't. But since Christian prayer is the prayer of Christ, the righteousness that we hold up to God in sacrifice through our prayer is not our own but Christ's. It is by his righteousness and obedience that we are saved, after all, not by our own. When we pray these lines it is His voice praying, and his perfect and eternal sacrifice in which the Father delights.

On the level of day to day spirituality, then, Christian prayer is not matter of effort but of consent. The prayer is always there, as the Holy Spirit has stretched the perfect praise of the Blessed Trinity to include our humanity in the Incarnation. We just have to permit the Spirit to pray within us, through Christ our Lord, that his prayer might take shape in our humanity as well.


Adoro said...

Thank you, Father. This makes so much sense! I've never had any real instruction in the LOH, just started praying it, picking up litte things here and there. Now I wish I'd asked these questions long ago!

Jeanne said...

How can you pack so much insight into prayer in one blog post? I just favored the other blog too. Thanks for sharing it.

Brother Charles said...

Everyone always talks about the GIRM, but the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours is really worth a read. It's usually reproduced in the first volume of Liturgy of the Hours editions, or the most up-to-date version can be ordered from the bishop's conference:


ben in denver said...

A friend of mine compare prayer to a river that we enter into that carries us along with it. I have found this to be particularly true of liturgical parayer and prayers of praise.

Brother Charles said...

Great image, Ben. It's also freedom from the tyranny of the internal river of thoughts and self-dialogue!

pennyante said...

I also have had little instruction in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I also have recently begun praying it. Thank you so much for explaining this prayer so well.

Some of the psalms that are used could be my very words. Others psalms are words I wish I could say. Others don't seem to fit into my life at all. But looking at these psalm as Christ's prayer and not mine helps me to simply be a conduit for His prayer.

Again, thanks... God bless you today and always...