Prayer has a twofold end: worship and petition. The prayer of worship can be divided into three distinct sentiments that are offered to God, adoration, thanksgiving and reparation, while the prayer of petition is principally a request for the effective operation of God’s Grace. Therefore, even petition is an act of confidence in Him and can be viewed as a form of homage to a loving God Who hears His creatures and pours His Grace upon them.
Prayer further can be distinguished by its form: mental, vocal, private or public. Mental prayer has no outward expression but is a silent conversation of the soul with God. All interior acts that tend to unite us with God can be considered mental prayer. This includes, recollection, consideration, reasoning, self-examination, loving thoughts of God, contemplation or a simple longing of the heart for God. These acts deepen our convictions, exercise our virtue and train us for our heavenly life: the eternal, loving contemplation of God. (See Chapter V, Sect. IV of Tanquerey’s, The Spiritual Life)
Vocal prayer expresses itself in word and in act stimulating devotion by the very sound of the words or the use of pious gestures. Therefore, we are called to be serious, attentive, and pious in the recitation of our prayers and the use of prayerful gestures; genuflection, kneeling, bowing, etc. One must be constantly aware of Who it is that this conversation is between. Further, such attentiveness helps our neighbors, who become more devout when exposed to people who are especially devout in their prayer. Therefore, devout and pious prayer is contagious; an act that reinforces one another’s faith and confidence.
As mentioned earlier, vocal prayer can be either private or public according to whether it is offered by an individual or by a group of individuals. “The prayers of the many cannot go unheeded when they unite in one.” __ St. Thomas’s commentary on Matthew 18:20. It is for this reason that we are urged to join in common prayer frequently and why the Church calls us together for Holy Mass and other religious liturgies every day of the week. The Church has always recommended our participation in Her daily prayer to God for Her people. Even so, a priest is urged to say Holy Mass even though the faithful cannot be present. Even so, this prayer is offered for all the people. Further, priests and religious recite daily the Divine Office, often in private, but always for the entire Church. We too are urged to join this prayer of the Church privately or publicly with a prayer group.
We are prodded to practice all types of prayer on a continuing basis: to offer God our homage and thanks, to make amends for our sins, and to ask for help with our special needs. We are invited to make our prayers mentally throughout our waking day and to join our voices and gestures to public acts of worship whenever possible. The purpose of our prayer life should reflect the reality which St. John the Baptist declared so aptly in John 3:30, “He must increase: but I must decrease.” For prayer is the soul’s preparation on Earth for our life with God in Heaven: a focus necessary to our eventual realization that God is All in all and we are merely unprofitable servants in dire need of His Divine Mercy.