What is Prayer? All those who serve on the altar, indeed all Christians, should have an active prayer life. Prayer is a gift from God that we need to return to Him. St. John Damascene describes prayer in the following way, "Prayer is raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." For St. Therese, prayer "is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy."
The Catholic Catechism tells us that, "Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man." (CCC 2564)
Prayer can be personal or communal. Jesus often prayed in solitude; "Rising very early before dawn,he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed" (Mk 1:35); "And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray" (Mk 6:46); "but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray" (Lk 5:16). In Matt 6:6, Jesus tells us, "But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
Jesus encouraged communal prayer when he told his disciples, "Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt 18:20). Jesus used communal prayer when he taught his disciples the Lord's Prayer (Lk 11:1-4).
Where can I pray? Everywhere! At work, at home, in the car, in a hotel, at a restaurant, outdoors, etc... The most sacred places to pray are at Mass and during Eucharistic adoration. It is at the Holy Mass where we experience the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic species and join our prayers together as a Christian community. Eucharistic exposition can either be done with others or individually. Spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament is strongly encouraged. It is here that we can spend personal time with Jesus and allow him to enter our hearts without the usual daily distractions.
For Personal Prayer, "this can be a 'prayer corner' with the Sacred Scriptures and icons, in order to be there, in secret, before our Father. In a Christian family, this kind of little oratory fosters prayer in common" (CCC #2691). Try and have a specific location in your home where you can meditate in prayer. Make prayer a necessary part of your day.
Vacations and other trips can be special opportunities to seek new locations to pray. Local churches and shrines can be sought out before embarking on a trip. They can in incorporated into the travel plans or indeed the travel plans can revolve around them. Pilgrimages to such sites are a great way to nourish oneself and dedicate oneself to prayer.
What do I pray? There are many formal words given to us by the church, Saints, and other holy people. All of these are good and can be used to deepen our relationship with God. Often people find a Saint with whom they feel a strong devotion. Most saints have specific prayers. There may be a particular presentation of Our Blessed Mother that is appealing. Our Blessed Mother of Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima are particularly popular devotions with many useful prayers.
In the new testament, Jesus gave us many examples of prayer. When the disciples asked "Lord, teach us to pray" Jesus taught them the Lord's Prayer (Lk 11:1-4). Jesus also taught us how to praise His Father in Mt 11:25-27 and Lk 10:21-23. Before raising Lazarus, Jesus said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me" (Jn 11:41-42). Jesus's longest prayer is referred to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus and is found in John 17. In this prayer, Jesus glorifies God; prays for his apostles to be protected and consecrated; and then prays to the Father for all individuals.
Spontaneous prayer is having a general conversation with God about what's on your mind. Whenever we thank and praise God; and ask Him for help, he is always listening. Jesus tells us not to babble...we still must prepare our heart and mind to enter into prayer.
When should I pray? The official prayer of the church is the Liturgy of the Hours. This is also called the Roman Breviary or Divine Office. This is a set of daily prayers done at regular times of the day. A daily rhythm of prayer is performed that helps sanctify each day. All priests and religious persons are required to pray this daily. The laity are also encouraged to pray these daily prayers. Acolytes and any one else who serves on the altar are strongly encouraged to pray these daily prayers. Click Liturgy of Hours for more information.
The hour of Jesus's death was 3:00 pm. Each day, pause at 3:00 pm and offer a prayer to Jesus to remember his passion, death, and resurrection. This can be the Divine Chaplet or the 3:00 prayer.
Other times to pray would be before meals, before important decisions, during times of indecision or difficulty, and during times of joy and celebration.