There are levels of prayer. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange defines prayer:

‘Prayer is an elevation of the soul to God, by which we temporally will that, which God eternally wills for us to seek from Him – namely, the various means of salvation, and chiefly progress in charity.’

First, nothing in the above definition requires us to pray in words; prayer is an elevation of the soul that seeks conformity with God’s will. The Curé of Ars gave the example of a French peasant, whom he often observed gazing intently at the Eucharist, without moving or mouthing any words, for long periods of time. The Curé asked him what prayers or thoughts he composed to God at this time. ‘Oh, I don’t say anything; I just look at Him, and He looks at me.’

The chief end of man is the Beatific Vision—the gaze into the Infinite God, penetrating ever deeper into layers of beauty and perfection that can never cease to build one upon another. Thus, the simple gaze of the soul upon God is already a temporal conformity of the will with the eternal end God wills for us. Lagrange comments:

‘This is that interior prayer which was so often the prayer of the Christians of the catacombs and of all the Saints, long before modern treatises on meditation.’

He goes on to explain that, for beginners, sometimes formulated prayers are helpful and even necessary – indeed, our Lord gave the Our Father – because they help to focus a mind that may otherwise wander without words, and because they form the soul in the proper attitude and content of prayer. But if we allow formal and rote prayers to become long-winded, complex, etc., the simplicity of good prayer can often be lost.

The Latin rite of the Church, especially, has tried to keep prayer simple, concise, and penetrating; it had a proverb: brevis oratio caelum penetrat – ‘a short prayer pierces heaven.’

Holy Tradition encourages the custom of meditating on these concise prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer; this way, whenever one prays them, all the fruits of our rumination upon the prayer can be recalled in the brief time it takes to say them. For example, saying the Lord’s Prayer will evoke a rich panoply of sublime truths, if one says it after internalising the fruits of such a meditation as this one.

Second, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s definition upholds the sovereignty of God. Many people wonder what the point of prayer is. Are we really going to change God’s mind? Does He alter His perfect will and grant us what we want, instead, if we ask this of Him?
Of course not.

Two things are clear, here: first, the point of prayer is not to ask for any old thing we want. God has willed, that many of the things He wills shall come about through secondary causes such as our prayers. In our prayers, we strive to conform to His will. We will for ‘the means of salvation’ – for ourselves our family and our community.

Br. Aurelius Moner

This article can be found in Mirror 0217.