A people of prayer

I’ve noticed two blog topics that keep being raised by atheists on Catholic sites – and (at least in my view) constantly misrepresented and misinterpreted. One is miracles (about which, more another time). The other is prayer.

I’ve been in several conversations recently, and it became obvious fairly early on that those I was talking to thought prayer was a matter of asking for things.

In the minds of the atheists I’ve been talking to, the two seem to be linked. They think prayer is a matter of asking for miracles; the absence of an overt and obvious miracle means the prayer didn’t ‘work’.

This kind of ‘our Santa Claus who art in Heaven’ thinking denotes a primitive view of divinity that would do the average Aztec or Babylonian proud. The god it envisages needs to be cajoled, flattered, and bribed into giving sweeties to his followers. In the conversations I’ve had, it has taken the theists involved a while to comprehend the gulf between their view of prayer and that held by the atheists. It gave the debate the kind of unevenness to be expected when one player thinks the game is tennis and the other thinks it is cricket.

So let me start by stating that I see prayer as a conversation between me and God. A conversation does not consist of one party giving the other a shopping list of requests.  I thought it could be interesting to talk about the different types of prayer, and give examples from my own experience of common prayers that fit the types. These categories are not exclusive – they overlap and merge – but they are sufficiently different to be worth talking about individually. Can you think of any more? Let me know:

  • intercessory
  • petitionary
  • offertory
  • thanksgiving
  • worship
  • listening
  • transcendant
  • verbal
  • active
  • contemplative
  • meditative.

That should keep me busy for a few posts.

(This post first appeared in July on joyfulpapist.wordpress.com.)

About joyfulpapist

JoyfulPapist is an adult convert to Catholicism, with a passion for her God, her faith, and her church.
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13 Responses to A people of prayer

  1. annem040359 says:

    Silent prayer and also prayer using the Holy Bible or Scripture.


  2. toadspittle says:


    Fascinating post.

    For my poor self, I suspect the world’s most frequently prayed prayer goes something very much like this:

    “Oh God, please get me out of this bloody mess. If you do, I swear I will never do such a stupid thing again, as long as I live.”

    At least, it’s my old standby.

    And I await, agog, the miracle denouement.
    And how about an episode on your thoughts about hearing voices telling one to do various things?
    Benedict, on D****n, used to hear them.
    Presumably, he got one telling him not to go onto CP&S.

    Shame. I enjoyed him. He was Marie Elena in drag, it seems.


  3. golden chersonnese says:

    Just a question, joyful.

    Is the pic from Japan?


  4. joyfulpapist says:

    Thanks, Anne. I’ll make sure to address those.

    Golden Chersonnese, it is just a generic pic that seemed to be free of copyright and privacy issues.


  5. golden chersonnese says:

    Oh right, joyful.

    My sense it is Japan or Korea.


  6. Shakin' Lightshade says:

    God is too busy to do our jobs for us.

    My Dad told me that.


  7. golden chersonnese says:

    Gosh, it would be nice to see a burrito once in a while.


  8. toadspittle says:

    Intelligence clearly runs in the family, Mr. Lightshade.


  9. kathleen says:

    Penitential prayer could be another one perhaps? Prayer asking God for forgiveness for our sins, offenses and indifference.


  10. kathleen says:

    Before going to bed to try to sleep off an annoying summer cold, I just want to share this true conversion story I read some time ago……

    She was a Russian who had grown up in the atheistic Soviet Union who went to yoga classes. She was depressed, disillusioned, unhappy; until someone had suggested this idea and she decided to give it a try. As the first step for yoga was to get the pupils to relax, the teacher made use of repetitive “mantras”. One of them happened to be the opening line of the Our Father! Day after day the line was repeated, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven”……. until one day, and completely unexpectedly, grace touched her heart and a belief that there really was a Father in Heaven started to awake in her. From then on she decided to find out more about this unknown Father! Her story then goes onto describe the long, dangerous and difficult journey her search took to christianity. And her subsequent peace and joy.

    And all through the power of a prayer; which wasn’t a prayer…… at first!


  11. toadspittle says:

    golden chersonnese says

    Gosh, it would be nice to see a burrito once in a while.

    Couldn’t agree more Golden. But a little green man called Yoda, from the planet Omvent, seems to think he’s in jail for murder.

    It all sounds a bit far-fetched to me, too, but Burro is known to be keen on a little physical violence at times, as we all know…

    (I’m off to bed, making sure the doors are all locked tight!)


  12. Irenaeus of New York says:

    St Thomas Aquinas on Prayer –


    Whether the Parts of Prayer Are Fittingly Described As Supplications, Prayers, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings?

    Objection 1: It would seem that the parts of prayer are unfittingly described as supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. Supplication would seem to be a kind of adjuration. Yet, according to Origen (Super Matth. Tract. xxxv), “a man who wishes to live according to the gospel need not adjure another, for if it be unlawful to swear, it is also unlawful to adjure.” Therefore supplication is unfittingly reckoned a part of prayer.

    Obj. 2: Further, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. iii, 24), “to pray is to ask becoming things of God.” Therefore it is unfitting to distinguish “prayers” from “intercessions.”

    Obj. 3: Further, thanksgivings regard the past, while the others regard the future. But the past precedes the future. Therefore thanksgivings are unfittingly placed after the others.

    On the contrary, suffices the authority of the Apostle (1 Tim. 2:1).

    I answer that, Three conditions are requisite for prayer. First, that the person who prays should approach God Whom he prays: this is signified in the word “prayer,” because prayer is “the raising up of one’s mind to God.” The second is that there should be a petition, and this is signified in the word “intercession.” In this case sometimes one asks for something definite, and then some say it is “intercession” properly so called, or we may ask for some thing indefinitely, for instance to be helped by God, or we may simply indicate a fact, as in John 11:3, “Behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick,” and then they call it “insinuation.” The third condition is the reason for impetrating what we ask for: and this either on the part of God, or on the part of the person who asks. The reason of impetration on the part of God is His sanctity, on account of which we ask to be heard, according to Dan. 9:17, 18, “For Thy own sake, incline, O God, Thy ear”; and to this pertains “supplication” (obsecratio) which means a pleading through sacred things, as when we say, “Through Thy nativity, deliver us, O Lord.” The reason for impetration on the part of the person who asks is “thanksgiving”; since “through giving thanks for benefits received we merit to receive yet greater benefits,” as we say in the collect [*Ember Friday in September and Postcommunion of the common of a Confessor Bishop]. Hence a gloss on 1 Tim. 2:1 says that “in the Mass, the consecration is preceded by supplication,” in which certain sacred things are called to mind; that “prayers are in the consecration itself,” in which especially the mind should be raised up to God; and that “intercessions are in the petitions that follow, and thanksgivings at the end.”

    We may notice these four things in several of the Church’s collects. Thus in the collect of Trinity Sunday the words, “Almighty eternal God” belong to the offering up of prayer to God; the words, “Who hast given to Thy servants,” etc. belong to thanksgiving; the words, “grant, we beseech Thee,” belong to intercession; and the words at the end, “Through Our Lord,” etc. belong to supplication.

    In the Conferences of the Fathers (ix, cap. 11, seqq.) we read: “Supplication is bewailing one’s sins; prayer is vowing something to God; intercession is praying for others; thanksgiving is offered by the mind to God in ineffable ecstasy.” The first explanation, however, is the better.

    Reply Obj. 1: “Supplication” is an adjuration not for the purpose of compelling, for this is forbidden, but in order to implore mercy.

    Reply Obj. 2: “Prayer” in the general sense includes all the things mentioned here; but when distinguished from the others it denotes properly the ascent to God.

    Reply Obj. 3: Among things that are diverse the past precedes the future; but the one and same thing is future before it is past. Hence thanksgiving for other benefits precedes intercession: but one and the same benefit is first sought, and finally, when it has been received, we give thanks for it. Intercession is preceded by prayer whereby we approach Him of Whom we ask: and prayer is preceded by supplication, whereby through the consideration of God’s goodness we dare approach Him.


  13. Pingback: Praying for ourselves; praying for others | Catholicism Pure and Simple

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