Modes of prayer

A conversation with God

In the last few posts on prayer, I’ve been talking about topics of prayer – loosely grouped as thanksgiving, petition, worship, and offering.

Now I’d like to talk about modes of prayer.I don’t mean by ‘modes of prayer’ how we pray – prayer can be public or private, in a group or alone, spoken, silent or sung. All these ways of praying are part of the devotional lives of Catholics.

So, for that matter, are the modes of prayer I’m thinking of: verbal, active, meditative, contemplative.

Of these, the one non-believers are most familiar with is verbal prayer – prayer in which the substance of the prayer is verbalised (either out loud or silently). Many songs and hymns we sing are verbal prayer. Most of us have memorised a number of popular prayers that express what we want to say at any given time. And, of course, we make our own prayers, talking to God about whatever is on our minds, and listening for his response.

Public prayer is often (though not always) verbal – the priest or deacon and the congregation repeat prayers and responses that offer to, thank, worship or petition God, with pauses at strategic points for the assembly to listen.

An Act for God

People prayingMost prayer traditions have a number of acts associated with prayer – kneeling, putting the hands together or up in the air.

Catholic tradition is particularly rich in these prayers of the body. The sign of the cross is one such prayer – tracing a cross in the air or on one’s body, often while saying the words ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’.

This is a very ancient practice, dating back to the beginnings of the Church, and with its roots in the Old Testament. St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (d. A.D. 386) said:

Let us, therefore, not be ashamed of the Cross of Christ; but though another hide it, do thou openly seal it upon thy forehead, that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away. Make then this sign at eating and drinking, at sitting, at lying down, at rising up, at speaking, at walking: in a word, at every act.

The sign of the cross is a mini-Creed – we proclaim the Trinity in our words, and trace an empty cross – the sign of the Resurrection. We state in our actions that we believe in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and in Jesus risen from the dead.

A friend of mine points out that in the Latin-rite church we point to our head when we say in the name of the Father, acknowledging that He is Head of Creation, to our heart when we proclaim the name of our beloved Jesus, and to our arms when we speak of the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to do the work of God in the world with those same arms.

At the reading of the gospel, we trace three small crosses – one on the forehead (asking God to bless our understanding), one on our mouth (asking God to bless our spreading of the good News), and one on our heart (asking God to bless and increase our devotion to Him).

Lighting a candleThere are many other devotional practices that involve actions – lighting candles, wearing a scapular, genuflecting before the Tabernacle. (Some of them, like the Rosary, more properly sit in the ‘meditative prayer’ mode.) Then there is the broader meaning of prayer as action – but that’s for another post.

This post is part of a series originally written for

The previous post in this prayer series, which includes a list of all posts so far, was posted on Catholicism Pure and Simple on 14 October 2010.


About joyfulpapist

JoyfulPapist is an adult convert to Catholicism, with a passion for her God, her faith, and her church.
This entry was posted in Catholic Prayers, Living Catholic lives and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Modes of prayer

  1. Bejoy Chakco says:

    My name is Bejoy Chacko and i am working with a ministry of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade fo Christ) in Orlando, Florida. We are in the process of developing a training manual for a course on the topic of Prayer and found this interesting picture on this website (with the paragraph An Act for God). We would like to use this image on the material that i just mentioned ablve.
    Would you please give us the permission to use it or direct us to the legal source of this image?
    Bejoy Chacko


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