Catechesis on prayer 30. Vocal prayer

Prayer is dialogue with God.  And knowing that the divine Word became flesh, we also give our prayer “flesh” by using words, invocations, hymns, and poetry to embody our deepest thoughts, emotions and experiences.

Vocal prayer is an essential part of the Christian life, a sure way of prayer, allowing us to express feelings and turn to God through words even when the “prayer of the heart” feels absent or difficult. The Psalms are a great example of this, as nothing human is excluded or censored from prayer: we can bring all we are feeling and experiencing to the light by giving it voice.  The Psalmist gives us the words to bring our joys, fears, hopes and needs to God and to share with him every aspect of our lives.

Mental prayer and meditation are valuable, and praying does not require a multiplication of words, yet we should not disregard the power of simple, vocal prayer. The Pope cautions against “the pride of scorning vocal prayer” because “the prayer of the simple” is the way Jesus taught us. Reciting traditional prayers like the Our Father can reawaken our connection to God and channel difficult emotions in a healthy way.  As the Pope states, “Vocal prayer is an essential element of the Christian life. To his disciples, drawn by their Master’s silent prayer, Jesus teaches a vocal prayer, the Our Father.”

The Pope gives the example of the persevering “Russian pilgrim” who persistently repeated the simple Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord, have mercy on us, sinners!” This humble, vocal prayer ultimately brought him profound spiritual graces. As the Pope describes, “If his life received graces, if prayer became so warm one day as to perceive the presence of the Kingdom among us, if his gaze was transformed until it became like that of a child, it is because he insisted on reciting a simple Christian exclamation.”

Vocal prayer is powerful because it engages us fully through words and the body. The Pope compares it to “manual labor” – something concrete that anchors us during spiritual aridity. While feelings are fleeting, “the prayer of the lips that is whispered or recited together, is always accessible, and is as necessary as manual labor.”

You are invited to meditate on Matt 6:5-15, Jesus teaching on prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

The prayer of the heart and the prayer of our lips can never be separated. As the Catechism tells us, “vocal prayer is an essential element of the Christian life” (No. 2701). Through our spoken or chanted prayer, alone or in common, we find the words that enable us to grow daily in our relationship with God. Prayer thus quietly becomes an essential part of our lives, like the air we breathe.

Read Pope Francis’ Catechesis on prayer – 30. The vocal prayer