The catechism of the Council of Trent/Part 4

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The catechism of the Council of Trent  (1829) 
by the Council of Trent, translated by James Donovan







AMONGST the duties of the pastoral office, it is one of the highest importance to the spiritual interests of the faithful, to instruct them in Christian prayer; the nature and efficacy of which must be unknown to many, if not enforced by the pious and faithful exhortations of the pastor. To this, therefore, should the care of the pastor be directed in a special manner, that the faithful may understand how and for what they are to pray.

Whatever is necessary to the performance of the duty of prayer is comprised in that divine form, which Christ our Lord vouchsafed to make known to his Apostles, and, through them and their successors, to all Christians. The sentiments which it expresses, and the words in which they are conceived, should, therefore, be so deeply impressed on the mind and memory, as to enable us to address it to God promptly and at all times. To assist the pastor, however, in teaching the faithful to pray, we have selected and set down from those writers, whose reputation for talents and learning on this head commands the highest respect, whatever appeared to us most instructive on the subject, leaving it to the pastor to draw upon the same source for further information, should he deem it necessary. [1]

In the first place, then, the pastor is to teach the necessity of prayer; a duty not only recommended by way of counsel, but of also enforced by positive precept. Our Lord himself has said: " We should pray always;" [2] and this necessity of prayer the Church declares in the prelude, if we may so call it, prefixed to the Lord's prayer in her liturgy: " Admonished by salutary precepts, and taught by divine instruction, we presume to say, Our Father, &c. Seeing, therefore, the necessity of prayer to the Christian, and at the solicitation of his disciples, " Lord teach us to pray," [3] the Son of God gave them a prescribed form of prayer, and encouraged them to hope, that the objects of their petitions would be granted. He himself was to them a model of prayer: he not only prayed assiduously, but watched whole nights in prayer. [4] The Apostles, also, did not omit to deliver precepts on the subject: on this duty St. Peter, [5] and St. John [6] are incessant in their admonitions to the faithful; and St. Paul, not unmindful of its importance, frequently admonishes us of the salutary necessity of prayer. [7] Besides, so various are our temporal and spiritual necessities, so numerous the blessings which we expect to receive, that we must have recourse to prayer as the best organ to communicate our wants, and the surest channel through which to receive whatever succour we need. Of God nothing is due to us: it is ours, therefore, to supplicate his goodness. He has constituted prayer as a necessary means for the accomplishment of our desires; and its necessity becomes still more obvious, when we reflect, that there are blessings which we cannot hope to obtain otherwise than through prayer. Holy prayer, such is its efficacy, is a most powerful means of casting out demons: this kind of demon is not cast out but by prayer and fasting." [8]

Those, therefore, who do not practise assiduous prayer, rob themselves of the means of obtaining from God gifts of singular value. To succeed in obtaining the object of your desires, not enough that you ask that which is good; your intreaties must also be assiduous: "Every one that asketh," says St. Jerome, "receiveth: if, therefore, it will not be given you, it is because you do not ask it: ask, therefore, and you shall receive. " [9]

But prayer is not only a necessary, but also, a most pleasing and salutary exercise of devotion, from which we reap an abundant harvest of spiritual fruit. On these fruits of prayer, the pastor will consult spiritual writers, and, when necessary for the instruction of the faithful, will draw copiously upon their labours. We have, however, made a selection from their accumulated treasures, which appeared to us to suit the present purpose.

The first fruit which we receive from prayer is, that by prayer we honour God; prayer is, in some sort, a proof of religion; and is compared, in Scripture, to incense: " Let my prayer," says David, " be directed as incense in thy sight." [10] By prayer we confess our subjection to God, whom we acknowledge and proclaim to be the author of all good; in whom alone we centre all our hopes; who alone is our refuge, in all dangers; and whose protecting care is the bulwark of our salvation. Of this fruit of prayer we are admonished, in these words of the Psalmist; " Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." [11]

Another most pleasing and invaluable fruit of prayer, when heard by God, is, that it opens to us heaven; " Prayer is the key of heaven," says St. Augustine; " prayer ascends, and mercy descends; high as are the heavens, and low as is the earth, God hears the voice of man." [12] Such is the utility, such the efficacy of prayer, that through it we obtain the plenitude of heavenly gifts, the guidance and aid of the Holy Spirit, the security and preservation of the faith, escape from punishment, protection under temptation, victory over the Devil; in a word, there is, in prayer, an accumulation of spiritual joy: " Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." [13]

Nor can we, for a moment, doubt that God is, at all times, ready to hear our petitions; a truth to which the sacred Scriptures bear ample testimony. As, however, the texts which go petitions. to establish it are easy of access, we shall content ourselves with citing a few from the Prophet Isaias. " Then," says he, " shalt thou call, and the Lord will hear: thou shalt cry, and he will say, here I am;" [14] and again, " It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will hear: as they are yet speaking, I will hear." [15] With regard to instances of persons, who have obtained from God the objects of their prayers, they are almost innumerable, and too much within the reach of all to require special mention.

But our prayers are sometimes unheard? True; and God then consults, in a special manner, for our interests, bestowing on us other gifts, of higher value, and in greater abundance; or withholding what we ask, because, far from being necessary or useful, its concession would prove not only superfluous, but even injurious. " God," says St. Augustine, denies some things in his mercy, which he grants in his wrath." [16] Some times, also, such is the remissness and negligence with whkrh we pray, that we ourselves do not attend to what we say. If prayer is an elevation of the soul to God, [17] and if, whilst we pray, the mind, instead of being fixed upon God, is lost in wandering distractions, and the tongue slurs over the words at random, without attention, without devotion, with what propriety can we give to such empty sounds the name of prayer? We should not, therefore, be at all surprised, if God does not comply with our requests; we who, by our negligence, and by our ignorance of the very object of our petitions, afford practical proof that we are regardless of being heard by him; or who, if we pray with attention, solicit those things, which, if granted, must be prejudicial to our eternal interests. To those who pray with devout attention, God grants more than they ask. This the Apostle declares, in his epistle to the Ephesians; [18] and the same truth is unfolded in the parable of the prodigal son, who would have deemed it a kindness to be admitted into the number of his father's servants; but who was received, by a forgiving parent, with more than a parent's fondness. [19] Nay, when we are properly disposed, God accumulates his favours on us. even when we ask them not; and this, not only with abundance, but also with a readiness, which anticipates our desires. Without waiting for their utterance, God prevents the inward and silent aspirations of the poor, according to these words of Scripture: " The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor." [20]

Another fruit of prayer is, that it exercises and augments the Christian virtues, particularly the virtue of faith. As they, who have not faith in God, cannot pray as they ought; " How can they call on him, whom they have not believed?" [21] so, the faithful, in proportion to the fervour of their prayers, possess a stronger and a more assured faith in the protecting providence of God, which requires, principally, that, in all things which we have occasion to supplicate from his bounty, we submit ourselves to his sovereign will. God, it is true, might bestow on us all things abundantly, although we asked them not, nor even thought of them, as he bestows on the irrational creation all things necessary for the support of life: but our most bountiful Father wishes to be invoked by his children; he wishes that, praying as we ought each day of our lives, we may pray with increased confidence; by acceding to our petitions, he wishes, every day, to give fresh proofs and manifestations of his parental kindness towards us.

Our charity is also augmented by prayer. Recognizing God as the author of every blessing, and the source of every good, we cling to him with the most devoted love. As those who cherish a sincere and mutual affection, become more ardently attached by frequent interviews and interchanges of sentiment, so the more frequent the aspirations which the pious soul breathes to God, and the closer the converse which she enjoys with him, by imploring his bounteous mercy, the more exquisite is the sense of delight which she experiences, and the more Fifth. ardently is she inflamed to love and adore him. He will, therefore, have us to make use of the exercise of prayer, that, burning with the desire of asking what we are anxious to obtain, we may thus make such advances in spiritual life, as to be worthy to obtain those blessings, which the soul, before dry and contracted, was incapable of receiving. [22]

Moreover, God would have us to know, and always to keep in recollection, this revealed truth, that, unassisted by his heavenly grace, we can of ourselves do nothing, and should, therefore, apply ourselves to prayer, with all the powers of our souls. The weapons which prayer supplies are most powerful against our most implacable foes: " With the cries of our prayers," says St. Hilary, " we must fight against the devil and his armed hosts." [23]

From prayer, we also derive this important advantage, that, inclining as we do, to evil, by the innate corruption of our own hearts, and to the indulgence of sensual appetite, God permits us to bring him, in a special manner, present to our minds; that, whilst we address him in prayer, and endeavour to merit his gifts and graces, we may be inspired with a love of innocence, and, by effacing our sins, be purified from every stain of guilt.

Finally, as St. Jerome observes, prayer disarms the anger of God. Hence, these words addressed to Moses, " Let me alone," [24] when Moses sought to interpose his prayer for the protection of a guilty people. Nothing is so efficacious in appeasing God, when his wrath is kindled; nothing so effectually averts his fury, when provoked; nothing so powerfully arrests his arm, when already uplifted to strike the wicked, as the prayers of the pious.

The necessity and advantages of Christian prayer being thus explained, the faithful should also know how many, and what are the parts of which it is composed. That this knowledge appertains to the perfect discharge of the duty of prayer we learn from the Apostle, when, in his Epistle to Timothy, exhorting to pious and holy prayer, he carefully enumerates the parts of which it consists: " I desire therefore first," says he, " that obsecrations, prayers, postulations and thanksgivings be made for all men." [25] Although the shades of distinction between these different parts of prayer are delicate and refined, yet the pastor, should he deem the explanation useful to his people, will consult, on the subject, the writings of St. Hilary and St. Augustine. [26] But as there are two principal parts of prayer, petition and thanksgiving, the sources, as it were, from which all the other spring, they appeared to us of too much import ance to be omitted. When we offer to God the tribute of our worship, we do so either to obtain some favour, or to return him thanks for those with which his bounty every day enriches and adorns us; and each of these God himself declares to be a necessary part of prayer: " Call upon me," says he, " in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shall glorify me." [27]

Who does not know how much we stand in need of the goodness and beneficence of God, if he but consider the extreme destitution and misery of man? Who that has eyes to see, and understanding to judge, and does not know how much the will of God inclines, and how liberal is his bounty towards us? Wherever we cast our eyes, wherever we turn our thoughts, the admirable light of the divine goodness and beneficence beams upon us. What have we that is not the gift of his bounty? If, then, all things are the gifts and favours bestowed on us by his goodness, why should not every tongue, as much as possible, celebrate the praises of God, and every heart throb with the pulsation of gratitude, for his boundless beneficence?

Of these duties of petition and thanksgiving each contains many subordinate degrees. In order, therefore, that the faithful may not only pray but also pray in the best manner, the pastor will propose to them the most perfect manner of praying, and will exhort them to it with the greatest earnestness. What, then, is the best manner and the most exalted degree of prayer? That which is made use of by the pious and the just, who, resting on the solid foundation of the true faith, rise successively from one degree of purity and of fervour in prayer to another, until, at length, they reach that height of perfection, whence they can contemplate the infinite power, beneficence, and wisdom of God; where, too, they are cheered with a bright prospect, and animated with the assured hope, of obtaining not only those blessings which engage their desires in this life, but, also those unutterable rewards, which lie beyond the confines of this world, and which God has pledged himself to grant to him who piously and religiously implores his assistance. [28] Soaring as it were to heaven on these two wings, the soul approaches, in fervent desire, the throne of the Divinity; adores with rapturous praise and thanksgiving, that Great Being from whom she has received such inestimable blessings; and, like an only child, animated with singular piety and profound veneration, lays open to her most beloved Father all her wants. This sort of prayer the Sacred Scriptures express by the words " pouring out:" "In his sight," says the prophet, " I pour out my prayer, and before him I declare my trouble;" [29] as if he had said; "From him I suppress, from him I conceal nothing, but pour out my whole soul in prayer, flying with confidence into the bosom of God, my most loving father." To this holy exercise the Sacred Scriptures exhort us in these words: " Pour out thy heart be fore him," [30] " and cast thy care upon the Lord." [31] This is that degree of prayer to which St. Augustine alludes when he says: " What faith believes, that hope and charity implore." [32]

Another degree of prayer is that of those, who, pressed down by the weight of mortal guilt, strive, however, with what is called dead faith, to raise themselves from their prostrate condition, and to ascend to God; but, in consequence of their languid state and the extreme weakness of their faith, cannot raise themselves from the earth. Impressed with a just sense of the enormity of their crimes, and stung with remorse of conscience, they bow themselves down with humility, and, far as they are removed from him, implore of God a penitential sorrow, the pardon of their sins, and the peace of reconciliation. The prayers of such persons are not rejected by God: they are graciously heard by him; nay, in his mercy, he generously invites such sinners to have recourse to him; " Come to me, all you that labour, and are heavily laden, and I will refresh you." [33] Of this class of sinners was the Publican, who, not daring to raise his eyes towards heaven, left the temple, as our Lord declares, more justified than the Pharisee. [34]

A third degree of prayer is that which is offered by those, who have not as yet been illumined with the light of faith; but who, whilst the divine goodness lights up in their souls the feeble glimmerings of the law of nature, are strongly excited to the desire and pursuit of truth, to arrive at a knowledge of which is the object of their most earnest prayers. If they persevere in such dispositions, God, in his mercy, will not neglect their earnest endeavours, as we see verified by the example of Cornelius the centurion; [35] against none who desire it sincerely are the doors of the divine mercy closed.

The last degree is that of those, who, not only impenitent but obdurate, adding crime to crime, and enormity to enormity, yet dare frequently to ask pardon of God for those sins, in which they are resolved to persevere. Under such circumstances, and with such dispositions, who would presume to ask pardon even of his fellow-man? To the prayer of such sinners God turns a deaf ear, as it is recorded in Scripture of Antiochus: " Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord, of whom he was not to obtain mercy." [36] Whoever lives in this deplorable condition should be exhorted to wean himself from all affection to sin, to turn to God in good earnest and from the heart.

As, under the head of each petition, we shall point out in its proper place, what is, and what is not a proper object of prayer, it will here suffice to admonish the faithful, in general terms, to ask of God such things as are just and good; lest, suing for what is not conformable to his known will, they may be answered in these words: " You know not what you desire." [37] Whatever it is lawful to desire, it is lawful to pray for: the promise of our Lord is unlimited: " You shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you;" [38] words which ensure all things to pious prayer.

In the first place, then, to refer every thing to God, the Supreme Good, the great object of our love, the centre of all our desires, is the principle which should regulate all our wishes. In the next place, those things which unite us most closely to God should be the objects of our most earnest desires; whilst those which would separate us from him, or occasion that separation, should have no share in them. From this principle we may learn how, after the supreme and perfect good, we are to desire and ask from God our Father those other things which are called goods. With regard to those which are called external goods, and, as it said, belong to the body, such as health, strength, beauty, riches, honours, glory, which often supply matter and give occasion to sin, and which, therefore, it is not always either pious or salutary to ask, they are not to be objects of our prayers without this limitation, that we pray for them, because necessary, at the same time, referring to God the motive of our prayer. It cannot be deemed unlawful to pray for those things for which Jacob and Solomon prayed; " If," says Jacob, " he shall give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, the Lord shall be my God;? [39] " Give me," says Solomon, " only the necessaries of life." [40] Whilst, however, we are supplied by the bounty of God with food and raiment, we should not forget the admonition of the Apostle: " Let them that buy, be as if they possessed not; and those that use this world, as if they used it not; for the figure of this world passeth away;" [41] and again, " If riches abound, set not your hearts upon them." [42] To us, therefore, belong only their use and advantage, with an obligation, how ever, as we learn from God himself, of sharing with the indigent. If we are blessed with health and strength, if we abound in other external and corporal goods, we should recollect that they are given to us in order to enable us to serve God with greater fidelity, and as the means of lending assistance to the wants and necessities of others.

But genius and the acquirements that adorn it, such as erudition and the arts, it is also lawful to pray for, provided our prayers are accompanied with this condition, that the advantages which they afford, serve to promote the glory of God, and our own salvation. That, however, which is to be absolutely and unconditionally the object of our wishes, our desires, our pray ers, is, as we have already observed, the glory of God, and, next to it, whatever can serve to unite us to that supreme good, such as faith, the fear and love of God; but of these we shall treat at large, when we come to explain the petitions of the Lord's Prayer.

The objects of prayer known, the faithful are next to be taught for whom they are pray. Prayer comprehends petition and thanksgiving; and we shall, therefore, first treat of petition. We are, then, to pray for all mankind, without exception of enemies, nation, or religion: every man, be he enemy, stranger, or infidel, is our neighbour, whom God commands us to love, and for whom, therefore, we should discharge a duty of love, which is prayer. To the discharge of this duty the Apostle exhorts when he says: "I desire that prayer be made for all men." [43] In such prayers the spiritual interests of our neighbour should hold the first, his temporal, the second place. This duty we owe to our pastors before all others, as we learn from the example of the Apostle in his Epistle to the Colossians, in which he solicits them to pray for him, " that God may open unto him a door of speech;" [44] a solicitation which he also repeats in his Epistle to the Thessalonians. [45] In the acts of the Apostles, we also read that " prayers were offered in the church without intermission for Peter." [46] St. Basil, in his " Morals," urges to a faithful compliance with this salutary obligation: " We must," says he, " pray for those who preside over the word of truth." [47] That it is incumbent on us to offer up our prayers for princes is obvious from the recorded sentiments of the same Apostle. Who does not know what a singular blessing the Commonwealth enjoys in a religious and just prince? We should, therefore, beseech God to make them such as they ought to be, fit persons to rule over those who are subject to their authority. [48]

To offer up our prayers also for the good and pious is a practice sanctioned and supported by the authority of holy men. Even the good and the pious have occasion for the prayers of others; and this is a wise dispensation of Providence, that, aware of the necessity they are under of being aided by the prayers of those who are inferior to them in sanctity, they may not be inflated with pride. Our Lord has also commanded us, " to pray for those that persecute and calumniate us;" [49] and the practice of praying for those who are not within the pale of the Church, is, as we know on the authority of St. Augustine, of Apostolic origin. [50] We pray that the faith may be made known to infidels; that idolators may be rescued from the error of their impiety; that the Jews, emerging from the darkness with which they are encompassed, may arrive at the light of truth; that heretics, returning to soundness of mind, may be instructed in the true faith; and that schismatics, connected by the bond of true charity, may be united to the communion of the Catholic Church, from which they have separated. The great efficacy of such prayers, when poured from the heart, is evinced by a variety of examples. Numerous instances occur every day in which God rescues individuals of every class which we have enumerated from the powers of darkness, and transfers them into the kingdom of his beloved Son, from vessels of wrath making them vessels of mercy; and that, in realizing so happy a consummation, the prayers of the pious have considerable influence, no one can reasonably doubt.

Prayers for the dead that they may be liberated from the fire of purgatory are of Apostolic origin; but this subject we have already treated at large, when expounding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. [51] Those who are dead in sin derive little advantage from prayers and supplications; yet it is the part of Christian charity to offer up our prayers and tears for them, in order if possible to obtain their reconciliation with God. With regard to the execrations uttered by holy men against the wicked, it is certain, from the concurrent exposition of the Fathers, that they are either prophecies of the evils which are to befall them, or denunciations against the crimes of which they are guilty, that the sinner may be saved, but sin destroyed. [52]

In the second part of prayer, which is " thanksgiving," we render most grateful thanks to God for the divine and immortal blessings which he has always bestowed, and still continues to bestow on the human race. This duty we discharge, principally, when we give singular praises to God for the victory and triumph which, aided by his goodness, the saints have achieved over their domestic and external enemies. To this sort of prayer belongs the first part of the Angelical Salutation. When we say by way of prayer: " Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women," we render to God the highest praise and return him most grateful thanks, because he accumulated all his heavenly gifts on the most Holy Virgin; and to the Virgin herself, for this her singular felicity, we present our respectful and fervent congratulations. [53] To this form of thanksgiving the church of God has wisely added prayers to, and an invocation of, the most holy Mother of God, by which we piously and humbly fly to her patronage, in order that, by interposing her intercession, she may conciliate the friendship of God to us miserable sinners, and may obtain for us those blessings which we stand in need of in this life and in the life to come. Exiled children of Eve, who dwell in this vale of tears, should we not earnestly beseech the Mother of mercy, the advocate of the faithful, to pray for us? Should we not earnestly implore her help and assistance? That she possesses exalted merits with God, and that she is most desirous to assist us by her prayers, it were wicked and impious to doubt. 3

That God is to be prayed to and his name invoked is the language of the law of nature, inscribed upon the tablet of the human heart: it is also the doctrine of revelation, in which we hear God commanding: " Call upon me in the day of trouble;" [54] and, by the word " God," are to be understood the three persons of the adorable Trinity. We must also have recourse to the intercession of the saints who are in glory. That the saints are to be prayed to is a truth so firmly established in the church of God, that the pious mind cannot experience a shadow of doubt on the subject; and as this point of Catholic faith was explained in its proper place, under a separate head, to that explanation we refer the pastor and others. To remove, however, the possibility of error on the part of the unlettered, it will be found useful to explain to the faithful the difference between the invocation of the saints, and the prayers which are offered to God.

We do not address God and the saints in the same manner; God we implore to grant us the blessings of which we stand in need, and to deliver us from the dangers to which we are exposed; but the saints, because they are the friends of God, we solicit to undertake the advocacy of our cause with him, to obtain for us, from him, all necessaries for soul and body. Hence, we make use of two different forms of prayer; to God, we properly say, " Have mercy on us," " Hear us;" but to the saints, " Pray for us." The words " Have mercy on us," we may also address to the saints, for they are most merciful; but we do so on a different principle; we beseech them to be touched with the misery of our condition, and to interpose in our behalf, their influence and intercession before the throne of God. In the performance of this duty, it is strictly incumbent on all not to transfer to creatures the right which belongs exclusively to God; and when, kneeling before the image of a saint, we repeat the Lord's Prayer, we are also to recollect, that we beg of the saint to pray with us, and to obtain for us those favours which we ask of God, in the petitions of the Lord's Prayer; in fine, that he become our interpreter and intercessor with God. That this is an office which the saints discharge, we read in the Apocalypse of John the Apostle. [55]

" Before prayer, prepare thy soul, and be not as a man that tempteth God," [56] is an admonition which has all the weight and authority of revelation. He whose conduct is in direct opposition to his prayers, who, whilst he holds familiar converse with God, suffers his mind to wander, tempts God. As, there fore, the dispositions with which we pray are of such vital importance, the pastor will teach his pious hearers how to pray. The first disposition, then, which should accompany our prayers, is an unfeigned humility of soul, an acknowledgment of our unworthiness, and a conviction that, when we approach God in prayer, our sins render us undeserving, not only of receiving a propitious hearing from him, but even of appearing in his presence. This preparation is frequently mentioned in the inspired Volume: " He hath had regard to the prayer of the humble," says David, " and he hath not despised their petition;" [57] " The prayer of him that humbleth himself," says Ecclesiasticus, " shall pierce the clouds." [58] But on a condition of such obvious importance, we abstain from citing many texts of Scripture. Two examples, however, at which we have already glanced, and which are apposite to our purpose, we shall not pass over in silence. The publican, " who, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven," [59] and the woman, a sinner, who, moved with sorrow, washed the feet of Christ our Lord, with her tears, [60] illustrate the great efficacy which Christian humility imparts to prayer.

The next disposition is a feeling of poignant sorrow, arising from the recollection of our past sins, or, at least, some sense of regret, that we do not experience that poignancy of sorrow. If the sinner bring not with him to prayer both, or, at least one of these dispositions, he cannot hope to obtain the pardon of his sins.

There are some crimes, such as violence and murder, which oppose the greatest obstacles to the efficacy of our prayers, and we must, therefore, preserve our hands unstained by outrage and cruelty: " When you stretch forth your hands," says the Lord, " I will turn away my eyes from you; and when you multiply prayer, I will not hear, for your hands are full of blood." [61] Anger and strife we should also studiously avoid: they have great influence in preventing our prayers from being heard: "I will that men pray in every place," says St. Paul, "lifting up pure hands, without anger and contention." [62] Implacable hatred for injuries received is another obstacle to the efficacy of prayer, which we cannot be too cautious in avoiding: under the influence of such feelings, it is impossible that we should obtain from God the pardon of our sins. " When you shall stand to pray," says our Lord, " forgive, if you have aught against any man;" [63] " but if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences." [64]

Insensibility and inhumanity to the poor we should also scrupulously avoid, if we hope that our prayers shall prove acceptable to God; "He that stoppeth his ear," says the book of Proverbs, " against the cry of the poor, shall also cry himself, and shall not be heard." [65] What shall we say of pride? Its hatefulness in the sight of God, we learn from these words of St. James: " God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." [66] What of the contempt of the divine oracles? " He that turneth away his ears," says Solomon, " from hearing the law his prayer shall be an abomination." [67] Here, however, we are not to understand that the humble acknowledgment of the injuries done to our neighbour, of murder, anger, insensibility to the wants of the poor, of pride, contempt of the divine oracles, in fine, of any other sin, is excluded from the objects of prayer, provided we implore pardon from God for these crimes.

Of this preparation of the soul, another essential quality is faith. Without faith, we can have no knowledge of the omnipotence or mercy of God, which are the sources of our confidence in prayer: "All things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing," says the Redeemer, " you shall receive." [68] On these words of our Lord, St. Augustine, speaking of faith, says, " without faith, it is in vain to pray." [69] Prayer, then, as we have already said, to be efficacious, must be sustained by a firm and unwavering faith, as the Apostle shows by this strong antithesis: " How shall they call on him whom they have not believed?" [70] Believe, then, we must, in order to pray, and that we be not wanting in that faith which renders prayer available. Faith it is that prays, and unwavering prayer gives strength to faith. To this effect is the exhortation of the martyr Ignatius, to those who approach the throne of God in prayer: " Be not of doubtful mind in prayer; blessed is he who hath not doubted." To obtain from God the objects of our prayers, faith, and an assured confidence, are, therefore, of the first importance, according to the admonition of St. James; " Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." [71]

There is much to inspire us with confidence in prayer. Amongst the motives to confidence, are to be numbered the beneficence and bounty of God, displayed towards us, when he commands us to call him " Father," thus giving us to under stand that we are his children; the numberless instances on record of those whose prayers have been heard; and the mediation of our chief advocate, Christ the Lord, who is ever ready to assist us: We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the just; and he is the propitiation for our sins;" [72] " Christ Jesus, that died, yea, that is risen also again, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us;" [73] "for there is one God, and one mediator of God and man, the man Christ Jesus." [74] " Wherefore, it behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high-priest before God." [75] Unworthy, then, as we are, of obtaining our requests, yet considering, and resting our claims upon, the dignity of our great Mediator and Intercessor, Jesus Christ, we should hope and trust most confidently, that, through his merits, God will grant us all that we ask in the proper spirit of prayer. Finally, the Holy Ghost is the author of our prayers; and under his guiding influence, we cannot fail to be heard. " We have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry, Abba, (Father.)" This spirit succours our infirmity, and enlightens our ignorance, in the discharge of the duty of prayer; " and," continues the Apostle, " asketh for us with unspeakable groanings." [76] Should we, then, at any time waver, not being sufficiently strong in faith, let us say, with the Apostle, " Lord increase our faith;" [77] and, with the father of the blind man mentioned in the Gospel, " Help my unbelief." [78] But what most ensures the accomplishment of our desires, is the union of faith and hope with that correspondence on our part to the will of God, which makes us regulate all our thoughts and actions, and prayers by the standard of his divine law, and the dictates of his sovereign pleasure: " If," says he, " you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you." [79] In order, however, that all our prayers may be thus graciously heard, we must, as was previously observed, first bury in oblivion all injuries, and cherish sentiments of good will and beneficence towards all men.

The manner of praying is, also, matter of the highest moment. In itself prayer, it is true, is good and salutary; yet, if not applied in a proper manner, it is unavailing: " You ask," says St. James, " and receive not; because you ask amiss. " a The pastor, therefore, will instruct the faithful in the best manner of private and public prayer, and in the rules which have been delivered on this subject, according to the discipline of Christ our Lord. We must, then, pray " in spirit and in truth;" [80] and this we do when our prayers are the aspirations of an interior and intense ardour of soul. [81] This spiritual manner of praying does not exclude the use of vocal prayer; but mental prayer, which is the outpouring of a soul inflamed with the vehemence of heavenly desires, deservedly holds the first place; and, although not uttered with the lips, is heard by Him to whom the secrets of hearts are naked and open. He heard the prayer of Anna, the mother of Samuel, of whom we read, that she prayed, shed ding many " tears and only moving her lips?" [82] Such was, also, the prayer of David, for he says: " My heart hath said to thee, my face hath sought thee;" [83] and in the perusal of the inspired Volume similar examples will frequently occur.

But vocal prayer has also its advantages, and is sometimes necessary: it quickens the attention of the mind, and kindles the fervent devotion of the heart. " We sometimes," says St. Augustine, " animate ourselves to more lively sentiments of devotion, by having recourse to words and other signs calculated to kindle the fervour of our desires; filled with pious emotion we find it impossible to restrain the current of our feelings, and accordingly we pour them out in the fervid accents of prayer; whilst the soul exults with joy, the tongue should also give utterance to that exultation." [84] Vocal prayer, as we know from numerous passages of the Acts of the Apostles, and of the Epistles of St. Paul, was used by the Apostles; and, following their example, it become us also to offer to God the entire sacrifice of soul and body. As, however, there are two sorts of vocal prayer, private and public, it is to be observed, that private prayer is employed in order to assist attention and devotion; whereas, in public prayer, instituted, as it has been, to excite the piety of the faithful, the utterance of the words is, at certain fixed times, indispensably required.

This practice of praying in spirit, a practice, too, peculiar to Christians, is unknown amongst infidels, of whom Christ our Lord has said, " When you pray, speak not much, as the heathens; for they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. Be not you, therefore, like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you before you ask him." [85] He therefore prohibits " much speaking:" but long prayers, which proceed from the eagerness of devotion, and an ardour of soul, that burns with an enduring intensity, he not only does not reject, but on the contrary, recommends by his own example. Not only did he spend whole nights in prayer, [86] but also, " prayed the third time, saying the selfsame words," [87] and the inference, therefore, to be drawn from the prohibition is, that prayers consisting of mere empty sounds are not to be addressed to God. [88]

Neither do the prayers of the hypocrite proceed from the heart; and from the imitation of their example, Christ our Lord deters us in these words: " When ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites that love to stand and pray in the synagogues, and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say, to you they have received their reward. But thou, when thou shall pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee." [89] Here the word " chamber" may be understood to mean the human heart, into which it is not enough to enter; it should also be closed against every distrac tion; and then will our Heavenly Father, who sees intuitively our most secret thoughts, hear our prayers, and grant our petitions.

Another necessary condition of prayer is importunity. The great efficacy of incessant solicitation, the Redeemer exemplifies by the conduct of the judge, who, whilst " he feared not God, nor regarded man," yet overcome by the importunity of the widow, yielded to her intreaties. [90] In our prayers to God we should, therefore, be importunate; nor are we to imitate the example of those sluggish souls, who become tired of praying, if, after having prayed once or twice, they succeed not in ob taining the object of their prayers. We should never be weary of a duty, taught us by the authority of Christ our Lord and of his Apostles; and should the mind at any time relax, we should beg of God by prayer the virtue of perseverance.

The Son of God will also have us present our prayers to the Father in his name: for, by his merits and the grace of his mediation, our prayers acquire such weight, that they are heard by our heavenly Father; "Amen, Amen, I say unto you, if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto you have not asked any thing in my name: ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." [91] " If you shall ask me any thing in my name, that will I do." [92]

in Be it ours, therefore, to emulate the fervour of holy men in prayer; and to prayer let us unite thanksgiving, imitating the example of the Apostles, who, as may be seen in the Epistles of St. Paul, always observed this salutary practice. To prayer let us unite fasting and alms-deeds. Fasting is most intimately connected with prayer: When cloyed with meat and drink, the mind is so pressed down as not to be able to raise itself to the contemplation of God, or comprehend the utility of prayer. [93] Alms-deeds have also an intimate connexion with prayer. What pretension has he to charity, who, blessed with the means of affording relief to those who depend for subsistence on the bounty of others, refuses to stretch forth the hand of mercy to a neighbour and a brother? With what countenance can he, whose heart is devoid of charity, demand assistance from the God of charity, unless he, at the same time, implore the par don of his sins, and humbly beg of God to infuse into his soul the divine virtue of charity? This triple remedy was, therefore, appointed by God to aid man in the attainment of salvation. When we offend God by sin, wrong our neighbour, or injure ourselves, we appease the wrath of God by prayer: by almsdeeds we redeem our offences against man; and by fasting we appease God, and efface from our own souls the stains of sin. Each of these remedies, it is true, is applicable to every sort of sin: they are, however, peculiarly adapted to those which we have specially mentioned.

  1. De oratione scripserunt Tertullian. Cyprian. Aug. ep. 111. ad. Probam. Chrysost. horn. 15. Cassian. lib. 9. Collat D. Thorn, in opusc. et 2. 2. q. 85. per 17. art.
  2. Luke xviii. 1.
  3. Luke xi. 1.
  4. Luke vi. 12.
  5. 1 Pet. iii. 7. et iv. 19.
  6. John iii.21,22
  7. Phil. iv. 6. 1 Thess. v. 17. 1 Tim. ii. 1.
  8. Matt. xvii. 20.
  9. Matt vii. 8. Luke xi. 10. John xvi. 23, 24. Hier. in cap. 7. Matt
  10. Ps. cxl. 2.
  11. Ps. xlix. 15.
  12. Sent. 226. de temp.
  13. John xvi. 24.
  14. Is. lviii. 9.
  15. Is. lxv. 24.
  16. Aug. init. serm. 33, de verb. Domini; item in Joan, tract. 73.
  17. De orationis definitione vid. Damascen. libr. 3. de fid. orthod. c. 24. Aug. de sermorie Domini in monte, c. 7. et sermon. 230. de tempore.
  18. Ephes. iii. 20.
  19. Luke xxv.
  20. Ps. x. 17.
  21. Rom. x. 14.
  22. Vid. Aug. epist. 121. c. 8.
  23. Hilar. in Psal. 63.
  24. Exod. xxxii. 10.
  25. i Tim. ii. 1.
  26. Hilar. in Psal. 140. ad ilia verba, "dirigatur oratio." Aug. epist. 59. ad Paulin. ante med, vid. item Cassian. Colla. 9. c. q. et seq. item D. Thorn. 2. 2. q. 83. 3 p sa i. x ij x . 15. vid. Basil, lib. Const, monast. c. 2.
  27. Psal. xlix. 15 Vid. Basil lib.
  28. Vid. D. Bernard, serm. 4. de quadrag. et in serm. de.quatuor modis orandi.- 3 P, hi. 9. < ft. liv. 23. Ench. cap vii
  29. Ps. cxli 3
  30. Ps. lxi 9
  31. Ps liv 23
  32. Ench. vii
  33. Matt. xi. 28.
  34. Luke xviii. 9. et seq.
  35. Acts x. 8.
  36. Mach. ix. 13.
  37. Matt. xx. 22.
  38. John xv. 7
  39. Gen. xxviii. 20.
  40. Prov. xxx. 8.
  41. 1 Cor. vii. 30 31.
  42. Ps. lxi. 11.
  43. 1 Tim ii. 1.
  44. Col. iv. 3.
  45. i Thess. v. 25.
  46. Acts xii. 5.
  47. Basil, lib. Moral. Reg. 56. cap. 5. item. horn. in. Isaiam.
  48. Vid. Tertull. Apol. c. 30. et ad Scap. c. 2.
  49. Matt. v. 44.
  50. Vid. Aug. Epist. 10. ad Vital. Cypr. de Oral. Dom. Item Coelestinum Papam Epist. 1, c. 11.
  51. Dionys. cap. lib. de Eccles. Hierarch. c. 6, 7. Clem. Pap. ep. 1. et lib. Constit. Apol. Tertul. de Ciron. milit. et in exhort, ad castit. et in lib. de monog. Cypr. ep. 66.
  52. Vid. Aug. de serm. Dom. in monte lib. cap. 22. et serm. 109. de temp.
  53. Aug. Serm. 18. de Sanctis. Ambr. in 1. c. Lurse. Bern. hom. 3, in " Missus est." Item. lib. 5. c. 19. Athan. in Ev. de Sancta Deipara. Aug. Serm. 2. de annunt, Nazianz. in oral, de St. Cyprian.
  54. Ps. xlix. 15.
  55. Apoc. viii. 3.
  56. Eccl. xviii. 23.
  57. Ps. ci. 18.
  58. Eccl. xxxv. 21.
  59. Luke xviii. 13.
  60. Luke vii. 37.
  61. Isa. i. 15.
  62. 1 Tim. ii. 8.
  63. Mark xi. 25.
  64. Matt. vi. 15.
  65. Prov. xxi. 13.
  66. James iv. 6. 1 Pet. v. 5
  67. Prov. xxviii. 9.
  68. Matt. xxi. 22.
  69. Epist. 10. ad Hier,
  70. Rom. x. 14,
  71. James i. 6.
  72. 1 John ii. 12.
  73. Rom. viii. 34.
  74. 1 Tim. ii. 5.
  75. Heb. ii. 17.
  76. Rom. viii. 15. 26
  77. Luke xvii. 5.
  78. Mark ix. 23.
  79. John xv. 7.
  80. John iv. 23.
  81. De hac ratione orandi in spiritu et veritate vid. Cyrill. Alex. per. 17. libros in tegros; item D. Thorn, 2. 1. quoest. 83. art. 12.
  82. 1 Kings i. 10. 13.
  83. Ps. xxvi. 8.
  84. St. Aug. ad. Probam. cap. 8, 9, 10.
  85. Matt. vi. 7, 8.
  86. Luke vi. 12.
  87. Matt. xxvi. 44.
  88. Vid. Aug. ep. 121. ad Probam. c. 9.
  89. Matt. vi. 5, 6.
  90. Luke xviii. 2, 3.
  91. John xvi. 23, 24.
  92. John xiv. 14.
  93. Vid. hac de re Aug. in Psal. 42. in fine et lib. de perfect, justitia resp. 17. item St. Leonis serm. 1. de jejunio septimi mentis. Petr. Chrys. serm. 43. Bern, in sent sententia 11.