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The Basic Values of the Catholic Church

What Is Prayer?

Prayer is a form of communication, a way of talking to God or to the saints. Prayer may be formal or informal. While formal prayer is an important element of Christian worship, prayer itself is not synonymous with worship or adoration.

The Origin of the Term

The word pray is first found in Middle English, meaning to "ask earnestly." It comes from the Old French preier, which is derived from the Latin word precari, which simply means to entreat or ask. In fact, although pray is not often used this way anymore, it can simply mean “please,” as in “pray continue your story.”

Talking to God

While we often think of prayer primarily as asking God for something, prayer, properly understood, is a conversation with God or with the saints. Just as we cannot hold a conversation with another person unless he can hear us, the very act of praying is an implicit recognition of the presence of God or the saints here with us. And in praying, we strengthen that recognition of the presence of God, which draws us closer to Him. That is why the Church recommends that we pray frequently and make prayer an important part of our daily lives.

Talking With the Saints

Many people (Catholics included) find it odd to speak of "praying to the saints." But if we understand what prayer truly means, we should recognize that there is no problem with this phrase. The trouble is that many Christians confuse prayer with worship, and they understand quite rightly that worship belongs to God alone, and not to the saints. But while Christian worship always includes prayer, and many prayers are written as a form of worship, not all prayer is worship. Indeed, prayers of adoration or worship are only one of the five types of prayer.

How Should I Pray?

How one prays depends on the purpose of one's prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in discussing the five types of prayer in paragraphs 2626 through 2643, provides examples and pointers on how to engage in each type of prayer.

Most people find it easier to begin praying by making use of the traditional prayers of the Church, such as the ten prayers every Catholic child should know or the Rosary. Structured prayer helps us focus our thoughts and reminds us of the way in which to pray.

But as our prayer life deepens, we should advance beyond written prayer to a personal conversation with God. While written prayers or prayers that we have memorised will always be a part of our prayer life—after all, the Sign of the Cross, with which Catholics begin most of their prayers, is itself a prayer—over time we should learn to speak with God and with the saints as we would with our fellow men and women (though always, of course, maintaining a proper reverence).