A Literary Description of Catholic Prayer

People write entire books on how to pray, which I find really difficult to read, because prayer is such a personal thing. Any book (unless you’re the one who’s written it) will tell you how someone else prays, and its helpfulness will have a lot to do with whether you might pray in a similar way.

There are, of course, universal modes of prayer, such as the Rosary, but again, to my knowledge the Church doesn’t dictate how you must pray, or what you must pray, apart from assisting at mass. I am aware of no obligation to pray something like the Rosary. We are obliged to attend mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. I think, of course, that prayer is an element of authentic Catholic living that supersedes any obligation imposed by law of Church. It’s simply what Jesus tells us to do, and it’s what we need to do if we want to have a relationship with Him. And fundamentally, prayer is simply relationship with God.

There are many, many, many (too many to count) lovely descriptions of prayer in the Church. My wife and I are reading a book together, Lord of the World (one can read it free on Kindle), by Robert Hugh Benson. It was published in 1907, and concerns the End of the World. The principal protagonist is a Catholic priest, Father Percy Franklin, whose prayer at Westminster Cathedral in London is described as follows:

Then he hid his face in his hands, drew a couple of long breaths, and set to work.

He began, as his custom was in mental prayer, by a deliberate act of self-exclusion from the world of sense. Under the image of sinking beneath a surface he forced himself downwards and inwards, till the peal of the organ, the shuffle of footsteps, the rigidity of the chair-back beneath his wrists—all seemed apart and external, and he was left a single person with a beating heart, an intellect that suggested image after image, and emotions that were too languid to stir themselves. Then he made his second descent, renounced all that he possessed and was, and became conscious that even the body was left behind, and that his mind and heart, awed by the Presence in which they found themselves, clung close and obedient to the will which was their lord and protector. He drew another long breath, or two, as he felt that Presence surge about him; he repeated a few mechanical words, and sank to that peace which follows the relinquishment of thought.

There he rested for a while. Far above him sounded the ecstatic music, the cry of trumpets and the shrilling of the flutes; but they were as insignificant street-noises to one who was falling asleep. He was within the veil of things now, beyond the barriers of sense and reflection, in that secret place to which he had learned the road by endless effort, in that strange region where realities are evident, where perceptions go to and fro with the swiftness of light, where the swaying will catches now this, now that act, moulds it and speeds it; where all things meet, where truth is known and handled and tasted, where God Immanent is one with God Transcendent, where the meaning of the external world is evident through its inner side, and the Church and its mysteries are seen from within a haze of glory.

So he lay a few moments, absorbing and resting.

Then he aroused himself to consciousness and began to speak.

“Lord, I am here, and Thou art here. I know Thee. There is nothing else but Thou and I…. I lay this all in Thy hands—Thy apostate priest, Thy people, the world, and myself. I spread it before Thee—I spread it before Thee.”

He paused, poised in the act, till all of which he thought lay like a plain before a peak.

… “Myself, Lord—there but for Thy grace should I be going, in darkness and misery. It is Thou Who dost preserve me. Maintain and finish Thy work within my soul. Let me not falter for one instant. If Thou withdraw Thy hand I fall into utter nothingness.”

So his soul stood a moment, with outstretched appealing hands, helpless and confident. Then the will flickered in self-consciousness, and he repeated acts of faith, hope and love to steady it. Then he drew another long breath, feeling the Presence tingle and shake about him, and began again.

“Lord; look on Thy people. Many are falling from Thee. Ne in aeternum irascaris nobis. Ne in aeternum irascaris nobis…. I unite myself with all saints and angels and Mary Queen of Heaven; look on them and me, and hear us. Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam. Thy light and Thy truth! Lay not on us heavier burdens than we can bear. Lord, why dost Thou not speak!”

He writhed himself forward in a passion of expectant desire, hearing his muscles crack in the effort. Once more he relaxed himself; and the swift play of wordless acts began which he knew to be the very heart of prayer. The eyes of his soul flew hither and thither, from Calvary to heaven and back again to the tossing troubled earth. He saw Christ dying of desolation while the earth rocked and groaned; Christ reigning as a priest upon His Throne in robes of light, Christ patient and inexorably silent within the Sacramental species; and to each in turn he directed the eyes of the Eternal Father….

Beautiful, no?


5 thoughts on “A Literary Description of Catholic Prayer

  1. Pingback: Msgr. Benson, New Religion, and LCWR | Quartermaster of the Barque

  2. Pingback: Friday, February 6, 2015 | The Quarterdeck

  3. Pingback: Weekend Report & Prayer Requests | Quartermaster of the Barque

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