Another Mystery is Prayer. Why would I say that prayer is a mystery? Doesn’t everyone, even Atheists, know what prayer is? Non-Christians pray, also, so how is this a Mystery? Perhaps a better way to say that prayer is a mystery is to say that Effective Prayer is a Mystery.
A prayer is simply a petition, a request, from one to another, for some action. When people pray or petition to the courts for some ruling, they know how to do it, based on the legal codes of the jurisdiction, and they know with a certain degree of confidence whether the petition will be granted or not. But, when praying to a deity, you are petitioning something or someone that is unknown and with methods that are uncertain. It is only with Revelation from God of whether and for what and how to pray that such certainty can be found. And it is only in faith in that revelation as being real or true and good, that you will consider your prayers effective and pleasing to the God who revealed prayer.
So, what is that revelation that we might believe it and participate in the Mystery of True Prayer?
Some people will say they just pray what they see explained in the Bible, such as Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. If that is true, then what did the people do in 200AD, before the Catholic Church defined the contents of the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not Scipture then. They were only independent manuscripts that not every Christian had access to read, and held no more authority than other written documents. Yet those people prayed, as is evident from early Christian descriptions of their lives and practices. How did they come to believe the Mystery and know what to pray?
It is interesting that Jesus did not write out instructions. The Gospels do not show him writing prayer work instructions, but they show him talking to his disciples and telling them what to do and say. Upon hearing Jesus’ command, the disciples were faced with a dilemma: do they take Jesus at his word? Do they trust He is from God and knows what God will hear and answer? For them, revelation was not some text book of answers, but it was this person, Jesus, and the things he declared to them.
We do not have Jesus here in front of us, but we have pastors and teachers representing Him, with a line of representation that does go back to those first disciples. Each next generation of followers believed their pastors and teachers and bishops and popes were teaching them the truth, and so they did what their teachers asked them to do, just as Peter, James, and John did what Jesus asked them to do. He did not ask them to try and understand the words: “Our Father, who art in Heaven,…” and when you finally understand, you will start praying. Instead he commanded them: “When you pray, pray like this: Our Father, who art in Heaven…” In effect, he was asking them to simply repeat the words to ingrain the habit, much as a child learns to pray by repetition. While warning them against vain repetition in prayer, he gave them words that would not be in vain, words to repeat over and over that were effective words in the mind of God when He hears them. This was revealed and effetive prayer rather than vain humanly invented prayer that does not know the God revealed in Jesus and His Church.
The Church teaches some prayers that some people call questionable. One often called to the forefront is the Hail Mary, the Rosary. Those who have broken away in their history from the Catholic Church to go their own reason’s way, starting their own denominations, call the Rosary “vain repetition”; repeating “Hail Mary…” fifty-three times. If being in the Bible were necessary for true prayer, the words of the Rosary are only there once, either explicity or by inference. But, as said above, the confidence of prayer does not come from a written work instruction, but from believing the person who is commanding you to pray with the words he asks you to say. A Catholic is a member of a People that takes seriously that the disciples became the Church, and that the Holy Spirit fully inspires the Church in its teaching. Therefore, this people believes the Priest, Bishop, or Pope, when they are taught how to pray. This people believes that when they hear this Priest, Bishop, or Pope, that they are hearing and obeying Jesus. In the Bible we see twelve disciples who had been praying all of their lives as they knew how, asking their teacher to teach them to pray, and we see Him teach them. We cannot go back 2000 years to ask him to teach us, but we can ask those who were taught – they know how and can teach us what they were taught. That is our connection with Jesus, learning all that Jesus commanded and taught them from the people he sent, hearing Him in our hearing and obeying these sent teachers, the Priests, Bishops, Pope, the Church here face to face which the Holy Spirit unfailingly inspires.
With the Holy Spirit inspiring this Church, inspiring this People, the Rosary came to light as effective prayer and was taught. And this People obediently learned what they were taught, and they practice it with confidence, taking the word of the teachers that Mary is alive, hears their Rosary prayers, is with her Son in Heaven, and talks to Him in their behalf, and that He hears her. Catholics do not believe Mary is a mediator between God and man, but she is a mediator between men and their King, the Man Jesus, who is also the Son of God. Her prayers for men are answered by God. It is only within the person of Jesus that there is mediation between God and Man for forgiveness and life.
It is only in this last week that I have understood why to pray the Rosary. It is simply disciple’s obedience to a teacher whom I trust since I am a member of that People in my teacher’s charge. I was taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer many decades ago by my parents in the same fashion – repeat after me… Now, when I am old, I am claiming that childhood right of letting my teacher teach me and of doing as he says, repeating “Hail Mary…” fifty-three times, intermingled with “Our Father…” and short descriptions of teachings about Jesus. And I am addressing Mary as instructed by people inspired by the Holy Spirit.
A Mystery is what we cannot know except it be revealed. Once revealed it can also be understood. But even if understood, the reality is an object of Faith. That is the way of the Prayers of the Church. We pray as we are taught, and understanding comes in its own good time, and the understanding is remarkable.
Experiment: Try to remember when you were taught the Lord’s Prayer; visualize the Apostle’s representative (your mother or father or pastor, whoever,) asking you to repeat what they are teaching you to pray:
- You say: “Teach me to pray…”
- Disciple: “When you pray, pray like this, these words: Our Father, who art in heaven”
- You say: “Our Father, who art in heaven”.
- Disciple: “Next say this, Hallowed be thy Name”
- You say: “Hallowed be thy Name”
- Disciple: “Thy Kingdome come”
- You say: “Thy Kingdome come”
- Disciple: “Thy will be done”
- You say: “Thy will be done”
- Disciple: “On earth as it is in heaven”
- You say: “On earth as it is in heaven”
- Disciple: “Give us this day our daily bread”
- You say: “Give us this day our daily bread”
- Disciple: “And forgive us our trespasses”
- You say: “And forgive us our trespasses”
- Disciple: “As we forgive those who trespass against us”
- You say: “As we forgive those who trespass against us”
- Disciple: “and lead us not into temptation”
- You say: “and lead us not into temptation”
- Disciple: “but deliver us from evil”
- You say: “but deliver us from evil”
- Disciple: “Amen”
- You say: “Amen”
Participating in the Mystery of Prayer is through being taught by someone who was sent to you who knows, and doing what they taught you. And as you participate, repeating, over time, you will find more words filling themselves in, such as when saying, “Thy will be done”, you may find words in you saying, “I am your obedient son / daughter, my Father; what you want done, I will do, so that what you want done by me in the world actually is done in the world.” And one day you may teach another to participate in this Mystery.