Thursday, September 10, 2020 –
Today we are going to start with probably the easiest of our prayer primers: VOCAL (EXTERNAL) PRAYER. Remember, we are starting with our “expressions of prayer.” By “expression” we mean the **how** we pray vs. the types of prayer we will cover later.
On its face, VOCAL prayer is exactly what you think it is—using our voice, our lips, to “say” a prayer. It is engaging our body when we pray and making an outward expression of our prayer.
Of course, sometimes it is not always the most opportune time to pray the Rosary out loud, say when you are in the “quiet” car on the train to work. Your intention would be to pray vocally, but your fellow train riders may not fully appreciate your 5AM vocal prayers. So, instead of shouting the Mysteries, you may simply think the words or even silently move your lips. This is still a vocal prayer, albeit a very, very quiet one…like a mouse!
BUT…you could also turn your quiet Rosary into a meditative prayer if you focus deeply on each of the mysteries rather than just rote prayer flying through your noggin’, but I digress…
The Catechism has a decently sized section on just vocal prayer, but before we get to that, let’s pull our other standard resources and get a better understanding of the definition of vocal prayer, starting with our Baltimore Catechism (#3 and then a bit from #4), followed by Bishop Morrow:
Q. 1100. How many kinds of prayer are there?
A. …2. Vocal prayer, in which we express these pious thoughts in words. (Baltimore Catechism #3, Lesson 28: On Prayer)
And digging a little deeper…
Q. 304. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God to adore Him, to thank Him for His benefits, to ask His forgiveness, and to beg of Him all the graces we need whether for soul or body.
…Mental prayer, therefore, is the best, because in it we must thing; we must pay attention to what we are doing, and lift up our minds and hearts to God; while in vocal prayer—that is, the prayer we say aloud—we may repeat the words from pure habit, without any attention or lifting up of the mind or heart. (Baltimore Catechism #4, Lesson 28: On Prayer, p. 273)
Okay, so in our Baltimore Catechisms we see the very important definition of prayer, lifting up our hearts and minds to God. However, we also see a distinction between mental and vocal prayer. In #3, we get that base definition of vocal as expressing our prayer in words, as in out loud. And, in #4, we follow up with that notion and get a bit of a verbal “smack down” (pun intended) that we must caution ourselves against mindless vocal prayer.
Let’s move on to Bishop Morrow and see what he has to say specifically about vocal prayer:
181. For Whom, When, and Where to Pray
How many kinds of prayer are there? …
2. Vocal prayer is that which comes from the mind and is spoken by the lips.
We can also pray in song, by means of hymns and other religious music. The public prayers of the Church are also vocal. Vocal prayer is both useful and necessary. Our body, as well as our soul, must give homage to God. But praying with the lips alone, without the spirit, is worthless. That is “lip service.” (Bishop Morrow, My Catholic Faith, p. 375)
Here too we see that vocal prayer is spoken. We also get to add song and the public prayers of the Church (e.g. Liturgy of the Hours, parts of the Mass, etc.) to our vocal prayer, woot! Again, we see the admonishment of praying vocally, but mindlessly. In fact, Bishop Morrow uses the specific term “lip service,” and says t is “worthless.” Wow! That is harsh, but true.
But why vocal prayer? Where does it come from? Is it necessary? Etc. For this, we turn to our big, green (or blue, if you bought the updated version) Catechism.
2700 Through his Word, God speaks to man. By words, mental or vocal, our prayer takes flesh. Yet it is most important that the heart should be present to him to whom we are speaking in prayer: “Whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls.”
2701 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. He not only prayed aloud the liturgical prayers of the synagogue but, as the Gospels show, he raised his voice to express his personal prayer, from exultant blessing of the Father to the agony of Gesthemani.
2702 The need to involve the senses in interior prayer corresponds to a requirement of our human nature. We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication.
2703 This need also corresponds to a divine requirement. God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due.
2704 Because it is external and so thoroughly human, vocal prayer is the form of prayer most readily accessible to groups. Even interior prayer, however, cannot neglect vocal prayer. Prayer is internalized to the extent that we become aware of him “to whom we speak;” Thus vocal prayer becomes an initial form of contemplative prayer.
Ummm…okay. That was a bit to chew. Here is the “In Brief” paragraph for vocal:
2722 Vocal prayer, founded on the union of body and soul in human nature, associates the body with the interior prayer of the heart, following Christ’s example of praying to his Father and teaching the Our Father to his disciples.
OH! Okay! Yeah, I see what they did there. So, vocal prayer is using our bodies (voice) to express our interior prayer. We get it from Christ, who routinely prayed aloud (e.g. teaching us the “Our Father” and praying to God the Father). And, yes! Vocal prayer is very important because we are spirit AND body.
Can I get an AMEN!? (snort! See what I did there?) Okie dokie. The next two days are going to cover internal prayer.
Holy Virgin of Virgins, pray for us!