In announcing our current Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI noted that “Christians in the early centuries were required to learn the creed from memory. It served them as a daily prayer not to forget the commitment they had undertaken in baptism.”
The pope is referring to the Nicene Creed, the one that we recite at Sunday Mass.
Pope Benedict added that St. Augustine, who wrote in the fourth century, noted how important it was to recite the creed frequently: “You have received it and recited it,” Augustine wrote, “but in your minds and hearts you must keep it ever present, you must repeat it in your beds, recall it in the public squares and not forget it during meals: even when your body is asleep, you must watch over it with your hearts.”
Now the creed, in its structure, isn’t a prayer as much as it is a profession of faith. This is why we use it at baptism. It states exactly what we believe and that to which we are dedicating our lives and souls.
In some regards, the creed is the Christian version of the Shema (found in the Old Testament: Dt 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Nm 15:37-41), recited by faithful Jews today during their morning and evening prayers.
Rabbi Shraga Simmons, who writes a popular blog called “Ask the Rabbi,” notes that “the Shema, which begins with the famous verse “Listen Israel, The Lord is G-d, the Lord is One!” is not a prayer. It is like a Jewish “pledge of allegiance,” a testimony to his oneness. In fact, if you look at the Hebrew, you will notice that the letters ‘Ayin’ and ‘Daled’ are enlarged since they spell out the Hebrew word for ‘witness,’ to enforce the idea that one is giving testimony.”
While not technically a prayer either, the Shema is considered a part of the daily prayer life of Jews because it is meant to put them in the presence of God, just as good prayer is meant to do. Along with the Nicene Creed, our Christian prayers also give testimony about our beliefs in God and — first of all — serve to place us in the divine presence.
Once we are in God’s presence, prayer serves many purposes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that all prayer involves blessing — a united dialogue between God and humanity — and adoration, which “exalts the Lord who made us” (n. 2626-2628).
This also parallels Jewish belief and prayer practice. As Tracey Rich, who maintains the Judaism 101 website notes, “The most important part of any Jewish prayer, whether it be a prayer of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise of G-d, or of confession, is the introspection it provides, the moment that we spend looking inside ourselves, seeing our role in the universe and our relationship to G-d.”
In Rich’s words, we see listed four types of prayer: petition, thanksgiving, praise and confession. Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also lists four types of prayer:
- petition (which is listed as including “asking for forgiveness,” what some call prayers of contrition);
- thanksgiving; and
There are many ways to remember these types of prayer. A common way is using an acronym, such as “ACTS” (for Acts of the Apostles): Adoration (combines blessing, adoration and praise); Contrition; Thanksgiving; Supplication (combines petition and intercession).
Another more informal way to remember prayer types has been offered by Bishop Robert Morneau: “Wow, Whoops, Please and Thank You.”
Take your favorite prayers and see how they fit this pattern. What type of prayer comes up first? For example, meal prayer focuses first on thanksgiving and petition. The Lord’s Prayer contains seven petitions, including “give us this day” and “thy kingdom come.” And the Hail Mary ends with a wonderful plea for intercession, “now and at the hour of our death.”
So how do you pray every day? Start by looking at your favorite prayers, prayer spaces and times for prayer. There is always something more to learn about prayer. As Pope Benedict XVI said, in a series about prayer during his general audiences in spring 2011, we each need to return to “the school of prayer” even after years of practice.
“We know well, in fact, that prayer should not be taken for granted,” the pope said. “It is necessary to learn how to pray, as it were, acquiring this art ever anew; even those who are very advanced in spiritual life always feel the need to learn from Jesus, to learn how to pray authentically.”
So if it’s ACTS or “whoops and wow,” a memorized prayer or just a simple “please, God,” this Year of Faith offers a great time to learn more about prayer.
Sources: “Ask the Rabbi” at about.com; vatican.va; myJewishlearning.com; Catechism of the Catholic Church; jewishhistory.org; Judaism 101 at Jewfaq.org “The Catholic Encyclopedia.”