Prayer can be vocal or silent, formal or informal, solitary or communal, verbal or nonverbal, active or contemplative. B ut the Church teaches that there are three major expressions of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. All three are open to everyone, and should be included in your prayer life.
Vocal prayer is giving voice to what is stirring in us. Vocal prayer can be spontaneous and simple, such as an exclamation of “Praise Jesus!” It can also be as formal and planned as a Mass celebrating a very special occasion.
Most Catholics learn traditional prayers from the time they were young. These normally include the Sign of the Cross, the Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, and a mealtime blessing. They might also include prayers at waking and at bedtime. They should be said mindfully, with attention to what we are saying, never by rote or habit.
Vocal prayers can be said aloud or silently.
Catholics often pray in groups. When two or more people gather together to raise their voices to God in prayer, their prayer is called communal prayer. Examples of communal prayer are the Rosary, devotional prayers including novenas and litanies, prayer groups, and, most importantly, the Mass.
To meditate is to reflect on or think about God. When we meditate, we keep our attention and focus on God so that we can recognize his presence in our daily lives and respond to what God is asking of us. When we meditate, a variety of things can help us to concentrate and to spark our imaginations. We may use Scripture, particularly the Gospels; traditional prayers; writings of the spiritual fathers; religious images; or history—the page on which the “today” of God is written. Meditation, also known as reflective prayer, leads us to conversation with God. Remembering that we are in God’s presence, we can listen to him speak to us. We enter into God’s sacred time and space and know that he is with us at all times and in all places.
When we rest quietly in God’s presence, we engage in contemplation. In contemplation we spend time with God in wordless silence, aware that he is with us. To understand how contemplation occurs, we can compare it with thinking on—or contemplating—a beautiful sunset. We are conscious of its impact, but our reaction is wordless. When we experience God personally, we feel his love and wait for him to speak to us in his own way. The key is to make time to relax and listen in God’s presence, to seek union with the God who loves us.