All the different modes of prayer that abound fall into one of two distinct groups. The first can be described variously as private, personal, devotional, or, as Ron Rolheiser calls it, affective prayer. The second group is corporate, public, liturgical, ecclesial, or priestly.
Both types of prayer are vital in the life of the Christian and, like love and marriage in the old musical, you can’t have one without the other. Liturgical prayer forms us for personal prayer. Personal prayer forms us for liturgical prayer.
But they are totally different. The difference does not relate to where it is happening or how many people, eg 100 priests meditating in the church is private/devotional/ affective prayer, a religious sister praying Morning Prayer (divine office) on her own is involved in corporate/liturgical/ ecclesial/ priestly prayer. The distinction lies in the different nature and purpose of each type.
There are all sorts of private/ personal/ affective prayer – meditation, devotional prayer, Marian prayer, but they all have one purpose – personal intimacy with God and a deeper relationship with Christ. Private prayer is a personal conversation with God in which we prayer for but not with others.
Liturgical prayer is not the private prayer of isolated individuals who happen to be physically together; it is the group activity of the Body of Christ, an offering of prayer by a spiritually united assembly. In public worship we pray together in Christ for the life of the world. “In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal” (CCC 1073).
Corporate prayer is universal; it belongs to the Church, to the people of God. In liturgical prayer we pray with Christ, through the Church, for the world. This concept is counter-cultural in an individualistic society.
Those who bear the responsibility of preparing and leading the community’s prayer need to understand the nature of liturgical prayer and be wary of posing individual preferences onto corporate worship and of focussing on making liturgy ‘relevant’ (to whom?) Preparing and leading good liturgy is more than a matter of taste and requires more than good will – it requires people with expertise in the field.
An important question when it comes to preparing and participating in corporate prayer is: How do we worship God as Church with one voice? Singing has important role in helping us pray communally; set forms and familiar texts enable us to pray together. The purpose of rubrics and documents like the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is to help create unity in our public worship.
Key to worshipping as one body is listening to our fellow worshippers and joining our prayer with theirs, not trying to get to the end of the prayer before everyone else, as some people seem to do!
There are different types of prayer – personal, devotional, liturgical – and the greatest of these is liturgical!
“Liturgy Lines” are short 500-word essays on liturgical topics written by Elizabeth Harrington, Liturgy Brisbane’s education officer. They have been published every week in The Catholic Leader since 1999.
Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Harrington, Archdiocese of Brisbane