There are many different ways in which one can consider prayer and many ways to divide it up for a closer look.
The one traditional way has always been based on the theme of our prayer or our motive for praying. All prayers according to “spiritual masters” fall some place in the four following categories and easily remembered by the acronym ACTS:
- Adoration – “I praise you”
- Contrition – “I’m sorry”
- Thanksgiving – “Thank you”
- Supplication – “I need” or “I want”
These categories aren’t written in stone and they tend to sometimes overlap with one another. When we show gratitude for God’s gifts will lead us to praise His power. Contrition should lead us to supplication and begging for the grace of deeper conversion.
Another way we can divide prayer is by our methods or expressions of the prayer. This falls into three broad categories:
- Mental Prayer
Vocal is a prayer that is simply “voiced”, usually one that is said out loud and with a set formula. Jesus taught us the Our Father, which was a voiced prayer. Also, the Jews and Christians have always prayed the Old Testament psalms. So, it is from scripture and tradition that we have learned the words of Christ and the saints and we raise them in voice as our own. Over our lifetime we grow into the words of our vocal prayers and gradually we acquire their sentiments and their insights.
Meditation is when we prayerfully reflect on the mysteries of faith. We may begin our meditation with text from scripture or some other spiritual book. Or we can focus on an icon and then think about its details for example.
The mental prayer is considered a conversational prayer. This is where we silently talk to God int the quiet of our mind and listen to Him. This is what the Catechism calls “contemplative prayer”.
These categories can also overlap one another. For example all prayer should involve the mind. After all when we use vocal prayer we don’t just babble out some empty words like pagans might do. (See Matthew 6:7). We must think about what we’re saying. We think about the divine people we might be addressing. Same goes for the text of our meditation the words may be that of a vocal prayer, for example the Hail Mary or the Glory Be, all should be considered slowly, phrase by phrase or word by word.
Sure prayer can be a simple mental act when we are absorbed in thinking about our God or begging him for something, however, prayer is also physical on top of being mental.
It is often a good idea for us to put ourselves in good conditions for prayer, in other words in a relatively quiet place where we won’t be distracted or at lease the interruptions will be at a minimum. Silence the phone, close a door, do what you need to do.
It is also a good idea for us to adopt a type of posture that will lend itself to prayer. This is going to vary depending on the circumstances. If you are in church or at home it might be helpful if you kneel, where as at work this would be inappropriate. It also helps if we fold our hands in prayer as well.
Of course to many things like this may seem quite pointless. Does God really need us to hold our bodies in a particular way in order for us to pray? Of course He doesn’t. However, tradition have hallowed these prayer practices for a reason. They help us to focus our attention on the task at hand which is prayer and it helps us to discipline our bodies so we can minimize any distraction and keep our minds on our prayers. So the physical part of prayer is for us, not for God.
The relationship we have with God, like our own personal relationships on earth, need to involve our whole person. When we meet a friend, we communicate not only with our words, but we also communicate by the way we dress for the occasion, the way we carry ourselves and by the places we choose to meet. These things should matter when we meet with God in prayer. It’s not only our souls that pray but it is our entire bodies that are involved.