Pope Francis defended the practice of vocal prayer as the surest means of dialogue with God, a means that is always available to us, and “as necessary as manual labour.”
Continuing his catechesis on prayer at the weekly General Audience on Wednesday, the Pope said that prayer-in-words – vocal recitation – is always the first form of human prayer, saying, “The lips always move first.”
He contrasted spoken prayer with the feelings and interior motions that sometimes accompany prayer. Feelings, Pope Francis said, “however noble, are always uncertain: they come and go, they leave us and then return again.” Interior consolation, “the graces of prayer,” are similarly unpredictable: “at times consolations abound, but on the darkest days they seem to evaporate completely. The prayer of the heart is mysterious, and at times lacking.”
We are always capable of vocal prayer, however, whether alone or in company of others, “whispered or recited in chorus.”
The Pope called on the faithful to follow the example of “the humility of certain elderly people” who “recite the prayers they learned as children” in church, “filling the nave with whispers.” They are “often the great intercessors of our parishes,” he said, “the oaks that from year to year spread their branches to offer shade to the greatest number of people.”
Like everyone, they too can experience moments of emptiness and desolation, the Pope said. “But one can always remain faithful to vocal prayer.”
Pope Francis particularly recommended the so-called “Jesus prayer,” especially beloved of Eastern Christians. “We can all learn from the perseverance of the Russian pilgrim… who learned the art of prayer by repeating the same invocation over and over again: ‘Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Lord, have mercy on us, sinners’.”
The Pope emphatically declared, “We must not despise vocal prayer,” forcefully rejecting the notion that vocal prayer is for children or the ignorant. “Please, do not fall into the pride of despising vocal prayer,” he pleaded.
Vocal prayer, said Pope Francis, is the prayer of the simple, the prayer that Jesus taught us. “The words we pronounce take us by the hand; at times they restore our taste; they arouse even slumbering hearts, they awaken feelings we had forgotten; they lead us by the hand to the experience of God.”
The Holy Father repeated once again that the words spoken in prayer “are the only ones that direct to God, in a sure manner, the questions He wants to hear.”
Pope Francis concluded his reflection, “Jesus did not leave us in a haze. He told us, ‘When you pray, say this!” and taught us the Lord’s prayer.