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Chapter 29: Prayer: The Fundamental Category of Christian Action


Christian life requires perfection, and growth toward perfection occurs in the day-to-day observance of Christian moral norms. Charity, the central principle of Christian holiness, grows insofar as it is the principle of morally good lives integrated with faith in Jesus.

Such lives must be shaped by prayer and organized by the sacraments (see S.t., 2–2, q. 82, a. 3; 3, q. 65). This chapter considers prayer in general, types of prayer, and certain questions concerning prayer; chapters thirty through thirty-three treat the sacraments. Underlying this treatment is the teaching of Vatican II: “Each must share frequently in the sacraments, the Eucharist especially, and in liturgical rites. Each must apply himself constantly to prayer, self-denial, active brotherly service, and the exercise of all the virtues. For charity, as the bond of perfection and the fulfillment of the law (cf. Rom 13.10; Col 3.14), governs all the means of attaining holiness, enlivens them, and brings them to fulfillment” (LG 42; translation amended).

Although there are norms concerning them, prayer and the sacraments are not themselves normative principles. But they are basic principles of Christian living. Prayer brings God’s revelation to bear upon all one’s thinking and even upon nonintellectual processes and the subconscious. The sacraments are central acts of faith. When the acts of daily life are integrated with the sacraments, living faith becomes operative in the whole of life.

This and the next four chapters are subject to a number of important limitations which the reader should bear in mind.

First, this is not a dogmatic treatise on prayer and the sacraments. Many problems which are important in such a treatise will be passed over here without mention. Moreover, the moral-canonical problems about valid and worthy administration and reception of the sacraments do not fall within the study of Christian moral principles.

Second, to a great extent these chapters cover material generally studied in works on spirituality. An adequate moral theology, however, cannot make any clear distinction between morality and spirituality. Therefore, these chapters must be continuous with the preceding ones, and the treatment cannot be organized and developed as is customary in works on spirituality. Still, works on spirituality contain much helpful detail which does not pertain to principles. Hence, this part, although necessary to the whole, may appear a rather summary treatment of spiritual theology.

Third, Christians are called to live with originality and creativity. We are not bound by hundreds of detailed precepts. Hence, there are many optional forms of spirituality accepted by the Catholic Church—various types of prayer, methods of meditation, forms of penance, diverse devotions, and so forth. On the whole, the present treatise will ignore this rich diversity—not because it lacks value, but because it is not a matter of Christian moral principles—and concentrate on the common spirituality the Church herself provides for all her children.

In prayer one develops the intimate relationship with God which one accepts by faith. The liturgy is the center of each Christian’s prayer life, because in it the whole Church prays in union with our Lord Jesus. But personal prayer also is essential: all are called to a unique personal vocation which must be lived in conversation with God.