Of the Value and Excellence of Prayer

by admin on August 3, 2010

THE glorious Apostle and Evangelist St. John, in the fifth and eighth chapters of the Apocalypse, expresses admirably well the excellency and merit of prayer. There came an angel and stood before the altar, having in his hand a thurible of gold, to whom was given much incense, to the end he should offer up of the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of these prayers went up from the hand of the angel to the presence of God (Apoc. viii. 3-4). St. Chrysostom says that one proof of the merit of prayer is that in the Holy Scripture it alone is compared to thymiama, which was a composition of incense and of many other admirable perfumes; for as the smell of well-composed thymiama is very delicious, so prayer also, when well made, is very acceptable to God and gives great joy to the angels and all the citizens of heaven. Thus St. John, speaking in such human language as we can speak, says that those heavenly beings hold in their hands pouncet-boxes full of admirable perfumes, which are the prayers of the saints, and these they apply again and again to their most pure nostrils to enjoy that sweet odor (Apoc. v. 8).

The angels immediately take our prayers and present them to God

St. Augustine, speaking of prayer, says: “What more excellent than prayer? What more useful and profitable? What sweeter and more delicious? What higher and more exalted in the whole scheme of our Christian religion?” The same says St. Gregory of Nyssa: “Nothing of the things of this life that are esteemed and valued has the advantage of prayer.” St. Bernard says that, though it is quite an ordinary thing for the angels to assist God’s serv­ants by their invisible presence, to deliver them from the deceits and machinations of the enemy, and to raise their desires to serve God with greater fervor, yet it is especially when we are occupied in making our prayer that these angelic spirits assist us. He quotes to this effect many passages of Holy Scripture, as that of the psalmist: In the sight and presence of the angels I will praise thee (Psalm cxxxvii. 1); and again: There went forward the princes along with the singers in the midst of the young maidens sounding their timbrels (Psalm Ixvii. 26), which he inter­prets, saying that the angels join with those who make prayer; and again what the angel said to Toby: When thou didst pray with tears, I offered thy prayer to God (Tob. xii. 12). In the instant that prayer goes out from the mouth of him that prays, at once the angels, who are hard by, catch it up and present it to God. St. Hilary says the same: “The angels preside over the prayers of the saints and offer them each day to God.” Thus, when we are at prayer, we are surrounded by angels, in the midst of angels, doing the office of angels, exercising ourselves in what we are to do forever in heaven, praising and blessing the Lord; and for this we are specially favored and loved by the angels as being their companions now and destined to be their companions hereafter, filling up the seats of their former companions who fell.

There is notable improvement when we converse with God

St. John Chrysostom, speaking of the excellences of prayer and wishing to say great things of it, says that one of the greatest of great things that it is possible to say of it is that whoever is at prayer is dealing and conversing with God. “Consider the height, dignity, and glory to which the Lord has raised you, in that you can speak and converse with God, hold conversations and colloquies with Jesus Christ, desire what you would, and ask for what you desire”—Considera quanta est tibi concessa felicitas, quanta gloria attributa orationibus, fabulari cum Deo, cum Christo miscere colloquia, optare quod velis, quod desideras postulare. No tongue, he says, suffices to declare the dignity and height of this intercourse and conversation with God or its utility and profit for ourselves. If in those who here on earth ordinarily converse with prudent and wise men, in a short time there is felt a notable improvement, and it is recognized that they have advanced in prudence and wisdom, and to those who converse with good men virtue and goodness is communicated—hence the proverb: “Deal with the good and you shall be one of them”—what shall be said of those who speak and converse again and again with God? Approach to the Lord and ye shall receive light from Him (Psalm xxxiii. 6). What light and knowl­edge, what blessings and benefits shall they receive from such dealing and conversation, these prayers that avail much! And so St. John Chrysos­tom says that there is nothing that makes us grow so much in virtue as frequent prayer and dealing and conversing repeatedly with God, because thereby there comes to be formed the heart of a generous and high-souled man, a heart ready to despise the things of the world and to soar above them, uniting and transforming itself in a manner unto God and becoming spiritual and holy.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

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