"PRAYER is called by St. Gregory Nazianzen, a conference, or conversation with God.
St. John Chrysostom speaks of prayer as a discourse with the divine majesty.
According to St. Augustine it is the raising up of the soul to God.
St. Francis de Sales describes it as a conversation of the soul with God, by which we aspire to Him and breathe in Him, and He, in return, inspires us and breathes on us.
Father Bertrand Wilberforce, in his tract on "Mental Prayer," writes:
All prayer is the speaking of the soul to God. This may be done in three ways. For the prayer may be either in thought only, unexpressed in any external way, or on the other hand the secret thoughts and feelings of the soul may be clothed in words; and these words, again, may either be confined to a set form, or they may be words of our own, unfettered by any form, and expressing the emotions of our soul at the moment.
In the first case our prayer will be purely mental; in the second, in which we employ a set form of words, it will be vocal prayer; in the third case, where the prayer is chiefly in thought, but these thoughts are allowed to oreak forth into words in anyway that at the moment seem best to expr6Ss the feelings of the soul, it is a mixture of mental and vocal prayer, but as the words are spontaneous and not in any prescribed form, it may justly be considered as mental prayer.
In an audience with the Pope, we might read a written address to his Holiness, or we might trust to the words that might occur at the moment, to express what we desired to convey to his mind.
But if God were to enable the Pope to read the thoughts of our mind, we might then simply stand silent in his presence, and he would see all that we wanted to express. The formal address would be vocal prayer, the silent standing before his throne would be purely mental prayer, the conversation with unprepared words would be a mixture of the two, and might be called mental prayer in a more gen¬eral and extended sense. God knows our secret thoughts more clearly than we can express them, more certainly than we ourselves can know them, and words therefore are not necessary in our intercourse with Him, though often a considerable help to us.
A set form of words spoken, or read, can not be called prayer at all, unless the mind intends it as prayer, and gives some kind of spiritual attention, either to the actual sense of the words themselves, or to God Himself while they are being uttered. Shakespeare spoke as a theologian when, in Hamlet, he put into the mouth of the king, who asked for pardon without repentance:
My words go up, my thoughts remain below,God condemned the merely material homage of the Jews by declaring, "This people honoreth Me with their lips, out their heart is far from Me."
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
From "Prayer-Book for Religious"
by Rev. F.X. Lasance
Copyright 1904, 1914