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Prayer in Christianity is the act communicating with God, either in God's fullness or as one of the persons of the Trinity. Some Christian groups, such as Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans, will sometimes pray through intercessors, such as Mary or other saints. In such cases, the ultimate recipient of the prayer is still regarded as God.

Prayer is an important theme in Christianity, and there are several different forms of prayer.[1]

Prayer in the New Testament

Prayer in the New Testament is presented as a positive command (Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The people of God are challenged to include prayer in their everyday life, even in the busy struggles of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:5) as it is thought to bring the faithful closer to God.

Throughout the New Testament, prayer is shown to be God's appointed method by which the faithful obtain what he has to bestow (Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 9:24-29; Luke 11:13).

Prayer, according to the Book of Acts, can be seen at the first moments of the church (Acts 3:1). The apostles regarded prayer as the most important part of their life (Acts 6:4; Romans 1:9; Colossians 1:9). As such, the apostles frequently incorporated verses from Psalms into their writings. Romans 3:10-18 for example is borrowed from Psalm 14:1-3 and other psalms.

Thus, due to this emphasis on prayer in the early church, lengthy passages of the New Testament are prayers or canticles (see also the Book of Odes), such as the Prayer for forgiveness (Mark 11:25-26), the Lord's Prayer, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), Jesus' prayer to the one true God (John 17), exclamations such as, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 1:3-14), the Believers' Prayer (Acts 4:23-31), "may this cup be taken from me" (Matthew 26:36-44), "Pray that you will not fall into temptation" (Luke 22:39-46), Saint Stephen's Prayer (Acts 7:59-60), Simon Magus' Prayer (Acts 8:24), "pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men" (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2), and Maranatha (1 Corinthians 16:22).

The Early Church

Public Prayer

Prayer was frequently found in the gatherings of the early church, offered frequently throughout the worship service with the Lord's Prayer taking its place as the anchor - a common ritual in each gathering.


Elements of the oldest Christian liturgies may be found in liturgies such as the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass,the modern Mass, the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the Anglican Holy Eucharist service, and Lutheran Divine Service.

Seasonal prayers

Seasonal prayers are found in the Roman Catholic Breviary, which provides prayer for each liturgical season including Advent, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, as well as the other parts of the liturgical year. The Breviary developed over the centuries. Different religious orders sometimes have their own breviaries.

Prayer to saints

Some Christians, mostly Protestants, reject the notion of prayer to the saints. The reformer Huldrych Zwingli admitted that he had offered prayers to the saints until his reading of the Bible convinced him that this was idolatrous.[2]

See Communion of Saints and Intercession of Saints.

Prayer for the dead

Protestants have historically rejected the notion of prayer for the dead, believing that such prayers are unbiblical and cannot affect the fate of departed souls. Lutherans do not believe prayers should be prayed for or to the departed, and that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is only to be prayed to.[3]


There is no one prayerbook containing a set liturgy used by all Christians; however many Christian denominations have their own local prayerbooks, for example:


This has a more interior character than vocal prayer. In some Christian theology, this type of prayer is intended to help obtain some knowledge and love of God:according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking."[4]

Christian meditation may commence by reading from a holy book of some kind, followed by silent prayer. Some Christians meditate on the condition of Man, or on the life of Jesus. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary."

Physical posture

Certain physical gestures often accompany prayer, including medieval gestures such as genuflection or making the sign of the cross. Kneeling, bowing and prostrations (see also poklon) are often practiced in more traditional branches of Christianity. Frequently in Western Christianity the hands are placed palms together and forward as in the feudal commendation ceremony. At other times the older orans posture may be used, with palms up and elbows in.

Charismatic prayer: Speaking in tongues

The technical term for speaking in tongues is “glossolalia,” made up of two Greek words, glossa (language or tongue) and lalein (to talk).

The word glossa appears in the Greek New Testament not less than fifty times. It is used to refer to the physical organ of the tongue as in James 3:5; once in reference to flames of fire shaped like tongues[5]; at least once in a metaphorical sense when referring to speech as in the statement, “my tongue (speech) was glad (joyous)”.[6]

The only mention of speaking in tongues in the canonical Gospels is in the Gospel of Mark - “And these signs will follow those who believe; In my name they shall cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues”.[7] However this chapter, Mark 16, is widely considered a later addition to the original text.

Skeptics assert that speaking in tongues is "the ecstatic utterance of emotionally agitated religious persons" [8], and that the phenomenon is unpremeditated and out of their control.

In the early Christian community, glossolalia was apparently quite widespread. This is evident from the apostle Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, where he refers to speaking "with the tongues of men and of angels".[9] This is commonly assumed to be a reference to glossolalia, implying a belief that 'speaking in tongues' involves genuine language, either human or heavenly in origin. Paul's lengthy discourse in this letter,[10] warning the faithful not to be unbalanced and disproportionate in their use of the phenomenon, implies that it was widely used at least in Corinth.

Evidence for the belief that glossolalia can be a human language may be found in the account of the Day of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. Here we read that a large gathering of Christ's disciples "were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them" (New International Version). According to this account, "when they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language". Some claimed that the disciples had drunk too much wine, but Peter rejected this, pointing out that it was only nine in the morning.[11]

See also

References and footnotes

  1. Philip Zaleski, Carol Zaleski (2005). Prayer: A History. Houghton Mifflin Books. ISBN 0618152881. 
  2. Madeleine Gray, The Protestant Reformation, (Sussex Academic Press, 2003), page 140.
  3. Question 201 of Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation (Concordia Publishing House, 1991 edition) answers the question "For whom should we pray?" as follows: "We should pray for ourselves and for all other people, even for our enemies, but not for the souls of the dead."
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church #2705;
  5. Acts 2:3
  6. Acts 2:26
  7. Mark 16:17
  8. The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible defines glossolalia as: "the ecstatic utterance of emotionally agitated religious persons, consisting of a jumble of disjointed and largely unintelligible sounds. Those who speak in this way believe that they are moved directly by a divine spirit and their utterance is therefore quite spontaneous and unpremeditated."
  9. 1 Cor 13:1
  10. chapter 14, verses 1 to 25
  11. Acts 2