Question 038.

If contemplation is the height of all prayer, why should we use vocal prayer?

At certain stipulated times, we employ words in our prayer to God. And it is by signs such as these that we correct ourselves and discover the degree of progress obtained in this desire, in order to burn even more and achieve an increase in strength. According to the proportion of the ardor of our desire before a prayer is uttered, so will be its effectiveness.

from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.

Vocal prayer can be done in private, in solitary or with others, or in public, in solitary or with others. Public prayer might also be liturgical, or it might not. It is vocal because it is done by the faculties of the body, chiefly the voice, as an external manifestation of what is occurring within the soul.

Does the heights of contemplative prayer, that is the “going into one’s interior room of the heart and shutting the door” to be alone with one’s God, mean that one transcends the need of the body and/or the utterances of the body? To suggest such would be a misunderstanding of the nature of the human person as well as the nature of man as a species.

Man is of both body and soul; he is not an angel. If, by his nature, he prays to God, then his body is involved in prayer. Further, man knows in the progress towards union with God that the body is not left behind; in union with God, man doesn’t transcend his body and become a pure spirit. This is known because, by faith, man declares the Incarnation and its permanence, that Jesus’ body, assumed into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and man declares that he believes in the resurrection of the dead and the life to come. In glory, man will have his body and by his body will praise and glorify God. If in the end, man’s body, his voice, have use in the praise and glory of God, it is not superfluous now.

An individual angel is its own unique species. An angel is solitary before God. With man, an individual is a part of the species of humanity. Prayer thus has a communal dimension – prayer is in common with others of the species and prayer is directed socially for the good of the society of the species. Humans don’t communicate soul to soul with each other but rather by means of their bodies, giving shape and sound to the hidden and ineffable utterances of their interior hearts. As a species, men pray and praise vocally.

The prayer and praise of God is hierarchical; all of creation is called to praise God, according to its nature and order. Although there is a personal communion with each individual’s soul and God, it is not truncated to this. Rather, creation itself is ordered to a united hymn of praise. Because man’s part of creation is a species comprised of bodied individuals, the fullness of man’s prayer and praise necessitates both body, his voice, and praying publically in common with other men, who are also bodied individuals who use their voices.

So vocal prayer is necessary, but what impact does it have upon the soul? It increases charity by uniting the individual man with other men, prepares the individual to enter into the liturgical prayer of praise to which creation is ordered, is a participation in the good gifts of God, participation that increases the desire to receive, thus pray for, God’s good things all the more, indicates via the harmony between soul and body one’s progress in the purification and growth, and stimulates the impulse to seek God within one’s own heart all the more.


The Table Prayer, Franz von Defregger, c. Late 19th- Early 20th