What is the Difference Between ‘Saying Prayers’ and ‘Praying’?

Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, a listener named Susan called in to ask Patrick about the distinction between reciting written prayers and having a personal conversation with Our Lord. She was also curious about whether there were different benefits to each method and whether she was missing something by mainly conversing through recited prayers.

Susan said that the reason she doesn’t often engage in typical conversation with God is that she finds it difficult to ‘bare her soul’ to Him in the way one might talk to one’s spouse or parents. So instead, she resorts to written prayer like the Rosary.

Patrick began the conversation by defining prayer for Susan and his listeners. “Prayer, fundamentally, is you addressing your thoughts to God. In whatever manner you do that, that’s prayer. And there are different kinds of prayer. Some prayer is more, you might say, common with those who are deeper in the Christian life, more mature perhaps.”

Prayer is when you open your heart and mind to God. Prayer doesn’t even have to necessarily be expressed through words at all. As Patrick mentioned, you can simply emote your thoughts, feelings, worries, ideas, hopes, desires, and regrets. The key is to open yourself with the intention of conversing with God in whatever way you see fit. Patrick offered the example of someone who may be grieving the death of a loved one. They may sit in silence and sorrow, not saying a thing to God, but if they offer their grief to Him, they are praying.

According to the saints who mastered a life of prayer, there are three tiers or steps to prayer and it’s a process of progression. The first step is the recitation of rote prayer. You occupy this first step when you say the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Memorare. This is the easiest form of prayer because it doesn’t necessarily require the organization of thoughts or participation in active conversation. You can simply attach your intentions or anxieties to these memorized prayers.

However, even though it is the easiest doesn’t mean it lacks value in the eyes of God. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself taught us the Our Father and said of it, “This is how you are to pray…” (Matthew 6:9). Rather, recited prayer is so valuable because it allows us the greatest accessibility to God. As soon as you begin to participate, you are praying. Written prayer proves its worth especially during hectic times or situations where it might be difficult to do mental prayer effectively.

The second step in developing a prayer life is learning to do meditation or mental prayer. Many people teach themselves to do this, especially if they are entering into religious life. Meditation is most often the examination of something that bears spiritual significance to the faith, like the lives of the saints, a teaching from scripture, or a parable from Jesus. Patrick compared meditation on these scenes to a person holding a crystal up and rotating and manipulating it so that you can see the ways light interacts with it at different angles.

The third step in developing your prayer life is what’s known as contemplation. Most Christians have difficulty participating in this type of prayer because it’s hard to grasp as a concept in itself. Rather than actively reciting a rote prayer or meditating on a scene from scripture, Patrick said the best way to describe it is like you’re “gazing at God”. St. John Vianney was once asked by a parishioner how he prays and he responded, “I look at the Lord and the Lord looks at me.” It’s no longer a matter of intellect or imagination, but it’s simply basking in God’s presence.

That being said, Patrick closed by saying that there is nothing wrong with remaining on that first step of prayer life. Wrote prayers are precise, theologically rich, and beautiful expressions of one’s intentions to Our Lord. As one of those intentions, Patrick suggested Susan ask Our Lord if He wishes for her to enter into a deeper form of prayer. And, if so, that He would help her discover that path to meditation.

Listen to the full question and answer below:

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.