St Thomas Aquinas on the Five Qualities of Prayer6-min read (inc. footnotes)

St Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas, Universal Doctor – Fr Edward Leen CSSP
The Holy Wrath of St Thomas Aquinas – G.K. Chesterton
On the Five Qualities of Prayer – St Thomas Aquinas
True Law – According to the Teaching of St Thomas Aquinas
What is Thomism? The Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses

The Fioretti of St Thomas:
Part I: His Life
Part II: His Death
Part III: The Miracles after his Death

I would like to offer our readers this beautiful text on prayer taken from the Catechetical Instructions of St Thomas Aquinas. This is now available in Tradivox Vol. VI (UK readers click here). It is also available at the Internet Archive. Reminder: We earn with purchases through Amazon links.

We hope that the text from St Thomas will encourage you to persevere in prayer, confident that God always stands ready to answer us.

Image: Sagrestani, Gloria di San Tommaso, from Wiki Commons


FIVE QUALITIES OF PRAYER

St Thomas Aquinas

“Our Father, who art in Heaven.”

Among all other prayers, the Lord’s Prayer holds the chief place. It has five excellent qualities which are required in all prayer. A prayer must be:

  • Confident
  • Ordered
  • Suitable
  • Devout
  • Humble

Confident

It must be confident: “Let us, therefore, go with confidence to the throne of grace.” (Heb 4:16) It must not be wanting in faith, as it is said: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” (1 John 2:1) That this is a most trustworthy prayer is reasonable, since it was formed by Him who is our Advocate and the most wise Petitioner for us: “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;” (Col 2:3) and of whom it is said: “For we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just one.” (1 John 2:1) Hence, St. Cyprian says: “Since we have Christ as our Advocate with the Father for our sins, when we pray on account of our faults, we use the very words of our Advocate.” 

Furthermore, this prayer is even more worthy of confidence in that He who taught us how to pray, graciously hears our prayer together with the Father, as it is said in the Psalm: “He shall cry to Me, and I will hear him.” (Ps 90.15) Thus writes St. Cyprian: “It is a friendly, familiar, and devout prayer to ask of the Lord in His own words.” And so no one goes away from this prayer without fruit. St. Augustine says that through it our venial sins are remitted. 

Suitable

Moreover, our prayer must be suitable, so that a person asks of God in prayer what is good for him. St. John Damascene says: “Prayer is the asking of what is right and fitting from God.” Many times our prayer is not heard because we seek that which is not good for us: “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask amiss.” (Ja 4:3) To know, indeed, what one ought to pray for is most difficult; for it is not easy to know what one ought to desire. Those things which we rightly seek in prayer are rightly desired; hence the Apostle says: “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” (Rom 8:26) Christ Himself is our Teacher; it is He who teaches us what we ought to pray for, and it was to Him that the disciples said: “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Lk 11:1) Those things, therefore, which He has taught us to pray for, we most properly ask for. “Whatsoever words we use in prayer,” says St. Augustine, “we cannot but utter that which is contained in our Lord’s Prayer, if we pray in a suitable and worthy manner.” 

Ordered

Our prayer ought also to be ordered as our desires should be ordered, for prayer is but the expression of desire. Now, it is the correct order that we prefer spiritual to bodily things, and heavenly things to those merely earthly. This is according to what is written: “Seek ye first therefore the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mt 6:33) Here Our Lord shows that heavenly things must be sought first, and then things material. 

Devout

Our prayer must be devout, because a rich measure of piety makes the sacrifice of prayer acceptable to God: “In Thy name I will lift up my hands. Let my soul be filled with marrow and fatness.” (Ps 62:5) Many times because of the length of our prayers our devotion grows cool; hence Our Lord taught us to avoid wordiness in our prayers: “When you are praying, speak not much.” (Mt 6:7) And St. Augustine says: “Let much talking be absent from prayer; but as long as fervor continues, let prayer likewise go on.” For this reason the Lord made His Prayer short. Devotion in prayer rises from charity which is our love of God and neighbour, both of which are evident in this prayer. Our love for God is seen in that we call God “our Father;” and our love for our neighbour when we say: “Our Father . . . forgive us our trespasses,” and this leads us to love of neighbour. 

Humble

Prayer ought to be humble: “He hath had regard for the prayer of the humble.” (Ps 101:18) This is seen in the parable of the pharisee and the publican and also in the words of Judith: “The prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee.” (Jude 9:16) This same humility is observed in this prayer, for true humility is had when a person does not presume upon his own powers, but from the divine strength expects all that he asks for. 

The Effects of Prayer

It must be noted that prayer brings about three good effects.

First, prayer is an efficacious and useful remedy against evils. Thus, it delivers us from the sins we have committed: “Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin. For this shall every one that is holy pray to Thee in a seasonable time.” (Ps 31. 5) The thief on the Cross prayed and received forgiveness: “This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” (Lk 23:43) Thus also prayed the Publican, and “went down to his home justified.” (Lk 18:14) Prayer, also, frees one from the fear of future sin, and from trials and sadness of soul: “Is any one of you sad? Let him pray.” (James 5:13) Again it delivers one from persecutors and enemies: “Instead of making me a return of love, they detracted me, but I gave myself to prayer.” (Ps 28:4)

In the second place, prayer is efficacious and useful to obtain all that one desires: “All things whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive.” (Mk 11:24) When our prayers are not heard, either we do not persevere in prayer, whereas “we ought always to pray, and not to faint,” (Lk 28:1) or we do not ask for that which is more conducive to our salvation. “Our good Lord often does not give us what we wish,” says St. Augustine, “because it would really be what we do not wish for.” St. Paul gives us an example of this in that he thrice prayed that the sting of his flesh be removed from him, and his prayer was not heard. (2 Cor 12:7)

Thirdly, prayer is profitable because it makes us friends of God: “Let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight.” (Ps 111:2)

ST THOMAS AQUINAS: PRAY FOR US!


SELECTED TEXTS FROM ST THOMAS AQUINAS

Summa Theologica Trans. by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, (5 vols.) Ave Maria Press, Hardback (and UK readers) and Paperback (and UK readers). Also online at New Advent and iPieta.

Summa Theologiae, Aquinas Institute (8 vols.) Latin-English, based on the English Fathers’ translation, without the Supplementum parts. (And for UK readers) Supplementum I-68 (and UK readers) Supplementum 69-99 (and UK readers)

St Thomas Aquinas – Summa Contra Gentiles. Aquinas Institute in 2 vols: Vol. I (Books I-II) and Vol. 2 (Books III-IV) and for UK readers here and here. Budget single-volume from Aeterna Press (and for UK readers) and online at iPieta or Aquinas.cc

Aquinas – Opuscula I, from the Aquinas Institute (UK readers), containing the following:

St Thomas Aquinas – Catena Aurea (and for UK readers). 4 vols, line-by-line commentary on the four Gospels from the Fathers of the Church, assembled by St Thomas Aquinas and translated by Cardinal John Henry Newman. Published by Baronius Press.

Tradivox VI: Aquinas, Pecham, and Pagula (UK readers), including St Thomas Aquinas’s Catechetical Instructions. An arrangement of other Opuscula in catechetical form. (ca. 1260)

St Thomas Aquinas’s scriptural commentaries are being published by the Aquinas Institute in English and Latin. Here are some of the options below – they are online here, and it is possible to buy single volumes of the commentaries below:

Anger – The Doctrine of the Mystical Body According to the Principles of St Thomas Aquinas (and for UK readers). Internet Archive. Draws together several texts for which there is a bit of a lacuna in the Summa itself.

Glenn – A Tour of the Summa. A compressed one-volume account of the Summa. (UK readers)

Pegues – Catechism of the Summa Theologica for the use of the Faithful (and for UK readers)

G.K. Chesterton – St Thomas Aquinas. Classic biography. (UK link)

Foster – The Life of St Thomas Aquinas – Biographical Documents (UK readers). Online at Internet Archive.

THE WM REVIEW READING LIST

St Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas, Universal Doctor – Fr Edward Leen CSSP
The Holy Wrath of St Thomas Aquinas – G.K. Chesterton
On the Five Qualities of Prayer – St Thomas Aquinas
True Law – According to the Teaching of St Thomas Aquinas
What is Thomism? The Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses

The Fioretti of St Thomas:
Part I: His Life
Part II: His Death
Part III: The Miracles after his Death


One-Time
Monthly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Help the WM Review by donating today – all donations go directly towards helping us produce real Catholic research and studies.

Choose an amount

$40.00
$60.00
$100.00
$40.00
$60.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated and helps us to keep things going.

Your contribution is appreciated and helps us to keep things going.

DonateDonate monthly

Follow us on Twitter, Telegram, facebook and Gab.

Don’t forget!

See here for the full WM Review Reading List.

Like what you’ve read? Subscribe so we can say in touch.


Leave a Reply