Prayer & Devotions
"Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed." Mark 1:35

What follows below provides descriptions of various forms of prayer and devotions in the Catholic Church. Be sure and check out the video on a presentation I presented on the attitude we come to prayer with entitled "Talking to God: A Conversation about Prayer".

In the Catholic Church, there are many forms of liturgy and prayer.  Of course, the prime form of liturgy is the Mass.  Other forms of liturgy and prayer include Liturgy of the Hours, Exposition and Benediction, Stations of the Cross, Contemplative Prayer, Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, and the Rosary to name a few.  Here, I offer a few words on some of these forms of prayer.

Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office) is a long standing tradition of the Church.  There are five basic times for prayer in the cycle of the day.  They are Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer, and the Office of Readings.  The Office of Readings can be done at different times throughout the day.  Some groups, such as many monasteries split Daytime Prayer into three cycles, mid-morning, mid-day, and mid-afternoon.  The idea of the cycles is to consecrate the hours of the day to the Lord.  The tradition dates back to Jewish practices.  All the cycles follow a basic pattern of saying three psalms (Night Prayer only uses one), a reading, and a responsory.  For Morning Prayer there is also the Canticle of Zechariah and intercessory prayers.  Evening Prayer includes the Magnificant and intercessory prayer.  The Office of Readings include one extended reading from Scripture and a second extended writing taken from the documents of the Church.

All priests, deacons, and religious are to pray the Liturgy of the Hours on a regular basis.  The laity are encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. To pray the Liturgy of the Hours check out They also have the general instructions for saying the hours. 

Exposition and Benediction

Exposition and Benediction are complementary practices.  Exposition is the rite for placing the Eucharist Host on the altar in a monstrance for adoration.  Benediction ends the Adoration with a blessing with the Eucharist by an ordained minister.  Some period of time passes between Exposition and Benediction during which the Eucharist may be adored.  During Adoration, prayers (such as the Liturgy of the Hours) may be said privately or together.  It also can be a period of quiet prayer in the presence of the Eucharist.  

When I first started going to Adoration, I did not find this form of quiet prayer to be prayer form for me.  I would sit before the Eucharist but "nothing happened."  So, after a few times I decided I would give it one last try and if it did not inspire me I would discontinue my own participation.  It ended up being perhaps the best prayer experience I had had in several months.  

Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross are a devotion.  Thus, they are not required but they are perhaps one of the most common devotions done during Lent.  Almost all Catholic Churches have the Stations of the Cross, generally on the side walls.  Typically, they are inside the Church and are a image depicting the Station of the Cross.  Each Station depicts an action in the final hours of Jesus’ life, His passion and death.

To understand why we do Stations of the Cross I offer the following on the historical development of the practice.

In Apostolic Times there was a tradition that Mary, Mother of Jesus would walk the streets of Jerusalem meditating upon Jesus’ passion.  This remains the purpose of the Stations of the Cross today.  We pray the Stations of the Cross to help us share in the sufferings of the Christ on Good Friday.

In the Fifth Century, according to St. Jerome, we know that pilgrims coming to Jerusalem made the Stations of the Cross.  There is also evidence that they were found in a few churches in Europe.  Pilgrimages to the Holy Land were a common penance.

In the Thirteenth Century, the Franciscans became the custodians of the Holy Land.  They actively promoted the Stations of the Cross for pilgrims.  Then, the Franciscans began to erect Stations outside the Holy Land.

In 1686, Pope Innocent XI granted the Franciscans permission to erect the Stations in all their churches with the same spiritual benefit as for those making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Then, in 1726, Pope Benedict XIII extended the spiritual benefits to all.  Originally the number of stations varied but in 1731 the number of Stations was fixed at Fourteen.  Finally, in 1862, all bishops were given the right to erect Stations of the Cross in all their churches.

Here is a table listing the fourteen stations.  Some versions add a fifteenth station, the Resurrection.  The official number of stations remains at fourteen.  Fourteen is the number of generations in the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to David, David to the Exile, and from the Exile to Jesus as told in Matthew 1.  The table shows some of the scriptural passages for the station.

Stations of the Cross

Scripture References






  1. Jesus is condemned to death





  1. Jesus accepts his cross





  1. Jesus falls the first time





  1. Jesus meets his mother




19:25 has Mary present

  1. Simon helps Jesus carry his cross





  1. Veronica wipes Jesus’ face





  1. Jesus falls the second time





  1. Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem


15:40-41 (Women are present but not consoled)



  1. Jesus falls the third time





  1. Jesus is stripped of his garments

27:28, 31




  1. Jesus is nailed to the cross




Doubting Thomas 20:24-29

  1. Jesus dies on the Cross





  1. Jesus is taken down from the cross





  1. Jesus is laid in the tomb





It has been a custom in recent years for the pope to choose a person to write a new set of meditations to be used for Stations of the Cross on Good Friday in Rome. Here is a link to those meditations.

Bibliography For Stations of the Cross

G. Cyprian Alson.“The Way of the Cross” The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Ann Ball, A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals.  Our Sunday Visitor.  Huntington, IN. 1991, pg 44-47.

Rev. Jovian P. Long, OFM. Dictionary of the Liturgy.  Catholic Book Publishing.  New York. 1989.

Contemplative Prayer

Many of us react negatively to the suggestion of contemplative prayer.  One might respond to the suggestion by saying contemplative prayer is something they do in a monastery.  It is something done in a monastery but it is not limited to a monastery.  In contemplative prayer, we seek to open our mind and hands to the God.  It is a prayer of interior silence.  All of the prayer forms mentioned above involve action or conversation with God.  Contemplative prayer seeks silence.  This is what makes it seem difficult.  It can be very difficult to quiet ourselves.  We have so much going on in our lives.  This should not be an excuse to avoid contemplative prayer.  In fact, the more we have going on in our lives, the more we might benefit from contemplative prayer for it helps us find God in all the things of our lives.  

Centering Prayer

Centering Prayer is one form of contemplative prayer.  It seeks to move beyond conversation with God to communion with God.  In Centering Prayer, we let our thoughts pass from us and sit in silence.  Does this sound impossible?  It did to mean.  That is why we have the technique of Centering Prayer to help us.  It involves relaxing ourselves and the use of a sacred word.  As we seek to enter into the silence, we do not fight off the thoughts (that is often what I want to do).  Rather, we let the thoughts pass through our minds without giving them any attention.  Thoughts will enter into our heads, there is nothing we can do about that.  It is part of being human.  What we can control is what we do with those thoughts.  Let them pass.  

I have only just begun to explore Contemplative and Centering Prayer in my life.  The technique of Centering Prayer was developed as we know it today by three Trappist Monks in the 1970's; Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Basil Pennington, and Abbot Thomas Keating.  

If you would like to learn more about Contemplative Prayer and Centering Prayer you can 

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is another long standing practice of the Church.  In simplest terms, it is taken a biblical passage and meditating on it one verse at a time.  For more information on this devotion check out

The Rosary

The Rosary is another long-standing devotion of the Church.  It dates back at least to the time of St. Dominic in the third century.  

The Rosary resembles a necklace but it is NOT a necklace or jewelry in any form.  It is for prayer.  Typically the Rosary is assembled in five decades.  They are called decades because each decade consists of ten beads for ten Hail Mary's.  Each decade is preceded by a single bead on which an Our Father is prayed.  At the end of each decade a Glory Be prayer is said.  While praying each decade the person meditates on one of the mysteries of the rosary.  There are currently four sets of mysteries.  

Traditionally there were only three sets of mysteries for a total of fifteen.  The fifteen decades of ten beads made for a total of 150 beads symbolizing the 150 psalms.  Prior to the beads for the decades, there are three beads and a small crucifix.  One prays the Apostles' Creed on the crucifix followed by three Hail Mary's on the beads and one Glory be prayer.

So with all these forms of prayer, what makes the Mass prime?  There are two parts to the Mass.  The first is the Liturgy of the Word where we hear readings proclaimed from the Bible, listen to a homily, profess our faith in the Creed,  Lastly, within the Liturgy of the Word we offer our prayers for one another.  Then comes the Liturgy of the Eucharist where we, as Catholics, do not celebrate remember the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross for us.  Rather, for us, the sacrifice is made present to us at Mass as an eternal sacrifice. Be sure and check out "The Mass".

For further information on prayer check out "Talking to God: A Conversation about Prayer"

This page last updated on March 17, 2013