The Sacraments of the Church and Prayer are the ordinary channels of grace. The first pours richer treasures of heaven into the soul; the second more frequent ones. We cannot receive the Sacraments, at all times, but we may and ought to pray always. It becomes of great importance then to know how to pray well. Qui novit bene erare novit et bene vivere, was the saying of a holy doctor of the Church: he who knows how to pray well knows how to live well. You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss (St. James, iv. 3.) There are different ways of asking amiss. If our prayers are not humble, like the poor publican’s, if they are not persevering, if they beg absolutely for the goods of this life, then we ask amiss. If we use forms of prayer which the Church has condemned we ask amiss. Forms are not always useless things; it is not always that they savor of pedantry and affectation. Hold the form of sound words which thou hast heard from me in faith: this was the instruction which the Holy Ghost gave to St. Timothy, through the inspired epistle of St. Paul (2d Tim., i. 13.)
There are many prayers which the Church has neither approved nor condemned: Catholic prayer books are full of them. But why should we use them to the neglect of so many other beautiful forms of prayer which have received the highest ecclesiastical sanction? They are generally more rhetorical than the prayers of the Liturgy, but, for that very reason, they are colder; there is less of the unction of the Holy Spirit in them. We by no means pretend to say that all of them have the “black mark of St. Peter,” but it is certain that many have not his white mark. Why should we prefer them to those have?
A vocal prayer that is of divine or ecclesiastical institution is a sacaramental. No other is unless it has become ecclesiastical by the sanction of the legitimate authorities.
A wide field of Sacramentals at once opens before us. All the prayers said by the priest in the Mass, the Psalms sung in the Divine Office, the forms of prayer used in the administration of the Sacraments, the consecration of bishops, the conferring of orders, the consecration and blessing of churches, bells, vestments, crosses, rosaries, pictures, etc., are Sacramentals. At present we shall dwell upon three forms of prayer: Litanies, the Angelus and Hymns.