“Let’s examine your Aaronic Priesthood duties as described in section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Be sensitive to what you feel as I apply these duties to your service in your family.
…“Exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” (verse 47).” (Elder Larry M. Gibson)
“I will give you an example of what a home teacher might do as he prays. You may already know that you are to:
“Visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. …”” (President Henry B. Eyring)
Of course, all public prayers and family prayers are made for all present to be able to hear them. But what about our personal prayers? It’s at this point that I’ll admit that for as long as I can remember my personal prayers have been of the silent variety. In part that would be because I grew up sharing a room with my sister. So, privacy. My husband prays aloud in personal prayer, but given he does so in Japanese, that’s still pretty private. Mainly though, it’s because I was once told by my mother, when I was only quite young, that satan doesn’t know what we’re thinking. Putting that together with the idea that God knows our very thoughts, and feeling that I didn’t want satan to know about my prayers, what was in them, I determined then and there that my personal prayers would remain private, and therefore silent. And so it has been ever since. I do not feel remotely comfortable with the idea of praying my personal prayers out loud.
So, what might the benefits be to praying out loud? From Ensign articles covering the topic:
“As I thought about my prayers, I realized that the majority of them were silent prayers. Unfortunately, my mind tends to wander, and these silent prayers often turned into rambling thoughts not particularly related to prayer. As I began praying vocally, I found that I was able to concentrate more on what I was saying, and my prayers were more meaningful.” (Patterns of Prayer in the Book of Mormon, Ensign, October 2012)
“I have found there is great power in praying aloud. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith had surely prayed before the First Vision, but not vocally. The prayer that brought about the Restoration was verbal (see Joseph Smith—History 1:14). Though the Lord hears and answers all prayers, both silent and spoken, I have found that vocal prayer is especially powerful because it helps me concentrate my thoughts. The scriptures are replete with stories of those who lifted their voices to the heavens. Nephi prayed aloud (see 2 Nephi 4:24), Enos raised his voice till it reached the heavens (Enos 1:4), and Alma and his people prayed so loud their captors threatened to put them to death if they did not stop (see Mosiah 24:10–12). Christ offered His great Intercessory Prayer aloud (see John 17:1) as well as His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:39–44). If at all possible, when I am on my knees I try to pray aloud.” (What I Have Learned About Mighty Prayer, Ensign, December 2006)
Further research on the topic, would indicate that an “out loud” interpretation of “vocal”, though not uncommon, isn’t universal. The distinction then becomes whether prayer uses words (whether aloud or silent) to communicate with God, or is more meditative:
“There are two kinds of prayer: vocal prayer and mental prayer. Vocal prayer is prayer using words either out loud or silently…
“In mental prayer we pray with our mind without using words. In fact this distinction between vocal and mental prayer is only a rough one because in vocal prayer we need to keep our minds on the words we are praying, and in mental prayer we shall from time to time say a word or two. But having said that, the distinction between vocal and mental prayer is widely used and is helpful in understanding more about prayer.” (Vocal and Mental Prayer, Holy Faith website)
Not unnaturally, this definition quite appealed to me, given it means I can see my own silent personal prayers as fulfilling the injunction to pray vocally. I do use words, and sentences, and so forth.
But things can be more complicated still, since some traditions seem to regard vocal prayer as repeating set prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer, out loud, whilst mental prayer would be ones own thoughts expressed to God, in an unrehearsed manner. And in the catholic tradition there would appear to be three forms of prayer: vocal, meditative and contemplative, where vocal prayer out loud, is seen as giving due homage to God using our full human capacity, including speech, but is also regarded as lower than meditative and then contemplative prayer.
“God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due.
“… Even interior prayer, however, cannot neglect vocal prayer. Prayer is internalized to the extent that we become aware of him “to whom we speak;” Thus vocal prayer becomes an initial form of contemplative prayer.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 4:1 Prayer In The Christian Life)
I enjoyed the descriptions that followed of meditative and contemplative prayer. Any idea LDS have that those other Christian folks are just meant to recite set prayers and are then done is just flat out incorrect. Prepared prayers, or set prayers are spoken, but meditative and contemplative prayer, in which we might perhaps recognise some of what we hope to achieve in our own prayers, silent.
- How do you understand the injunction to pray vocally?