There are two type of prayer-as in all religions:
The highest type of personal prayer is contemplative silence, inner worship of the indwelling God. Jesus himself practised what he taught. He often went away alone into solitude in the mountains or the desert place and invited his disciples sometimes to be alone with him: "Come apart and rest awhile:."
"His reputation continued to grow, and large crowds would gather to hear him and to have their sicknesses cured, but he would always go off to some place where he could be alone and pray" (Lk.5.15-16).
"When you pray", he taught, "go to your private room and when you have shut your door pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you." He told them not to imitate the hypocrites and pray to be seen by people, nor "babble as the pagans do, for they think that by many words they will make themselves heard" ( Mt. 6. 6-7).
But before one can reach this silence in prayer, one is taught to use vocal prayer, either a set formula or spontaneous prayers as they well up from one's heart. The child is taught by its parents if they are truly Christian, to treat Jesus as a friend from the beginning, a friend who is always present, caring, never failing, ready to listen and to help.
As a sample of vocal prayer, when Jesus was asked by his disciples, "Lord, teach us to pray", he gave them the well known prayer: "Our Father.." which has been likened by some to a Mantra in the Bible.
"Our Father in Heaven, Holy be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from evil."
Meditation (In Western Christianity the word "contemplation" is generally used for what is called "meditation" in Hindus or Buddhist tradition, meaning silent, thoughtless sitting before the Lord. The Word "meditation is used in the sense of discursive prayer and reflection, or imaginative contemplation of mysteries in the life of Christ.) in the sense on reading or listening to a Word of God (shravanam), then reflecting on it (mananam) is practised by more mature Christians, thus getting to know the Bible and especially the life, spirit and words of Jesus in the Gospels. This reflection should then lead to silent communing of the spirit with God (like nididhyasanam) : sometimes a word (like a Mahavakya) remaining as leitmotif during the entire day.
Christians also use short prayers known as ejaculation or aspirations-rather like the Japa Yoga (except that unlike the guru-mantra it can vary from day to day according to one's need… e.g. 'Abba, Father', 'Lord, increase my faith', 'Jesus, I love you – I put my trust in you', 'Jesus mercy-Mary, help.' These short shafts from the heart constantly repeated throughout the day can help to keep one close to the Lord.
The Rosary (mala) is another commonly used prayer among Catholics. They repeat the hail Mary (cf Lk. 1.26 ff) while they contemplate the various "mysteries" or events of the life of Christ. The Rosary may be a personal prayer or a communitarian prayer.
Groups pray together, singing hymns, sharing the Scriptures, applying their reflection on the Scriptures to the actual life situation, and interceding for the world's many needs.
The communitarian prayer of Charismatic groups to-day widely spread throughout the world has been a powerful factor in renewing the lives of many Christians. (The word " charism" means spiritual gift for a special service). Charismatic prayer is characterised by group ejaculations such as "Jesus", "Praise God", and praying in tongues and healing.
The Celebration of the "Eucharist", (meaning Thanksgiving ) the highest form of worship as a Community, from its celebration by Jesus Christ himself, is what is known as the Lord's Supper or Eucharist or the Breaking of the Bread. Its celebration in great churches and cathedrals or in humble huts, in every culture and region of the world is essentially the same "ritual", but today the language and other symbols of particular cultural contexts are used in order to make it more intelligible and meaningful to the people of different countries.
The Celebration of the Eucharist
This is an act of worship, a celebration of praise and thanksgiving. It is a meal, a memorial service. It is also a sacrifice of praise, as it gratefully recalls the One sacrifice of Love.
During his life Jesus taught: "I am the Bread of Life…If anyone eats of this bread he will live for ever" (Jn. 6. 51). At his last supper with his disciples before Jesus left the world, he took bread in his hands, gave thanks to the Father, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying: "This is my Body. Take ye all and eat". He did the same with the cup of wine "Take and drink. This is my Blood which shall be shed for the salvation of many" ( Mt. 26. 26-28). Humanly speaking these words may surprise us, but with the gift of faith – or the 'third eye' (divya chakshu – divine eyesight) one can accept and receive this meal and believe the words of Jesus. "Whoever eats me will have life through Me" (Jn. 6. 58.- cf. Taittriya Up. "I am food, I am food")
This meal unites all who receive it; therefore it is called "Communion". "Because there is one bread we all share, we become one body" (1 Cor. 10. 17). The Eucharistic meal forms the greatest unifying power among Christians.
A Memorial Service and a Sacrifice
At the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples: "Do this as a memorial of me" (Lk. 22. 19). And St. Paul tells us: "Until the Lord comes whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you are heralding the Lord's death" (11 Cor. 11. 26). Therefore at each Eucharistic celebration the celebrant or priest says after the words "consecrating" the bread and wine: "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith". And the people respond : "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." Or with another similar acclamation.
The Eucharistic celebration is also a sacrifice. It is a symbolic action by which Christians say that they are willing-like Christ-to give themselves to God and men, to be transformed by the power and fire of the Spirit of Christ-into him; even as the bread and wine are changed by the same power into Christ. To be transformed into Christ means we have the same mind and heart as He; we receive within us the same Love which is the source of heroism and binds us together as one human family in Christ.
The Eucharist is always accompanied by readings from the Holy Scriptures and by various prayers. Throughout the year, different scriptural readings proclaim the mysteries of God and the life of Christ. Catholics celebrate the Eucharist at least once a week on Sunday, the Lord's Day, and on great feast days. This Love-meal is also called Holy Mass.
OTHER RITES, RITUALS OR SACRAMENTS
There are six other sacraments or Christian rites which are connected with different stages of life. In Catholic tradition, gradually "seven sacraments" have been explicitated to celebrate the one great mystery of the life- in-union-with the Guru. They are all grouped around the Lord's Supper. Each sacrament is a personal meeting with Christ, otherwise it could remain external ritualism without a heart.
Thus in Baptism one is re-born in the Spirit. Baptism is the first rite of initiation into the Christian life. Christ is the source of life. The person becomes one with the Christian family united with them in Christ and is graced to grow in love.
Confirmation is the second rite of initiation into the Christian life. One receives the Spirit of Christ to enable him/her to give witness to the life of Christ within, in the ordinary daily circumstances of life. How the first disciples received the Spirit (at Pentecost) and were transformed from cowards into heroes is told in the Acts of the Apostles (Ch. 2).
In the sacrament of Reconciliation-when one has sinned the Christian life is restored or strengthened. This reconciliation implies being reconciled both to God and to one's brothers and sisters.
The celebration of Marriage endows a man and a woman with strength to persevere in love and mutual union-"in riches or in poverty, in sickness or in health" and to foster the Christian life in their children. In this ritual they are graced to be living witnesses of God's fidelity and love in the world. The fruitful love between husband and wife is seen as a symbol of the union which exists between Jesus Christ and the faithful who believe in him. The Church is often called the "Bride of Christ".
In the sacrament of Anointing one is either restored to health or one receives the strength for the journey that leads us through the door of death to the fulness of life.
The Order to Priesthood ordains a brother to an explicit ministry of the Word within the community, so that through the gift of the Spirit he may preside over the celebration of the Eucharist, proclaiming the very words of the Lord's Supper – and also, proclaiming/assuring, in the name of Christ and his Church, the forgiveness of sins. The Bishop having the fullness of priesthood has the power to "ordain" priests.
These seven sacraments (including the Eucharist) are recognised by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Some churches recognise only Baptism and the Eucharist as normative sacraments in the full sense.
II. Is not Christianity a specifically "European" Religion?
It has sometimes been thought by the people in India that Christianity is a western religion. Although it has a Judaic pre-history, Christianity regards itself as the religion of all mankind. It arose in Asia on the frontier between East and West – so that its roots penetrate directly into almost all the earlier higher civilisations. In the beginning Christian communities were more numerous in West Asia and North Africa than in Europe. But for a long time Christian leadership was found mainly in Europe. European colonisers transmitted Christianity as part of their cultural heritage when they expanded throughout the world.
Christian groups in India, descended from the converts of European missionaries of the colonial period, took on many aspects of Western culture, besides Western forms of Christianity. However, some Christian groups have not become Westernised. The St. Thomas Christians in Kerala who trace their origin back to Jesus' Apostle, Thomas, have retained their Indian cultural heritage, while adopting an Eastern form of Christianity.
When Jesus was raised on the Cross these women were observing everything from afar. Mathew and Mark note almost in identical words that, There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee and helped him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the wife of Zebedee. (Mathew 27, 55-56)
Luke has specially noted, All those who knew Jesus personally, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance to watch. (Luke 23, 49) So, from this we can conclude that Mary Magdalene was there at Golgotha among the women and saw the scene of Jesus crucifiction and heard the heart-rending words of Jesus from the Cross. One can imagine the scene of total helplessness of these women who were unable to help their beloved Jesus in his great suffering and death.
The Gospels speak about two unknown disciples: Joseph of Arimathea and a Pharisee Nicodemus. They brought down the body of Jesus from the Cross and wrapped it in a linen sheet. The Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and other devout women disciples might have helped the two to bury Jesus. Luke notes, The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus body was placed in it. Then, they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body. On the Sabbath they rested, as the Law commanded. (Luke 23, 55-56)
The renowned artist Peter Paul Rubens has drawn a very famous picture entitled The Descent from the Cross! In the picture two women are helping Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to take down the body of Jesus from the Cross. The two women are Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Cleopass. Rubens portrait of Mary Magdalene gives credence to traditional belief that Mary Magdalene was at the foot of the Cross.
In the Gospels Mary Magdalene gets special place and respect because Mark has mentioned, After Jesus rose from death early on Sunday, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16, 9) Jesus had broken many traditional beliefs of people during his life on earth. Against the customs of the Jewish rulers, Jesus took revolutionly steps like mingling and eating with outcasts, sinners and tax-collectors. In Jewish society a womans place was not better than a servant or a slave. But in dealing with people Jesus gave women equal dignity and self respect like men.
As if these revolutionary steps were not enough, the resurrected Christ first appears to a woman, Mary Magdalene, and makes her the messenger of his resurrection!
St. John has described in a picturesque way the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection. Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. Women, why are you crying? they asked her.
She answered, They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!
Then she turned round and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus. Woman, why are you crying? Jesus asked her. Who is it that you are looking for?
She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.
Jesus said to her, Mary!
She turned towards him and said in Hebrew, Rabboni! (this means Teacher.)
Do not hold on to me, Jesus told her, because I have not yet gone back up to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am returning to him who is my Father and their Father, my God and their God.
So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her. (John 20, 11-18)
After studying about the times of Jesus, we can say without doubt that in Jesus time nobody could have even imagined the things Jesus did after his resurrection. Jesus makes a woman - Mary Magdalene - the messenger of his resurrection to his disciples! Following Jesus with other woman of Galilee Mary Magdalene has fully, absorbed the values, the ideals and the attitudes of Jesus. So, Mary Magdalene without any hesitation or doubt can courageously give the message of Jesus to his disciples.
In Jewish society the place of a woman was at the bottom. No one paid attention to her opinion. Women were confined to their houses. But Mary Magdalene knows well that Jesus has overcome these traditional beliefs and customs and that he has given to each man and woman without any distinction equality and dignity. So, Mary takes the message to the disciples, a thing they could never have imagined. Mary Magdalene experiences only enthusiasm and happiness in delivering the message.
Mary Magdalene has experienced a wonderful change in her life as a result of her meeting and long association with Jesus. The meeting and association with Jesus cannot fail to bring similar changes in one and all. St Paul is a typical example of this. In the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul says, I have been put to death with Christ on his Cross, so that it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2, 20)
Mary Magdalene can also say like St. Paul that it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.
With her self-surrender and service Mary Magdalene has become another Christ. Mary Magdalene appears nowhere in the Bible after the story of her encounter with the risen Christ. All the same, we can believe that after the Ascension when the disciples and other followers of Christ were gathered in Jerusalem Mary Magdalene must have also been with them in the upper room where all were gathered in prayer. The Acts of the Apostles says, They gathered frequently to pray as a group, together with the women and with Mary the Mother of Jesus and with his brothers. (Acts 1, 14)
We can easily imagine that Mary Magdalene must have been there with the Mother of Jesus and the other women. Mary Magdalenes meeting and long association with Jesus transformed her from a weak woman to a strong one. Moreover she became the very first witness of Jesus resurrection and also his first messenger of the resurrection. The encounter with Jesus and association with him transforms a person. Mary Magdalene is a great example of such transformation for good.