... as Manifest in the Prayers of the Mass | Dawn Eden | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
The Angelic Doctor’s overarching concern in treating of Christ’s prayer is to show that Jesus’ primary purpose in praying was to draw us to imitate him.
St. Thomas Aquinas begins his exposition on prayer in the Summa theologiae by explaining that prayer is not an act of the ap
petitive power, but is rather an act of reason. 1 Yet, later in the Summa, in his question concerning the prayer of Christ, he asks whether Jesus’ prayer was the expression of His sensuous impulse. 2 Why does he raise an issue that he has seemingly already settled?
One possible answer is that revisiting the relationship between prayer and the sensitive appetite, enables Aquinas to discuss how the liturgy brings the ecclesia orans into greater conformity with the crucified Savior. This becomes clear when one examines how certain prayers of the Roman Missal manifest one of the things Thomas says Christ’s prayer is intended to teach us: “that it is permissible for a man to entertain an instinctive affection for something which God does not will. 3
Putting on Christ through putting on his desires
The Angelic Doctor’s overarching concern in treating of Christ’s prayer is to show that Jesus’ primary purpose in praying was to draw us to imitate him: “As God, Christ could accomplish all that he desired, but not as man. … Yet, even though in his one person, he was God as well as man, he wished to offer prayer to the Father. It was not that he, as a person, lacked any power; he did this for our instruction.” 4 Thomas then enumerates two things Jesus sought to teach us by this means: “He wished firstly to reveal to us that he was from the Father. So, we find him saying: ‘Because of the people who stand about, have I said it’—namely the vocal prayer—’that they may believe that Thou hast sent me.’” … Secondly, he wished to offer us an example. 5
It is in keeping with this notion of Christ’s offering us an example that Aquinas enters into the question of whether Jesus’ prayer was the expression of his sensuous impulse. St. Thomas initially answers that—following what has already been said about prayer emanating from the reason—Christ’s prayer could not be the expression of his sensuality, “since his sensuality was of the same nature and species in Christ as in us.” 6
Having repeated his earlier teaching, Thomas then considers the question from a different angle, observing that we may be said to pray according to the sensuality when our prayer lays before God what is in our appetite of sensuality; and in this sense Christ prayed with his sensuality inasmuch as his prayer expressed the desire of his sensuality, as if it were the advocate of the sensuality.” 7