It is not possible to synthesize all that Augustine thinks of prayer in just a few paragraphs. Let me suffice to say that Augustine’s concept of prayer does not substantially differ from the one which Catholic doctrine teaches us. However, Augustine does say certain things about prayer which need to be pointed out. For Augustine, prayer is not an imposed ritual "to be carried out daily from a sense of obligation. Rather, it is the breath of the soul, the spontaneous expression of his faith, hope and love in which he shakes off the limits placed on him by time and duties to enjoy the liberating embrace of the God who dwells in the most intimate core of his being34." Prayer, therefore, is not some kind of extra duty imposed upon a person; rather, it is as natural and necessary as breathing. Its necessity derives from the fact that man is indigens Deo, a being-in-need-of-God. Or to put it bluntly: to be human is to pray. Hence, the Apostle himself urges the disciples to pray "without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). Augustine explains it this way:
"Your prayer is your desire." Desire, of course, is that rightly ordered love which we have discussed above (see n. 1, supra). Augustine is deeply convinced of what the Apostle teaches: We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit Himself pleads on our behalf with groans that are inexpressible in words (Vulgate, Rom. 8:26). Indeed, when we truly pray, it is the Spirit who moves us in prayer: "The Holy Spirit, then" Augustine writes, "urges the saints to pray with sighs too deep for words inspiring in them the desire for a good so great that it is as yet unknown but for which we wait on in hope36. It is the same Spirit whom God has poured into our hearts, empowering us to love rightly and to delight in God:
Prayer then is like breathing, a groaning from the depths of one’s being; Augustine also describes it as a cry: "Prayer is a cry that one raises to the Lord." (Serm 29, 1).
The Role of Scriptures.
These descriptions of prayer that we find in Augustine’s works should not distract us from the idea that prayer is "your speaking with God: when you read (the Scriptures), God speaks to you, when you pray, you speak to God"(In ps. 86). Christian prayer is a dialogue with God; it is a "speaking with" Him who is revealed in the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, the reading of Scriptures educates the Christian on how to relate with God: forming in him the right concept of God, teaching him His ways among His people, and instructing him in the proper way to speak to Him. Father Agostino Trape describes the Augustinian way of reading the Scriptures in the following way:
"Worded" prayers have their proper place in Augustine’s understanding of prayer as "speaking with God." The prayers of thanksgiving, adoration, praise, supplication and petition that we use in liturgical, para-liturgical rites and in our devotional practices have value only when the words used are in harmony with the desire of the heart. Augustine gives us this rule in prayer: "When you pray to God in psalms and songs, the words spoken by your lips should also be alive in your hearts." In this way, our speaking with God becomes an expression of our desire for Him who alone is to be enjoyed and loved.