Having a spiritual identity as a group based on good intentions will take them only so far. So too those with good doctrine , a community feel and social norms that reinforce that identity. All the more for a community to be Christian and be fully centered in relationship to Jesus that is vital.
That is the lesson of prayer for the Church in its early days and also for today as we see that, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
What I have covered of the other three traits are not without importance individually but are unable to flourish if they are not guarded in prayer. Prayer is the soil and climate by which apostolic teaching, community and ceremony in Christ flourishes.
But what kind of prayer is being discussed here? What is important to notice is the implication from the Greek. The point is that the word for “the” (τη definite article – dative singular feminine) is there. This makes it something that is experience as a definable communication with God and very purposeful.
We can be informed in the context of the very same verse in that the “breaking of the bread” is used. We know from the revelation of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that their eyes were opened fully to who Jesus was in the breaking of the bread. We also know from both Old Testament and rabbinical mishnas that sacrifices, including the grain one, prayers needed to be accompanied. The theme for the grain offering was thanksgiving (todah). When that was brought over to the Greek translation of the Old Testament the word was eucharisteo (from which was get the eucharist).
But it should be noted that the corporate prayer in those gatherings needed to be held in context of the delegated authority of the apostles. It is implied by the next verse as well as many sources from the early church fathers that the prayers connecting the corporate people was through those with holy orders since they “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43). It flows well that “the prayers” were prayed by the apostles. In the next years this is passed on to the presbyters (prebuteroi) from which we get priests.
This continues a pattern that is in the Old Testament. Several times someone who is King of Israel attempts to do what is liturgical in worship but God rebukes them and reaffirms the importance of the priesthood.
I can hear the words of the skeptic. There would be questions like “But how could there be riles to prayer in what was the pure,pristine Christianity before the corruption of the Catholic Church? And isn’t the Law done away with?
First, the prayers that go with the presentation of the eucharist are entirely Christocentric as described below.
In this Paschal and sacrificial prayer, everything is recapitulated in Christ: God and the world; the Word and the flesh; eternal life and time; the love that hands itself over and the sin that betrays it; the disciples present and those who will believe in him by their word; humiliation and glory. It is the prayer of unity (Catechism of the Catholic Church,paragraph 2748 1994).
This was a part of the apostles job description (and their successors) to “do this in memory of me”. This was an instruction given only to the apostles and for those who would directly succeed their office.
One last point about the prayer environment that rounds out the Church that Jesus founded: these prayers in connection of the appearances for bread and wine transcend our physical reality on earth. I learned this through two ways as a I journeyed from my thirty years as Protestant. On a quiet afternoon in a small Spanish mass in Wickenburg, Arizona I had a distinct impression of the presence of angels. When I received the Eucharist that day (I found out later I was not supposed to yet) there was a sense of heaven and earth meeting. After finding out about how the mass is represented throughout the book of Revelation it only became crystal clear.
In conclusion, what I have come to understand that the four points of Acts 2:42 need two kinds of environments. The environment of apostolic prayer and also delegated authority in proper succession: the Catholic Church.