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09 February 2011

The ways we pray - The Catholic way

Any person when asked about prayer, no matter their religion, will most likely say that prayer is their way to communicate with their god. Most faiths have community prayers, individual prayers, formal prayers, and informal prayers. All of these are ways in which we communicate with our god. Our prayers usually involve requests for help and strength, thanksgiving for the blessings that fill our lives, as well as confessions of our sins for which we need forgiveness. It's important to recognize that the word "pray" literally translates as "to ask." When we pray, we are asking. Asking for strength. Asking for forgiveness. Asking for our needs. Asking for continued blessings. No matter who we pray to, prayer, in general, is pretty similar across the boards. But certain faiths do things differently.

As a Catholic who was raised Protestant, the differences in prayer between these two faiths are pretty clear. As a child growing up in my Methodist-hybrid church, the only formal, community prayer that we said together on a regular basis was the "Our Father." Other than that, prayers changed based upon need and season and occasion, and they were generally personalized and informal. Of course, each Sunday there were prayers that we spoke in unison, but they changed week to week. (I do remember my mom once telling me why she didn't alway say the prayer that was written in the bulletin. Her thoughts were that she didn't feel that she needed to ask for forgiveness for the things that were listed in the prayer. I don't know why, but that memory has always stuck. Not in a bad way. Just a memory.) In the Catholic church, there are MANY prayers that are said together each week and are actually memorized by most (if not all) parishioners. I've only been in the Church for a few years, and I have memorized all of the prayers that are a staple in the weekly mass. Aside from the regular prayers from mass, we have many other prayers that are a regular part of our faith that many people also memorize.

When I first converted to Catholicism, I was explaining to my mom the beauty of the Rosary. She questioned me about the whole idea of memorization of prayers. Her questions made me think about the purpose of memorizing prayer, and, this week in my CCD class, the kids were investigating prayer and the Rosary which made me think about it even more. So I thought it appropriate to share my thoughts with you.

My mom's position on memorizing prayers is that simply reciting the words removes the real meaning of the prayer. But I view things differently. In fact, my perspective is almost the exact opposite of hers. When I recite the prayers at mass, I don't have to worry about getting the words right and I can focus on the true meaning of the words. I can focus my attention and energy on thinking about the real meaning of my faith. Recitation of a common prayer also creates a real and tangible sense of community during the mass; we all hold these beliefs sacred and willingly profess them to the world. But that is in mass. Outside of mass is a little different.

If you have never prayed the Rosary, I strongly encourage you to do so. (There's actually a cool website that leads you through the Rosary here. You can skip the intro if you need to.) I was pretty shocked to discover that many of my CCD students had never prayed the Rosary (despite being born and raised Catholic) and even more couldn't recite the Hail Mary (which was shocking!). While I don't pray the Rosary as much as I would like to, it is a wonderful prayer tool. It gives the pray-er (what is the word for one who prays?) a sustained opportunity for quiet reflection because the Rosary (if you pray all five decades) takes about 20 minutes to pray. The recitation of the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Glory Be, as well as the Apostle's Creed frees your mind in a focused manner to contemplate the mysteries of Christ's life and sacrifice. While my lips are saying the words, my mind is contemplating what those words mean. It's kind of like accelerated reading comprehension. Sometimes we have to read things twice or three times to truly understand what we've read. With these formal, memorized prayer, my mind is free to understand instead of simply decoding.

These moments of silent prayer are the most important to my faith. The moments when I am one-on-one with God, no matter where I are, are the foundation of what binds me to Him. I still pray my individual prayers every day at each meal and when I go to bed, but those formalized prayers really allow me time to think about my faith and my relationship with God.
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