Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Domestic Church: Family Prayer

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2205):
The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father's work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.
Praying together as a family seems an essential element of a Christian family, but I have been surprised at how many families that I have met that don't pray together. I shouldn't be that surprised, really, since Molly and I hadn't instituted family prayer ourselves until roughly two years ago. Prior to that, I wouldn't say there was really an excuse, it was more that we just never got around to it. And when I talk about family prayer, I am not referring to occasional prayer as a family. I am referring to daily, habitual prayer as a family. A daily time set aside for prayer. In the business of family life, one can understand why it just doesn't happen for many families. But this is an instance where Mom and Dad need to take some initiative and show some leadership. The hardest part is getting started. I remember for Molly and I, the moment finally came when we were giving a talk for an engaged couples retreat at our parish and advising the couples that they should make time for prayer as a family. Getting in the car afterwards, we discussed how we don't even do this ourselves! That was the end of that. Molly and I are both "doers". Almost every day since then we have had family prayer after supper. Needless to say, one of the ways we'll be using our chapel in our new home is for daily family prayer.

So what should constitute family prayer? In this question, I'd say it definitely depends on the age of the kids. Our kids (ages 5, 3, 2, and 6 months)... well, let's just say that half of prayer consists of correcting one or more children who are running around not paying attention, or poking someone, or praying AS LOUD AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN for no reason. In this, shall we say, "environment," it's best to keep things relatively short and sweet, while also consciously using prayer as a means of teaching the children how to pray. That said, many people vastly underestimate what children can remember, what they can grasp, and the interest they have in prayer.

Our kids are very interested in prayer. We mix personal prayer, where we go one-by-one and ask them to pray to our Lord, with memorized prayer, where we make use of the eloquence and guidance of the Church through the ages in some of the best-known prayers. Our kids (that's the 5, 3, and 2-year old, Max at 6 months hasn't quite gotten prayer down) can recite from memory the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Guardian Angel's prayer. They can also recite our family's favorite prayer, to St. Michael the Archangel. Imagine a 5, 3, and 2-year old praying from memory:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray
And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, By the power of God
Cast into Hell Satan and all of the evil spirits
Who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
I'll admit it, we have trotted the kids out to say that at family parties before (who can resist?). It's a powerful prayer, though, not to be taken lightly, and most often used to ask the aid of St. Michael the Archangel in protection of our home from spiritual warfare.

We also pray the Rosary (most of the time just a decade), and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with the kids. We also will pray the Psalms from Holy Scripture, or occasionally we will do Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours (which is my personal daily prayer, and consists of praying the Psalms from scripture), but in lieu of that we have taught the kids to memorize the antiphon from the Gospel canticle of Night prayer:
Protect us Lord, as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep
That awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace. Amen.
In the spirit of the triduum method of teaching we employ in homeschooling, teaching a large repertoire of memorized prayer will prove useful to the kids as they grow older and spend more time in personal prayer (analagous to the "grammar" stage of the classical method, which prepares for the "logic" and "rhetoric" stages with a significant amount of memorization).

Family prayer is always first and foremost about Christ and thanking Him for our many blessings, petitioning Him with our intentions, and spending time in His presence as a family. We have seen many more blessings bestowed simply by praying as a family, especially in our children. The kids will always remind us when we have not done prayer yet, and hearing what they pray about when they are given time to vocally is amazing (most often, they pray for each other). Family prayer also offers a set time where we can celebrate and bless children on their baptism day, or their birthday, and even a time to magnify the mass, as we sing the Gloria or participate in the liturgical year as in Lent and Advent. Family prayer is truly a necessity for the family to be a domestic Church, and to grow in holiness and closeness with the Lord. If you and your family aren't in this habit yet, there's no time like the present to start!

No comments: