By Ben Gerigk,
St. Brendan Catechist
Each week in the bulletin, we will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks entitled, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you will learn more about the meaning of traditional Catholic prayer.
All forms of prayer seek to address the divine through dialogue and a focus on the physical, mental, spiritual, and social aspects of human nature. Traditional Catholic prayers, however, are those specifically associated with the liturgical and theological rites of the Catholic Church. Often an individual’s first exposure to the practice of prayer, traditional prayers are deeply embedded in the popular piety and devotion of the faithful, structured according to certain guidelines, and rooted in the rich tradition and history of the Church. Therefore, traditional Catholic prayer is an approach to prayer that has become clearly identified with the Catholic faith and recognized by the faithful as a legitimate devotion to be practiced on a regular basis, in order to grow in holiness and virtue.
The first Catholic prayer, of course, was the Our Father, taught by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 6:9-13. It is the most traditional of all forms of Christian prayer because it remains at the heart of sacred scripture and the prayer of the Church, especially the Mass. Like all traditional Catholic prayers, reciting the Our Father helps us to recall the teachings Christ gave to his disciples thousands of years ago. Examples of other traditional Catholic prayers include the Hail Mary, Glory Be, Morning Offering, Act of Contrition, Prayer to the Holy Spirit, Angelus, Memorare, Guardian Angel Prayer, and the Sign of the Cross.
Traditional Catholic prayers also include a wide spectrum of practices, including vocal prayer, meditation or mental prayer, and contemplation or prayer without words. They can be prayed individually or in a group setting, with or without members of the ordained ministry. Through art, music, and other modalities, traditional Catholic prayers also can be made relevant to today’s Catholic culture.
Sometimes these prayers are criticized for allegedly diverting the attention of the faithful away from the Mass, the greatest prayer of all. Wicks argues, however, that traditional Catholic prayers actually direct our focus towards the liturgy. By attempting to deepen a person’s relationship with God, these prayers assist him or her in participating more fully and sharing more deeply in the fruits of the Sacrament.
As Catholics, we should treasure these special forms of worship that have spanned the generations and incorporate the many types of traditional Catholic prayer into our own prayer life. Even faithful Catholics may fall into the temptation of setting aside traditional prayers, because they do not pray on a set schedule or perhaps find them to be outdated. Yet, because they are traditional, these prayers will always endure in the Catholic imagination. If we allocate sufficient time to pray these time-honored invocations, then our love for God can only intensify and our sense of community as one Body of Christ can only grow stronger.
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