Monday, August 29, 2011

Why We Memorize and Recite Traditional Prayers

We read in the gospels that he apostles came to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray. He didn't tell them to search their hearts and just talk to God in their own words. He gave them a structured, formatted prayer containing essential Christian beliefs
----> God as our father, the coming of his kingdom, our daily bread, forgiveness, and the need for God's grace to overcome temptation and Satan. We call this "The Lord's Prayer" or "The Our Father."  

Matthew and Luke present the same prayer in basically the same words, even though the were writing years apart to different audiences in different lands. This suggests that the prayer was habitually repeated throughout the far-flung early Christian world even before the evangelists committed it to paper.

In the gospels, Jesus warned his followers to not do like the pagans, the people who worshiped gods and goddesses and believed in magic, to not repeat prayers as if they were magic spells whose length and wordiness force God to act. He also warned them not to pray in an effort to impress people with the appearance of holiness. Repetitious prayer only becomes meaningless babbling and pagan theatrics only if the person repeating the prayers is unfocused or insincere. In such instances, we should blame the person, not the practice.

Rather than make the words of prayer fit what's in our hearts , repetitious prayer helps us fit our hearts to the words. The words themselves are often based on scripture or the writings of scholarly saints whose holy lives show that they were very close to Christ. 

The Prayer, by Vincent Van Gogh
Many of our prayers communicate deep and powerful mysteries of the faith. By reflecting on the meaning of the words, we deepen our intellectual understanding of God as well as our emotional ability to enter into relationship with him. The prayers protect us against false belief and unfaithful religious practices, since many of these prayers were written by the earliest Christians or by great scholarly saints.

Also, the prayers that we memorize are our birthright as Christians, an inherited treasure from our faithful ancestors, a cultural heritage passed down to from 2,000 years of martyrs and holy people who suffered so that we could receive the gospel of Christ. This legacy of prayer unites us as a family of faith, allowing us to express our love for God in a common set of words, a common language of the soul. 

When we pray the prayers we've memorized, we are echoing the words prayed by our deceased loved ones who are in Heaven with the angels at the throne of Christ. We are also praying the same prayers as other Christians all around the world, many of whom pray despite heavy oppression and persecution. When we recite traditional prayers, we are also linking ourselves to future believers, those who will inherit this legacy of faith from us.

Blessing and Adoration
In the CCC

Joseph Hebert

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