CONNIE ROSSINI: The need for education in prayer
July 14, 2021
We have spent the past 18 months delving into Part 4 of the Catechism, “Christian Prayer.” We have looked closely at the Our Father and Hail Mary, as well as the different forms and expressions of prayer. The next few columns will wrap up this series with a few previously omitted paragraphs. We’ll begin today with the need for education in prayer.
The Catechism says, “The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the ‘domestic church’ where God’s children learn to pray ‘as the Church’ and to persevere in prayer” (no. 2685). The concept of the domestic church comes from Vatican II’s “Lumen Gentium”: “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state” (no. 11).
The next sentence from “Lumen Gentium” says, “Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.” Proper training in the faith goes beyond teaching dogma. Parents must set their children on the road to holiness. Such holiness is impossible without prayer.
How can parents teach their children to pray? They start with vocal (memorized) prayers such as the Hail Mary. “For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit” (CCC, no 2685). As we have seen, however, vocal prayer is only the first of the three expressions of personal prayer. Parents should practice meditation and teach their children to do so. Children should also be instructed about the deeper prayer of contemplation and how they can prepare to receive it.
How can parents possibly fulfill this task? They are not the only preachers of the faith, but the first. The Church provides us with priests, deacons, catechists and others to help complete the task. The Catechism continues, “Ordained ministers are also responsible for the formation in prayer of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Servants of the Good Shepherd, they are ordained to lead the People of God to the living waters of prayer ….” (no. 2686). Priests and deacons should themselves be educated in prayer and be examples of prayer. They can then teach the adults in their flock, so that the adults in turn can teach the children.
“The memorization of basic prayers offers an essential support to the life of prayer, but it is important to help learners savor their meaning” (no. 2688). Simple recitation is not enough. We must learn to engage our hearts and minds in prayer, transitioning toward meditation. “The catechesis of children, young people, and adults aims at teaching them to meditate on The Word of God in personal prayer, practicing it in liturgical prayer, and internalizing it at all times in order to bear fruit in a new life” (ibid.). Meditation on Scripture should be taught in Catholic schools and religious education classes, as well as in retreats and programs for adults.
Meditation on Scripture leads toward the perfection in holiness that Vatican II called for. If we desire a renewal in the Church, we must work toward a universal training in personal prayer.