Nearly a century ago, English writer G. K. Chesterton remarked that the “coming peril” of civilization was “standardization by a low standard.” Today, we can see this pervasive influence, even in the prayer lives of many Catholic families. Beleaguered in a storm of secular influences, many Catholics choose not to pray together as a family.
Even in the time of ancient Rome, prayer and the development of the interior life was popular among the pagans. The great pagan philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle arrived at the conviction of the existence of the divine through the use of pure reason. Through rational observation, they came to understand the natural law and divine law and the role of public and private prayer.
Today, we find ourselves in a new age when many common people deny the importance of the interior life or believe prayer to be unanswerable or a waste of time. Upon reflection, we can learn something from the pagan philosophers: man alone among all the animals reflects and turns upward. Humans look to the heavens for direction, with a supernatural desire for the transcendent.
The axiomatic quote of Fr. Patrick Peyton, also known as the rosary priest, comes to mind: “The family that prays together stays together.” This phrase was oft repeated by Fr. Peyton during his popular 1950s rosary crusades that drew many thousands of people across the nation to consider praying together as a family.
Many young Catholics today, through an encounter of grace, are turning to family prayer and the cultivation of the interior life. Evidence for the need of family prayer is rooted in the current state of the world, the rational observation of sin, vice, virtue, follies, and foibles, and the harmful and lasting consequences of evil.
The practice of prayer is an important thing to cultivate in the family. Many homeschool families choose to begin the day with prayer and make their work a prayer throughout the day by offering it to God as a small gift of love. The definition of prayer is the lifting up of the mind and heart to God. This is the essence of prayer, an act of man turning to God in response to grace. In reality, the heart of the Catholic family is prayer. Prayer is conversation with God, the natural instinct of the human soul.
Every family member should learn by heart certain prayers of the Church that are best learned at a young age. This is because there is an obligation to pray when we are prompted by interior faith, hope, and charity, which oblige us to respond to God’s call.
These include prayers such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Apostles’ Creed, the Confiteor, the Act of Contrition, the Holy Rosary, the Morning Offering, the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and more.
By example, Christ taught the necessity of prayer for the interior life. Christ always prayed. By His own word, He commands us to pray. Below are three quotations from the Scriptures, commands of Christ in the area of prayer and the cultivation of the interior life that inspire us to greatness and give us hope.
- “Therefore I say unto you, all things, whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive; and they shall come unto you” (Mark 11:24).
- “And all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” (Matt. 21:22).
- “Watch ye, therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36).
Below are some key steps families can take to cultivate the basics of the interior life through family prayer. Family prayer is done with sincerity, attention, humility, confidence, resignation, and perseverance. It is crucial that dads lead family prayer (when possible) in the spirit of St. Joseph as protectors of the family.
- Begin and end the day in prayer. The Church teaches that Catholics must in some measure combine daily prayer with daily life. For this reason, Catholics are encouraged to begin and end the day in prayer. The day begins with the Moring Offering and ends with a Thanksgiving. Although these prayers are sometimes prayed privately, they may also be prayed together with children in the context of the family. Reciting it together with the young ones in the context of family prayer gets them into the routine and allows them to more easily memorize the prayers over a short period of time. There are various versions of these prayers that can be found online, while in substance they are the same. By this morning prayer, the Catholic offers their day to God, with every thought, word, and deed offered to Jesus through Mary. This makes the entire day a cultivation of the interior life while leading to the evening prayer, both sanctifying the day.
- Recite holy words and phrases during the day. Days get busy. Moms and dads are encouraged to be in the habit of reciting little spiritual aspirations during the day. The children in a household will hear these, and thus it becomes a family prayer. These little prayers are short phrases that invoke the holy name of Jesus and rebuke evil spirits. After all, the devil flees at the holy name of Jesus. An example of such a prayer would be: “Jesus, I trust in Thee” or “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you, save souls” or “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy upon us” or “Satan be gone in the name of Jesus.” Some aspirations are indulgenced by the Church. Others can be made up ad lib, such as, “Holy angels protect us” or “Guardian angles protect and guide us.”
- Pray the Angelus at noon. Some families pray together at noon the Angelus prayer (or the Regina Coeli during the Easter season). This custom is maintained by employees in many Catholic institutions, such as Catholic hospitals where the prayer is sometimes said over the intercom. Coming together to pray the noonday Angelus is also a custom maintained by employees in the Vatican City State. Further, every Sunday afternoon at 12:00 p.m., the Holy Father recites the Angelus with the gathered faithful in St. Peter’s Square. The Angelus is also traditionally said at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., when the bells ring.
- Remember the Hour of Mercy at 3:00 p.m. There are special graces to be had at the hour of mercy—“the third hour”—when Christ gave up his soul and died on Mt. Calvary. At that moment, the price was paid for our sin and man was redeemed once and for all by the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday. Some homeschool families choose to gather at this time each day to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a prayer given to the Church by Christ Himself. It is especially powerful at the moment of death, for the conversion of souls, and in response to the scourge of abortion. Great mercies flow at the hour of mercy, so be sure to bring your prayer intentions!
- Attend Sunday Mass as a family. Not every family is able to attend daily Mass together. The Church understands this. However, every Catholic is required to attend Sunday Mass. This is a serious obligation. It is best if Catholic families can attend Sunday Mass together. Moms and dads can take turns with the baby and help instruct the kids outside of Mass how to pray so they are better prepared in the pew. Also, consider attending your parish High Mass with choir. Parents are encouraged to bring only religious books for the children to read in the pew, immersed in holy thoughts. Consider leaving the Cheerios and toys at home. Mass time is not play time; it is worship time. It is further helpful for moms to prepare a “Mass purse” for their little daughters that can be kept in the car. This little purse can carry a chapel veil, a little hand missal, and holy cards. Very little children can be allowed to bring religious coloring books and crayons.
- The family Rosary. For many Catholic families, the daily Rosary is a great challenge. On the other hand, once families get into this routine, things become much easier. The Rosary is a preeminent prayer based on Scripture and the life of Christ. It works the upper and lower faculties of the mind as a contemplative vocal and mental prayer while additionally working with the fingers, following the beads. The family Rosary before bedtime is a time-honored universal Catholic custom not be overlooked.
As the setting of the sun brings to an end the day, Catholics are encouraged to examine their conscience and make an Act of Contrition before they sleep, thanking God for His many favors and blessings, while asking for protection against evils of the world and temptation. This makes a great family prayer at the end of the day. Suitable forms of these prayers can be found in old Catholic prayer books. It is both fitting and just to both begin and end the day by addressing ourselves to God. Let us speak to God first and last in a day as a family. It is fitting that our last thought before falling asleep is God, who is ever watching over us and into whose keeping we entrust ourselves at the end of the day.
In concluding, a final note should be said on the necessity of prayer and perseverance. Prayer is necessary for salvation. To be disposed for salvation, man must turn to God in some way in order to be justified. The interior life is an invitation that is received, a grace that is given from above. God wills that we conform our hearts to His. He wills that we shall obtain certain favors if we ask for them and that we shall not obtain them if we do not. Let us ask God for the grace to pray together as a family.
It is much easier to give up on prayer than to persevere. Prayer takes effort, as does every other worthwhile activity. Meanwhile, the devil will be temping us to avoid prayer with any distractions imaginable. Prayer is not about feelings. Whether we feel like praying or not, God is still God and is deserving of our attention and affections. Our Lord cured the blind man who, although rebuked by the crowd, cried out in a spirit of prayer, “Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18:39). God is pleased by our earnestness, and He hears our cries and looks down upon us with compassion. Dear families, do not give up on family prayer!
John Paul Sonnen is an author and history docent. He is also Director of Content at TAN Books and is Managing Editor of TAN Direction. His subjects of interest include Catholic Studies, Christian culture and civilization. His graduate degrees are from the Angelicum in Rome.