October 27, 2008

How Do You Pray?

Gentle Reader: Yesterday at Holy Mass, I observed a young lady arrive in her pew with her parents. She was probably about 10 years old. She did not genuflect towards the Lord before she entered the pew. Furthermore, she entered the pew and sat with no visible intention to kneel and pray before Mass. That is, until her Mom pointed at the kneeler and said "Get up here" (Mom, Dad and other siblings were already kneeling). The young lady, with much 'tude, knelt for about 30 seconds and sat back down with even more 'tude on display.

Rather sloppy episode was it not?

I did the same thing when I was her age. Actually, into my 30s I probably did the same thing. I knelt before Mass, because that is what everyone did, but I was usually about a million miles away. Sometimes, I just knelt there and spaced out. Other times, I was cataloging my day. No jubilation or thanksgiving to the Lord. It was all about me.

I would wait until I felt the appropriate amount of time had passed and then sat back down and read the bulletin or looked around to see who was and who not there.

How rare is this behavior? How many of us kneel there before or after Mass and we are thinking about anything other than offering or supplicating towards the Lord?

Is it that we, and that young lady, don't know what to do? We don't know what to say? We don't care? We don't want to be there anyway? We don't know why we are there? Perhaps all of the above.

The Lord taught us how to pray. You can't go wrong simply reciting the "Our Father" Even better if you pray a Rosary before Mass. Ramp it up and pray the Liturgy of the Hours before Mass. Read a Litany. Even staring at the Lord in silence is better than nothing if your attention is entirely focused on Him.

That's the problem. By and large, our attention is not on Him. Not before Mass, not during Mass, definitely not after Mass. How many of us book out of there as soon as the last notes of the last "song" fade away? How many even wait that long? Some are out the door right after they received Communion or they follow Father right back up the aisle.

Many of my old dissident buddies disdain "rote prayer". I might be ok with their stance if I did know for a fact that they don't pray anyway. They might bang out a prayer if they are at some Christian dissident gathering but that's the only time they pray. You don't see too many of them praying before each meal or offering their entire day or their labors via prayer to the Lord.

Rote prayer, already composed prayer, extemporaneous prayer, whatever and however you pray; it's never easy. Prayer is not easy. It takes real commitment to do it and real effort to find meaning in it. I will spend the rest of my life praying and probably feel as much of a novice with it on my deathbed as I do today.

The Mass is a prayer too, isn't it? Same deal. There are many who cannot, will not, ever see below the surface of the Mass. To them the Mass is all about who gets to do what, how many people are running around, when can we get out of here, why was that "song" selected, why is Father's homily so long, there better be some donuts left in the social hall, do I have to keep kneeling...Mass is hard. It's hard to see below the surface, as hard as it is to 'get' a Picasso abstract...I will spend the rest of my life attending Holy Mass and I will probably feel as much of a novice towards the end of my life as I do today.

Is the search for meaning a reason to despair? Because you can't know it all immediately should you just give up?


Do you ever rent a film or read a book and skip right to the end because you are afraid you may not like the conclusion? Do you, then go back and read the body of the book or watch the entire film? Do you sometimes find that even if you found the ending to your liking the middle may have been tougher than you thought? Does that mean the middle was invalid?

If you skipped the middle becuase the end was "bad" do you worry that maybe you really missed something worth watching? Maybe I could have learned something? Or, my friends really like that movie, maybe there was something worthwhile in the middle even though the ending "stunk"

Those are books and movies, they are not the same as real life. Our End has potential but so does Our Journey. It's thru The Journey that we get to The End. It's thru Our Journey that we may get The End that we desire.

Prayer is part of Our Journey. As Catholics it MUST be part of our journey. It's not enough to just make an appearance in Church on Holy Days. Yes, you MUST be at Mass on Holy Days but just being there without truly BEING there will not probably compose the ending you want. Our lives must be a constant prayer. We must pray all the time. We must teach others to pray. We must teach others WHY to pray.


Blogger Cookie said...

Occasionally I'll bring my 1962 missal (Baronius Press) to a Novus Ordo - the prayers by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and all the other greats really help focus me and TUNE OUT all the aged-out hippie women who've decided that the multi-purpose nature of the "worship space" (I'm gagging a little right now) means that they can talk about their kids, the priest, their weekends, their ingrown hairs, etc...

I mean, it's not foolproof, but it helps.

October 27, 2008 7:13 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

EXCELLENT post Cathy!
I find a lot of comfort in reading prayers that the saints, Church Fathers etc. have written. I highly recommend the "Manual of Prayers" (you can order if from EWTN's website). They have many prayers in both Latin and English and it is very tradtional/orthodox in tone.
Mine has a permanent home in my purse- you never know when you'll have a free moment. ;D

October 27, 2008 8:04 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I have a confession (and an excuse!): I don't often genuflect before entering the pew. When I'm by myself, I always do. But with a baby in tow, there's a strong possiblity that I would drop her and fall flat on my face if I attempted to genuflect.

Second confession: I used to always kneel and pray before mass. But with two kids under two, it just doesn't happen (nor does kneeling during communion--I haven't figured out how to kneel while holding a 7 mo old). I have to assume that, under the circumstances, God will forgive my irreverance.

I just realized that every time I comment on your blog, it's to offer excuses for my bad Catholicism *blush*

October 27, 2008 8:58 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Amanda: Could you, at least, incline your head and cross yourself towards the Tabernacle when entering your pew? Or, assume as reverent a posture as possible during the Consecration?

I know there are many who are physically unable to kneel but they make an effort to acknowledge their reverence towards the Lord in the best way they are able.

Yesterday, before Holy Mass, I saw an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair park himself right next to the Tabernacle. He sat there in silent prayer for about 10 minutes and then he moved off to sit in the pews reserved for wheelchairs.

Do the best you can! :-)

October 27, 2008 10:37 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

cookie: LOL! I know.

Chris: I usually have prayer helpers tucked in my suitcase, er, purse too!

October 27, 2008 10:37 AM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

I have found it almost impossible to concentrate during a "typical NO" Mass. There is so much noise and confusion that it's all I can do to even be there.

We now attend a NO Mass that is not "blessed" with a choir. Father leads the entrance and recessional songs, we sing the Our Father (on our own, I might add), and we are graced with wonderful periods of silence. I am slowly getting back my ability to pray and concentrate at Mass.

I might add that I use a St.Joseph Sunday Missal ($2.00 at a thrift store) and it has many wonderful prayers to read.

When I was a girl everyone, even the children, had missals and prayer books. It was rare to see young people with "tude" in church. The NO Mass with its novelties and bad music is designed to foster a ho-hum attitude.
End of rant ;-)

October 27, 2008 1:09 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

I get very exasperated when Cathy takes these long blog-breaks. Then I melt when she resumes with another of her famous zingers that need to be promulgated far and wide.

One of my liturgical heroes is Cardinal Arinze who also preaches regularly about the power of and the need for prayer. See the following from a talk he gave some years ago:

It is important to realize that the internal aspect of participation is indispensable as a basis, a requirement and the aim of all external participation. That is why personal prayer, Scriptural meditation and moments of silence are necessary. "The Sacred Liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before people come to the Liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion" (SC 9). It is highly advisable to promote moments of silence for individual reflection and prayer during the Eucharistic celebration, at such times as after each reading, and after the homily and Holy Communion. Choirs should resist the temptation to fill every available quiet time with singing. And that includes the time immediately before Mass. But I can't seem to find that quote.

October 27, 2008 6:40 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Could you, at least, incline your head and cross yourself towards the Tabernacle when entering your pew?

Good thinking! That never crossed my mind. THAT I can most certainly do.

During the consecration, I do sit all the way forward in my pew, in a bit of a half-kneel (my shins rest on the kneeler) and bow my head. So I don't feel too guilty about that. Not genuflecting bothered me, but thanks to you, I have a solution :)

October 28, 2008 9:51 AM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

This is a good post Cathy, you've covered it. Written prayers are very important when one has difficulty praying. Just as are the Ave's and Pater's and psalms - why? Because these especially are the words of the Holy Spirit - Our Lord taught the Our Father, the angel taught the Ave Maria, the psalms are the Word of God, and so on.

October 28, 2008 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something (among others) that drives me absolutely insane is the constant ad-libbing by some priests, especially the celebrant at 11 AM Mass on Sunday where I play for our "choir" (that's another story!)... This man simply cannot bring himself to recite anything from the Missal w/out inserting his own riff on it. No one else seems to get why this is so wrong. Another of his annoying habits is to expand the "announcements" after Mass into another mini-sermon, as if the regular one isn't long enough. At that time he will mention parishioners who have done something noteworthy during the week, and ask for a round of applause. I never join that, needless to say. So the congregation is only following the leaders, in this case and in others. THank God there's time on the ride home from the church to say a Rosary in reparation for my mental muttering during Mass...

October 28, 2008 1:20 PM  
Blogger Ray from MN said...

I regularly attend weekday Masses celebrated by a priest who reads everything, even the Angelus and the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after Mass.

It used to irritate me. Then I realized that he also read every prayer, comma, semi-colon and whatever of the Mass. He never deviates. Oh how I love that so.

There is a priest here in town whom I jocularly refer to as "Father Extemporaneous." He probably doesn't say more than a half dozen sentence properly out of the Sacramentary (the Priests' Missal), ever.

It's pretty much like they're showing off at how brave they are. We'll see how brave they are at the last judgment.

That is the major problem of the Novus Ordo Mass, in my estimation. The priests are "performers", not celebrants of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to God the Father.

When they should be praying to God, they are posturing like a ham actor at the audience. And as often or not, they will be galloping up and down the aisle at the "handshake of peace."

But they're worse than ham actors who don't try to improve on Shakespeare? Why do priests feel they have to improve on Jesus, the Bible or the Church?

October 28, 2008 2:26 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Great comments! Very useful to hear. Anon: I know. I've been there.

October 29, 2008 8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrific post, Cathy. And Ray, I like that quote from Cardinal Arinze. We should also remember that coming early to recite the rosary before Mass is another excellent devotion to help get one into the proper attitude and disposition for Holy Mass.


October 30, 2008 3:39 PM  

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