Thursday, February 17, 2011

Memorized Prayer

Perfect prayer does not consist in many words, but in the fervor of the desire which raises the heart to Jesus.~ Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I would consider myself the last person on earth to be standing up for memorized prayer. For one thing, I don't know many prayers by heart. Here's my list: Our Father, Hail Mary, O My Jesus, the Sign of the Cross, Glory Be, the Blessing at Meal Times, I Confess, Nicene Creed, and the Prayer of Saint Francis. You'll notice that I don't know the Act of Contrition, Hail Holy Queen, or the Apostles Creed. I never heard the Rosary until the age of ten. I also didn't learn the Blessing at Meal Times until about 6 years ago. Before that I didn't think there was a memorized Catholic prayer for that. I'm sure you now know why I get on the cases of many conservative Catholics for bad mouthing so called liberals. You don't know what a person has been taught until you talk to them.

Part of the reason that I don't know many memorized prayers is that prayer was not something my parents did in front of me. My parents aren't devote Catholics. I'm going to venture to say the last time they went to Mass was for my son's baptism. He was baptized at 3 months. He's a year old now. We didn't pray before meals. We didn't pray together as a family. The only prayers I remember were my father teaching me the Our Father at bed time as a small child, but that was it.

So really the closest thing I got to vocal prayer in general was my mother's Protestant family. My dad's family was probably very devote Catholic. Heck, my dad's cousin is a priest. But for reasons of geography, I knew my mom's family better. They prayed spontaneous or conversational prayer. It was peppered with "Heavenly Father" and "Lord" which sometimes came together as "Father Lord".

So naturally I turned to contemplative prayer. I didn't have to know prayers by heart and I didn't have to try out the spontaneous prayers of my mom's family. I didn't have to talk at all. I was a teenager at the time and didn't know the name for my type of prayer was contemplative. I just knew it was meditation.

I could tell you that my lack of a prayer list is due to the fact that I am terrible at memorization, but that would be a lie. No, my lack of memorized prayer is because I'm lazy and contemplative prayer is more comfortable for me. Never the less, because I grew up a cradle Catholic in the Evangelical majority, I had to defend memorized prayer.

So here is what usually happened and maybe you've heard something similar:

"Catholics pray strange. The Bible says your not supposed to pray with many words. You're not supposed to have prayer memorized. Jesus wants you to say what's in your heart."

This misconception comes from Matthew 6: 7-8~ In praying, do not babble like the pagans [also translated as Gentiles], who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask.

First things first, please read the entire chapter of Matthew. I get a little irritated when a person bases their whole argument on a couple of lines from scripture. For Catholics, we like to interpret the Bible in context. I think we stumble around when a Protestant comes up with a zinger of a one liner and we don't have a clue what the whole chapter is about. So I learned real fast that if you want to at least challenge a false teaching, you should at least know the passages leading up to and following said zinger.

If you read the passages leading up to, you'll notice something. The chapter of Matthew is instructing people about false humility in worship. Instead of humbly asking the Lord, the people Jesus is describing are openly acting with devotion. He's basically instructing his disciples on the sin of pride.

I'm going to be a little uncharitable and ask this question: What about this passage in Matthew 6:6- But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.? If a Protestant truly believed in taking passages out of context, then why are there so many televangelists praying very publicly to the Lord? Granted, I know that there are some Evangelicals who do pray in closets as the phrase "inner room" is sometimes translated as. But I've seen many Evangelicals waving their arms about, jumping up and down, falling on the ground shaking, etc. Perhaps someone can explain this hypocrisy to me.

Now let's turn to the passage itself. My study Bible has this one stared. It says "The example of what Christian prayer should be like contrasts it now not with the prayer of the hypocrites but with that of the pagans. Their babbling probably means their reciting a long list of divine names, hoping that one of them will force a response from the deity." Father Lord, anyone?

All jesting aside, I think this is what Jesus meant. He never said memorized prayer was wrong. He just simply stated that saying God's name over and over and over again to try to get him to speak is silly. You can't force Jesus to talk to you. He does or does not when he chooses.

And if a Catholic wants to get to the meat of the matter, skip over the above arguments and go to the passages following in Matthew where it says This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven....

I found simply asking an Evangelical if they know the Lord's Prayer (or the Our Father in Catholic terms) would be answered with a proud "yes." Well, then you also pray a memorized prayer. And to add to that, immediately after Jesus's speech about babbling, we have the most widely known Christian prayer written down for us to memorize. It's called the Lord's Prayer or the Our Father.

One could also mention that the Hail Mary mostly comes from the Bible and that every memorized prayer is based on the Lord's Prayer, but that would require me to take nearly every common memorized prayer apart and compare it to the Lord's Prayer. I could do that, but I think simply mentioning the Lord's Prayer usually leaves the person trying to stoke the fire at the Rosary or the Hail Mary. If the debate leads you down that path, please read my other blog post on this matter. Otherwise, you can gracefully change the subject so said Evangelical will save face. There's no point in trying to make a person out to be stupid. I often find that the person who brings up the argument against memorized prayer is only repeating things that they have been told either at church or bible school. Once you've made your point. Then they can look up the information themselves. Perhaps they will make the argument for memorized prayer at their own church.

I admit that I stole this clip idea from Aggie Catholics. Thought it was funny and totally appropriate to how funny conversational prayer can be.


  1. Will have to watch that later when I can have more noise in here lol...

    Curious about the contemplative prayer... I'm bad at memorizing so I don't know many more than you do. I do know all the prayers of the rosary though. I love the rosary :-)

  2. Well, then you are praying a hybrid if you will. The Rosary is comprised of memorized prayer and contemplation since you're supposed to be thinking about parts of Jesus's life as you pray each decade. The Rosary is hard for me because I tend to try to remember what I am saying and can't concentrate on the contemplation part.

    Contemplation is something St. Teresa of Avila is famous for. There are many ways to approach it. You could simply use the Rosary if you are good at doing two things at once. You can also focus on a word or phrase like meditation. Some common ones are Abba (daddy) or Come Lord Jesus.

    For me, I like to focus on my little room in my head with two chairs and two doors. And others have a similar technique or they like to read a passage of scripture and put themselves in it.

    The point of contemplative prayer is not to really speak, but to listen. It's completely different then vocal prayer which is either memorized or spontaneous (also called conversational). I do memorized or conversational prayer mostly at Mass or after Confession. When I'm at home, I spend my time in contemplative prayer. Or if I notice something that needs to be prayed about, I'm just say something quickly like "prayers for so-and-sos dying grandmother, prayers for MK she's having a bad day". God knows I'm terrible about asking specifics. I enjoy just listening to him or being with him.

    Hope that helps!


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!