Saturday, May 17, 2008

What I Love About Catholicism: Written Prayer

Adorable Jesus! Divine Pattern of that perfection to which we should all aspire, I will endeavour this day to follow Thine examples; to be mild, humble, chaste, zealous, patient, charitable and resigned. Incline my heart to keep Thy commandments. I am resolved to watch over myself with the greatest diligence, and to live soberly, justly and piously, for the time to come. I will take care of my words, that I may not offend with my tongue. I will turn away my eyes, that they may not see vanity; and I will be particularly attentive not to relapse this day into my accustomed failings, but to struggle against them with They gracious assistance. Enlighten my mind, purify my heart, and guide my steps, that I may pass all my life in Thy divine service. Amen.
- From The Roman Missal 1962, Morning Prayers, p 59

When I was a young girl, written prayer was boring. My young spirit was racing with thoughts of school, relationships, and childhood pleasures. I did want to pray to God but formal written prayer was like a huge overcoat that didn't quite fit. It was roomy and cumbersome, forming a somber enclave to my more boistrous temperment.

When I was twenty, I looked upon liturgy and the written prayers as a constraint. My spirit, I felt, wanted to soar and these heavy structures were weighing me down. I wanted to dance! To sing loudly! I wanted to whirl around in sheer delight, rejoicing in the love of my Lord. And I did. For many, many years.

Dance has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I danced as a little girl. Later, I was part of an Italian dance group and we'd perform at festivals. I also regularly frequented the dance clubs at night, exerting myself so much that I would leave soaked with perspiration. I usually drank one beer and then water the rest of the night because I considered it mostly exercise.

Within the church I attended, dancing was an acceptable form of worship. I remember so much movement! Like leaves blowing across the surface of a pond, we would dance and twirl and bend. So much movement. But it was on the surface. With so much movement, the body can only allow the expressions of the heart to rise quickly and then be flung to the heavens, like laughter or a gasp of surprise.

But there is something to be said about being still. As much as I love movement and expressing my joy for my Lord, I knew that it only went so far. Praise is good but only one part of worship. Praise is the exuberant laughter of a child. Meditation and contemplation is the heartcry of an adult.

I've started to ponder more the maturity of the Catholic faith. I can't help but compare it to the many years I spent within a non-denominational church, with leadership that flew by the seat of its pants. There were no benchmarks, no lines tethered to our souls to keep us from floating away. There were only a never-ending processional of trends that were ushered in by whomever had the brightest personality or better publicist.

But now? Now I hunger for the formal, the written, the ritual. I hunger for that which will keep me tethered and intentional. I have a wild spirit, one that I now know can lead me just about anywhere but home. And I know God has called me back to the Catholic church for many reasons. I believe one reason is to become grounded in the faith.

I have the Roman Missal from 1962 and also a book called the Catholic Book of Prayers. I've been reading these prayers in the morning and evening and sometimes throughout the day. I've been reminded through these written prayers of our need to "make reparation to Him as far as possible for the sinful ingratitude of mankind." (The 1962 Roman Missal, Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, p 123) There is a enduring humility to these prayers. They stand in stark contrast to the self-absorbed practices that take place in many churches today.

The written prayers, the really good ones - take no prisoners. I have no idea who wrote them. I suspect they were written by nameless priests, monks, and nuns who offered up their words with contrite hearts. But their words cut to the heart of the matter. We are sinners and in constant need of saving. No masquarading our faults or painting a smiley face over our wounds. No, these written prayers leave no place to hide. Naked, I come before my Lord with these prayers, asking for mercy and forgiveness.

The prayer above is one of my favorite morning prayers. It acknowledges first the superior Way of my desire - Jesus Christ. It then perfectly joins together my responsibilities to do my best. Just that says volumes about the Catholic tradition of written prayer. The focus is always first on our Savior, and then on my response. How should I answer to the love and sacrifice of my Lord? With humility, chasteness, zeal, patience, charity and resignation.

That is why I love Catholic prayers. They are solid.


Rachel said...

"There is a enduring humility to these prayers."

Amen. Those old Catholic prayers approach God in the right way. My old Protestant church could fall into a Jesus-is-my-buddy mentality. We all meant well, but it ain't like that. There's no friend like Jesus, and no love like His, to be sure. But it's not something you can be casual about.

Incidentally, the devotions for confession in the 1962 Missal are really good-- my confessions have seemed a lot better since I got it!

Mary Rose said...

Rachel, yes! Those devotions are very, very good. I especially like the Examination of Conscience part. It's a very helpful guide as I remember exactly when and how I sinned.

As you'd say, also...good stuff!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. I am Easter Orthodox, not R.C., but understand exactly what you mean from my own perspective. Good blog.

Mary Rose said...

Maureen, thank you. I see anyone who is pursuing a more Orthodox approach as someone who appreciates the tried and true. Thanks for visiting. :-)