God is infinitely good, and God knows what we need to feel safe and loved and happy. One of the ways people feel safe is through the establishment of habits, or rituals, activities that through time and repetition become a touchstone.
We’ve all experienced rituals in our ordinary day-to-day lives. When my stepchildren were young, I wanted to expose them to a wide range of reading material, to challenge them. They, on the other hand, wanted the same book read to them night after night after night after… (any parent will get my drift here!) We ended up with a compromise: I could read them a new book, so long as we always ended with their beloved Wapiti-Hoo. They needed that repetition, that reassurance. They also needed to know I was there, and that book spoke to them of me, of my presence, of my love.
In a similar way, we cling to God through rituals, through repeated activities that remind us through our minds and hearts and even our bodies that he is there and he loves us. To a great extent, that’s where the use of prayer books comes in. Prayer books give us access to words spoken by other Christians that often have centuries of use. When we’re in crisis and don’t know what to say, prayer books help us find the words. When we’re tired and cranky, prayer books lift us up.
I asked a few people about their experiences of praying with prayer books, and came up with some interesting responses. Perhaps as you read them you can think of them as 10 reasons to try using prayer books!
1. When I was a child, I had a prayer book that began every prayer with the same line: "God, I know you love me so much ..." I repeated that line so often that when I finally "outgrew" the prayer book, I continued to start my nightly prayers with that line, simply from habit. And what a beautiful habit it was. That prayer book did far more than give me some words to talk to God; it taught me how to pray by approaching God with confidence and trust, as one who knows she is infinitely loved. (Sr. Amanda)
2. There are too many times when I don’t feel like praying. I want to do something else. But when I pick up a prayer book and start using it, something transformative happens. The words wash over me. I feel the presence of God shimmering around me. And then I do feel like praying! (Richard)
3. Prayers form me as a Catholic. I just purchased a small prayer book which I use at the beginning of prayer every day. The style, the words, the pictures, they all play a part in forming in me a deeper sense of worship and an understanding of the beauty of making reparation to Jesus for the offenses he receives in his Eucharistic presence. I will most likely use this simple book of prayers for several years, and by then it will have shaped my relationship with God in a beautiful way. (Sr. Kathryn)
4. I can see prayer books being very important for people who are homebound, who may have failing health, without transportation to Mass on Sundays. Prayer books can be a way to continue their faith practice at home. (Ann)
5. My family prayed together a lot when I was growing up. Even today when I pick up a prayer book, I feel close to my parents who have since died. There is a quiet sense that they are still with me. (Laura)
6. There are prayers for cures and deliverance. Prayers to St Benedict. People feel protected. There is an assurance that God has made a promise to be with us. It reminds God to be with us. People have to have words to talk to God, that help them to feel connected. (A member of the Brazilian community)
7. I’ve recently discovered prayers that were written by fathers of the Church from the fourth century. It is awesome to realize how many saints have prayed these prayers throughout the centuries, prayers that have taught them, formed them, consoled them, strengthened them. And now, these prayers are shedding light on my own journey to God. Prayers I can trust.” (Candace)
8. I used to think prayer books were a kind of spiritual plagiarism. I wondered, Why use someone else's words to talk to God when you can use your own? and as a result, I didn’t give prayer books much credit when I first began looking for ways to deepen my relationship with God. Since then, Jesus has taught me that my prayer is never about "me" and "him" alone. I never pray by myself, in private, with "my own" words. When I pray, I pray as a member of the Church, the living Body of Christ. By virtue of my baptism, I am one with the saints in heaven, with Christians around the world, and ultimately with Christ himself. My prayer book reminds me of this. When I use prayers inspired by the Holy Spirit, composed by the saints, and passed down for centuries within the living tradition of the Church, I acknowledge my dependence on the holy men and women who gave their lives so that I might know Christ. I feel united to Christians around the world who are using the same prayers to speak to their Father. I imagine the saints who wrote the prayers, and I picture them saying the words with me from their place in heaven. By teaching me to pray, the saints let me glimpse God through their eyes, and this experience of prayer helps me recognize God's presence more readily in my own life. (Sr. Amanda)
9. I’m not a theologian. And while I believe Jesus, who said that the Our Father is the first and perhaps only necessary prayer to say, my heart wants more. But how can I form words to express things I don’t understand, realities I haven’t studied? When I listen to homilies, when I read books, beautiful images of God and his saints come to my mind, but I don’t know how to express that joy. The first time I was given a prayer book—it was the Sacred Heart of Jesus Prayer Book—I took it into my parish church an hour before Mass and sat and read the prayers… I’ve never felt more deeply connected to Christ. Prayer books give your heart words when your heart has none. (Dianne)
10. A veteran once told our sisters that when he was a student in Catholic grade school, his teachers required him to memorize the traditional prayers of the Church. At the time, he did so grudgingly, preferring to pray with his own words. But years later, as a soldier in the chaos of war, he discovered that the only prayers he was able to articulate in battle were the ones he had memorized as a child. These were the prayers that had lodged themselves so deep in his mind and heart, they could spring to his lips at a moment's notice, even when all other words failed. (a Daughter of St. Paul)
I loved hearing all these stories, because they reinforced what I too have experienced—that creating a ritual and habit of prayer enriches our lives and immeasurably strengthens our relationship with God. It is such a powerful feeling, knowing one is praying the same words that Catholics are praying all over the world, possibly even at the same moment; and those same words have centuries of use behind them.
So here’s what I want to do for you today: introduce you to some of our best-loved prayer books. Take a look and see which one speaks to you:
The Sacred Heart of Jesus Prayer Book: Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an ancient practice honoring Christ as the One who is love. This special prayer book, written and compiled by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP, will help Catholics of all ages enter into this very special devotion that is all about love. Experience the love of Jesus’ Sacred Heart in your life. This beautiful prayer book is sure to become a treasured part of both your library and your interior life for years to come!
Queen of Apostles Prayer Book: Are you looking for something that will bring you closer to our Mother? For familiar prayers that might have been handed down in your family throughout several generations? For something that will give you guidance in your prayer life? The Queen of Apostles prayer book is compiled and edited by Mary Mark Wickenhiser, FSP. You’ll easily recognize the Pauline spirituality that informs this edition, and you’ll discover or rediscover the joys of Adoration, of lectio divina, and of prayers that are as ancient as the Church itself. And the leatherette binding with gold edges makes it a perfect gift!
Mary, Mother of God Prayer Book: Compiled by Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP, this collection of prayers belongs in everyone’s devotional library. This volume offers a complete selection of extensive Marian material including Latin hymns and prayers, along with additional suggested reading. A separate consecration section includes acts of entrustment and consecration and a calendar of Marian feast days. Praying the many Marian prayers that have developed over the centuries is now easy with this book, the ideal size for daily prayer in an elegant leatherette binding.
Eucharistic Adoration Prayer Book: Deepen your relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist through these prayers, scripture passages, meditations, hymns, and more—that provide a guide and companion to a Eucharistic hour of adoration. Written by Marie-Paul Curley, FSP, and compiled by Mary Mark Wickenhiser, FSP, the book places adoration at the core of both Pauline and Catholic spirituality and offers a way to enter into lectio divina, praying with the scriptures. This beautiful prayer book includes seven different hours of adoration. Also included is a collection of prayers, litanies, personal prayers for before and after Mass, and Eucharistic prayers.
And to introduce your children to the joys of prayer:
Little Prayers for Little Ones: This little book of prayer for children ages 1 through 4 gives them a simple explanation of prayer along with clear examples of prayers. It introduces children to the five types of prayer outlined in the catechism of the Catholic Church (blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise) and teaches children to integrate prayer and life by invoking God in and through their everyday experiences. This prayer book will help children know they are loved by God while encouraging them to love God in return through prayer. But it’s for adults, too: as it encourages adults to teach the children in their lives how to pray, it teaches adults about various ways of praying as well!