The shock of the last several months, with access to Holy Mass and sacramental communion as well as to sacramental Confession seriously curtailed, can leave us feeling bereft. The ordinary means have been taken from us, it seems; and while we know by faith that God has not abandoned his beloved children, it can sure feel that way if we are not deeply rooted in Him.
Souls that thrive in times like these are deeply rooted in prayer. They spend part of every day in personal prayer and adoration. Perhaps they have access to an open church; perhaps they pray from home. But pray they do.
The elements of prayer could be said to be liturgical prayer, lectio divina, mental prayer, and devotions, as well as practice of the presence of God. We may not be able to assist at Mass, but we can pray part or even all of the Liturgy of the Hours, which together with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass comprise the Church’s ordinary worship. Clergy and religious are bound by canon law to pray the Daily Office, as it’s sometimes called. “The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.” (CCC 1175, citing Sacrosanctum Consilium and Presbyterorum Ordinis.). It takes a little work to learn how to pray the Daily Office well, but several apps are available for download, some of the free, and with a little practice, one can learn to love and to pray the psalms, readings, commentaries and prayers that the Church offers to God in this form. Traditionally, the laity prayed Morning and Evening Prayer, and perhaps Night Prayer at the end of the day; many laity pray the entire office, or else some or all of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the texts of which, rooted in the Easter Psalms, Ecclesiastes and other biblical wisdom literature, foster great hope and joy at our Lady’s power and intercession and at the joy that awaits us.
While not strictly speaking liturgical prayer, the Holy Rosary draws its strength and power from prayerful meditation on the life of Christ, confidence in Our Lady’s help, and reliance upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition for its teachings. Who of us is not strengthened when recalling the mysteries of Christ with Our Lady at our side? To this devotion can be added the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, given to St. Faustina, which recalls the moment of Our Lord’s expiration and the outpouring of mercy upon the whole world. These two prayers recited daily change lives.
Lectio divina is the prayerful reading of Holy Scripture. “Divine reading” ponders the Word; it savors it. One takes a short passage of Holy Scripture and reads it one, two, maybe three times, until a phrase jumps out, pregnant with meaning or significance. Out of that phrase and its consideration we develop a conversation with God, a true conversation in which we truly listen to what he tells us, individually, through the Sacred Text, a conversation in which we experience his personal love and mercy. The four moments or divisions are lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio.
Mental prayer could be considered an extension of the lectio divina. Here we pray with a longer text, either of sacred scripture or commentary on it, or a book of meditations based in Scripture. We consider the mysteries it presents and our own lives in light of those readings. St. Theresa of Avila once said that if one did mental prayer for fifteen minutes a day, heaven is assured! Some pray a half-hour daily, some an hour, broken in two parts or else in one sitting; some even pray longer: it’s a matter of how much time one has available and what God is asking one to do. Consultation with a competent spiritual director can help one determine the right amount of time.
Devotions to the saints also help us tremendously. We all have our favorite go-to saints, those who seem to answer us, no matter what. Nowadays, consecrations to the Blessed Mother and to Saint Joseph are growing in popularity, as they develop deep rhythms of prayer in us. Through these consecrations we grow in virtue and holiness, but we also grow in our confidence of the divine assistance we need for this life and for reaching heaven. By giving ourselves to Mary and Joseph, imitating them, and asking them for all we need, both in this life and in the age to come, we grow in peace and in an assurance of mercy based in God’s character and in their intercession and guidance.
All of these prayers can be prayed individually or in group. When put together in some order that leads us from daybreak to bed, one day to the next, we have a good portion of the elements of a plan of life. It’s in the living of a plan, facing the chaos that surrounds and threatens us, that we begin to see God’s plan for us and to live in his peace, the peace that passes all understanding, a peace that the world cannot give.
David Carradini is a Knight of Malta, of the Holy Sepulchre, and of the Constantinian Order. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Navarre, and resides with his wife in Virginia.