Our spiritual lives are centered upon Jesus’ sacrifice, made present in the Eucharist. Probably the majority of us however, have schedules that keep us from attending Mass on a daily basis. It may come as a surprise to learn that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – and the majority of Jews at the time – found themselves in an analogous situation. They also arrived at an ingenious solution that we can make our own.
Jewish religious life was built around sacrifice; and the only place it could be legitimately offered was Jerusalem’s Temple. Every day, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., its priests made the daily offering, or tamid. After the singing of a Psalm and the recitation of Judaism’s creed, the Shema, a lamb, cake of bread, and wine were offered on the altar. (Remind you of the Mass?) It was the heart of Israel’s spirituality, yet Jews such as the Holy Family lived too far away to take part except on special occassions. (Nazareth was approximately 70 miles from Jerusalem.)
At least two centuries before the birth of Jesus, the Jewish people adopted the practice of stopping, wherever they were, three times a day, to pray facing toward the Temple. They prayed at 9 a.m., and 3 p.m., as the tamid was being offered, and again around sunset when any remaining scraps were burned on the altar and the Temple gate closed. The people’s daily prayer joined them to the Temple’s sacrifices!
Of what did their personal prayer consist? It largely mirrored the Temple’s liturgy. At the first and third times of prayer, they recited the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD …” ; You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Dt 6:4-9; Dt 11:13-21; and Num15:37-41). At all three times of prayer they prayed the Eighteen Benedictions, a beautiful tapestry of blessing and petition.
St. Paul invites us Christians to unite our lives – our regular, busy lives of work and family – to Jesus’ sacrifice, made present in the Eucharist. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, for this is our spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). United to Jesus, our every thought, word, and action can become an offering to the Father. It is as simple as making our own daily (preferably morning) offering: “Jesus, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.”
Further, we can mirror the Holy Family’s beginning and ending their day with the Shema, by beginning and ending ours with the Sign of the Cross. It is our Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds in miniature. Whenever we make it we proclaim our belief that it is through Christ’s Cross that we enter into the inner life of the Father, Son, and Spirit; and his grace can empower us to do so with all our mind, all our heart, and all our strength! (It is our Christian Shema.) The early Church also retained the Jewish practice of praying three times a day, but instead of the Eighteen Benedictions they prayed the Our Father (CCC 2767). Taught to us by Christ himself, it is the perfect prayer, encapsulating all others (CCC 2765; 2762).
So if you can’t make it to Mass, take a lesson from the Holy Family: pray a Daily Offering and have recourse to the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father (slowly, intentionally) at least three times in the course of the day. You would also be well-advised to invite Mary and Joseph to pray with you; if they were good enough for Jesus, they’re certainly good enough for you and me!
This article was adapted from a section in Shane Kapler’s book, Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own (Angelico Press, 2014).