Mini-Course on Prayer
Part 10 – The Paramount Importance of Daily Prayer
Editor’s Note: In part 9 of this series, David Torkington completed his “OUR FATHER” mnemonic, or memory jog, with the last two letters “E” (examination of conscience) and “R” (repentance). Today, he discusses the paramount importance of daily prayer and provides a summary and examples of what that prayer might look like.
In this, my last article in the first part of my series on prayer, I would like to introduce you to an old friend of mine, Patricia who was received into the Church some years ago. Although she received almost a dozen talks to prepare her for baptism, the talks were mainly short intellectual summaries and consisted mainly of the explanation of dogmatic truths. Unfortunately she was not introduced to any of the prayers and practical spirituality that a mother or a father would teach their son or daughter, as Our Lady and St Joseph would have taught their son, Jesus.
Preparation to enter into the Mystery of Christ
In the early Church, it would take two years of preparation before a person was initiated into the Christian community. During this time they were taught predominantly vocal prayers that were said at least five times a day. These prayers were derived from the Jewish prayers that Jesus was taught and which he used when he prayed with his disciples. Later, the disciples would teach the first Christians to use them too, however, after the sending of the Holy Spirit these prayers were said in a new context as the Holy Spirit drew all who were open to receive him into the mystical body of Christ. That is why these traditional prayers and new ones that were added were all prayed, in him, with him, and through him to the Father. It is these prayers that would be used daily by the first Christians for two years before they were baptised on Easter night and taken up into the Mystery of Christ with others who had undergone the same training in practical daily prayer. Patricia had been inspired to become a Catholic by reading the great Christian mystics, so she threw herself into the daily meditation that she was taught at a retreat that she attended during her instruction. She hardly ever missed a day and after two or more years the meditation that had come to a high point, where she would linger sometimes for an hour or more in what is called Acquired Contemplation or the Prayer of Simple Regard, suddenly came to an abrupt end.
From Meditation to Mystical Contemplation
She did not know what had happened to her, nor could she find help from anyone, not even from the priest who taught her to meditate. It was only after many years that by accident she met a priest who was able to help, but even then it meant experiencing dark nights in a strange new world in which she was being prepared for the God-given gift of mystical contemplation that she desired with all her heart. Had she only been taught and practised the sort of daily prayer that Jesus and his disciples had practised five times a day, or the daily prayer that every good parent teaches their children, like the morning offering and the other prayers that I am explaining in this mini-course, things would have been different. Even in the dark night, where sweetness and light was replaced by darkness and desolation, she would have been sustained and supported by the prayer and the prayers that would have long since become the foundation of her daily spiritual life. Sadly unlike most born Catholics she was never taught them. If she had not met the right person at the right time her whole mystical ascent might have been interrupted permanently.
The Paramount Importance of Daily Prayer
I have told this story to explain why it is of paramount importance to be taught and to practise the daily prayer and the prayers that should underpin every authentic Christians’ spiritual life, as practised by Jesus and his disciples before the Resurrection and by all his devoted followers after the Resurrection down to the present day. They are vital, as I tried to show with the analogy of the Archway in a previous article. I want to stress this point to encourage readers who are becoming impatient and want me to move more quickly to detail the mystic way which lies ahead. Please, not only be patient, but put into practise the more formal daily prayer that I have been explaining so that when the time comes for purification in the dark night you will have in place a regular and practised pattern of daily prayer. It is this daily prayer that will sustain you when mystical prayer seems to have plunged you into darkness from which there seems to be no escape. I would like to end by giving you as an example, set prayers that I have found useful for morning and for daily prayer. If you find them useful as they are – fine, if not then adapt them to suit your own needs.
Begin with Psalm sixty-nine with which St Benedict instructed his monks to start the divine office. Then it can be followed by the Glory Be, immediately followed by Psalm sixty-two.
O God, come to my aid
O Lord, make haste to help me (Psalm 69).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
For you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
Like dry weary land without water (Psalm 62).
Say the Our Father and then, using the Our Father as a memory jog, say the following prayers:
Our – Offering – the Morning Offering
God, our Father, I wish to consecrate all that I say and all that I do to you in this forthcoming day, just as Jesus did every day of his life on earth. Please accept what I do so imperfectly and unite it with the perfect offering that Jesus continues to make to you in heaven. I offer to you my joys and my sorrows, my successes as well as my failures, because these especially show how much I have need of you. I make my prayer in, with, and through Jesus in whom we all live and move and have our being. Amen.
Our – Union
Father, I know that the more your Holy Spirit draws me into your Son Jesus, the more I am united to all who are within him. I therefore ask Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul and all the saints, especially those to whom I have a special devotion, to be with me now as I pray so that my prayers may be fortified by theirs. I also want to pray for all my family and friends, and all who have asked me to pray for them. May they benefit from the day ahead that I wish to make a perfect prayer, as I offer all I say and do to you, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Our – Resolutions
Jesus, help me to review the day ahead to anticipate all that I should do, so that I can love God as you did, through everything that I do, and love my neighbour too, as you love all of us. Help me to forgive my enemies as you forgave, as well as my friends. And give me the grace to seek forgiveness from those I have offended, and never to cease trying to be like you and to behave like you in all that I say and do. Amen (Short pause to make resolutions for the day ahead).
Daily or Evening Prayer
Father – Faith
Father, I know and believe that you are all loving, that your love has been permanently transformed into human loving through the human nature of your son Jesus. I know and believe that his love is perpetually poised to possess me at this moment and at every moment. Penetrate and possess me now, permeate my whole being as I try to turn and remain open to receive you. Melt my heart of stone, re-make it and re-mould it, so that it can at all times be open to receive you. “For I, unless you enthral me, never shall be free, nor ever chaste except you ravish me” (John Donne). Amen.
Father – Abandonment
Father, you have freely chosen to share your own inner life and love with me now through Jesus, as a foretaste of the ecstatic joy that you have planned for me and for all who love you in heaven. As there is no limit to the way you have poured out your loving goodness and mercy on me, I can only totally abandon myself to you in return. I therefore solemnly consecrate every moment of every day to you and to your honour and glory, in and together with your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Father – Thanksgiving
Father, although you are infinitely distant you are infinitely near too, for you inhabit the inner marrow of my being. I thank you for being with me, and for all you have given me today, for life itself and all and everyone that has made it worth living. Give me the grace to praise, honour, and thank you, as much as I am able and more than I am able, not just in words but in a life that I freely dedicate to you. Amen.
Father – Holy Communion
Jesus, at the Last Supper you promised to make your home in all who would obey your new commandments. Help me to obey them now and at every moment of my life. For when I love the Father and love my neighbour, as you did, there is nothing to stop you making your home in me and me making mine in you. Let the joy and the peace that comes from abiding in you suffuse all I say and do, so that others may be drawn into the Holy Communion that begins in this life and comes to its completion in the next. Amen.
(Now is the time to remain still and silent for a few moments of contemplation to relish what, or rather whom, we receive in this Holy Communion. A short prayer could be repeated gently whenever distractions threaten to draw the attention elsewhere. A prayer such as Come, Lord or Come, Lord Jesus would be ideal or another short prayer of your choice.)
Father – Examination of Conscience
Lord, that I may see, so that all that prevents you making your home in me may be spirited away. Strengthen me to live the new commandments as you lived them, so that the same Holy Spirit who filled you, guided you and raised you from the dead may do the same for me. Show me the sins that keep you out and give me the power to overcome them, for without you I have no power to do anything. Amen.
Father – Repentance
Father, I ask your forgiveness for the sins that have prevented you from possessing me as you would wish this day. (A short pause to review our behaviour in the past day.) I am deeply sorry for failing you yet again, and with your grace I will never let my pride cause me to delay from turning back to you the moment I fall. Until I can love everyone as I should, help me to do them no harm and give me the sympathy and compassion of the person in whose footsteps I want to walk. Amen.
Conclude with an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be.
If you prefer to have these prayers to hand in a book then you will find them at the end of my book – Wisdom from the Christian Mystics. Next time I will begin the second half of this course discussing the true meaning of Christian meditation that leads to contemplation.
Art for this post on the paramount importance of daily prayer: Mirror of Maiden Meditation, Charles West Cope, 1847, CCA-SA 4.0 International; A Hermit Praying, Gerrit [or Gerard] Dou, between 1645 and 1675, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.