As we continue to adjust to life under stay-at-home orders and limited access to celebrations of the sacraments, we as parents have an opportunity to expand our “tool kit” for family prayer beyond meal and bedtime prayers.
While I’m grateful for the number of parishes that have embraced streaming Mass on Sunday mornings, and the connection that helps us maintain with our priests and parish communities, I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to lead prayer with my family and to celebrate liturgy within our Domestic Church. Praying as a family helps us to grow together as disciples and makes the family a true microcosm of the Church Universal.
Yet many parents no doubt feel ill at ease when called upon to lead prayer. Fortunately, we can take the patterns of prayer gifted to us through the liturgy and apply them to our prayer with our children.
There are two main patterns of liturgical prayer in the Church: the Mass (which consists of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist) and the Liturgy of the Hours (which includes recitation of the psalms and prayers). Both can be adapted to prayer in the home, although most families will be more comfortable with the former since it is more familiar to us.
All of the Church’s liturgy encompasses some common gestures and postures. For instance, we begin and end with the Sign of the Cross; we stand when praying; we sit to listen to the Sacred Scriptures, except for the Gospel when we stand; we kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; we bow at the mention of the Incarnation.
Some things are different when a layperson leads prayer rather than a priest or deacon. In our Catholic tradition, certain phrases are reserved for the ordained, such as “The Lord be with you.” Similarly, when a layperson concludes a liturgical service, instead of the usual “May almighty God bless you…” we hear at Mass, they say “May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen,” while making the Sign of the Cross.
Leading liturgy isn’t something most parents have done before! But the idea shouldn’t leave us anxious or nervous. A good starting point is to envision how your parish priest leads the Mass. That same ars celebrandi (art of celebrating the liturgy) is applicable when laypeople lead prayer.
Prepare the prayer ahead of time. Good liturgy is never an accident; it requires some forethought and a clear idea of what will happen and who will do what. Assign family members to read the selections from Sacred Scripture and give them an opportunity to look them over ahead of time. If you will begin with song, review the tune ahead of time.
Speak slowly in a clear, vibrant voice. You don’t need to be overly emotional or performative, as if you are an actor on the stage. Your role is to lead, and invite your family to prayer.
A Family Liturgy of the Word
Using these general principles, we can begin to envision how a simple family liturgy might be structured. A simple outline for a family-based Liturgy of the Word might look like this:
- Sign of the Cross
- Invitation to Prayer/Collect Prayer
- Reading (from the Old Testament or the New Testament Letters)
- Acclamation before the Gospel (Alleluia)
- Optional Discussion of the Readings
All of these elements should be familiar since they mirror elements of the Mass. The Collect Prayer is the “opening prayer” the priest recites; the readings are the same readings we would hear at Mass. (See “Resources” below for a link to the daily readings.) Families can make up their own intercessions or find suggestions online.
If you don’t have access to the daily prayers or readings, don’t worry! While there is value in following the Church’s daily schedule of prayers and readings, it is not required. A simple Invitation to Prayer could go like this: “As we gather together as a family to pray to God, let us open our hearts to listen to his Word.” Similarly, take the opportunity to read from Bible stories that are particularly important to you, or let your children choose some of their favorites.
Be sure to pause for moments of silence during prayer. This allows the words we have heard proclaimed to be imprinted on our hearts as we ponder them. Following the readings, feel free to ask children some questions about the Gospel and other readings and how they can be applied to their lives. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to do this. Ask questions like: “What word or phrase stood out to you,” or “How do you hear God speaking to you through this Gospel?”
In all this, the important thing is to engage in prayer and praise directed toward the Lord. Jesus is pleased with our humble efforts and imparts his grace when we open ourselves to his presence.
- The daily readings from the Lectionary for Mass can be found at org/bible/readings. (For Spanish, click the red “en Español” at the top of the page)
- The USCCB’s resource Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers includes a wide selection of family prayer services for various occasions.
- Living With Christ, Magnificat, and Liturgical Press have made their daily prayer resources available for free. They include prayers and readings based on the current liturgical season and can be used as written or adapted to the outline above.
- The Hymn Society has provided a set of lists of copyright-free hymns for use in worship services.
Jonathan F. Sullivan is the director of parish ministries, services, and catechesis for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana. He and his wife are expecting their ninth child this summer.
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