A Familiar Structure
Do you sometimes feel a little confused or lost among the many ‘methods’ of prayer? Would it help to have a simple and familiar ‘track to run on’ when you want to pray?
Then why not structure your period of prayer broadly like the format the Church uses in the Mass? It’s very familiar to all of us and amazingly similar to methods that have been proposed for ages. It’s also very memorable and adaptable. None of this need be ‘set in concrete’. Feel free to modify the format as seems appropriate.
The Mass begins with the Entrance Hymn. For your prayer period, think of this as a ‘coming into the presence of God’…“Let us come before him giving thanks, with songs let us hail the Lord.” (Ps 94). It’s almost like a little ‘mood music’ during which we come to silence and an awareness of God’s presence. Choose a hymn that you like, and unless you’re alone, say or sing the hymn silently!
Start with the Sign of the Cross.
Penitential Act: The first major part of the Mass liturgy is the Penitential Act. We recall our sins and seek forgiveness. St Teresa used to recommend the Confiteor, just as at Mass.
The Collect: at Mass, the priest pauses for people to form their intentions and then gathers up or ‘collects’ those prayers in the Collect. Here you might choose to tell the Lord why you’re there, what you hope to do in this time of prayer.
Heart of the Prayer
Liturgy of the Word: just as at Mass, slowly read the Scriptures you’ve chosen beforehand.
Homily: treat this as a period of discursive reflection. Just as the priest ‘breaks open the Scriptures’, so can you by asking analytical questions such as who, what, when, where, why, and how? Apply the lessons to your own life, perhaps even making a resolution or two. Don’t spend excessive time with this. It’s far more crucial to engage with the Lord himself.
The Creed: it may be appropriate to make acts of faith, as we do in the Credo. This can be a great source of prayer too. Again, this can be quite conversational with Jesus, the Father, or the Holy Spirit.
The Intercessions: Use this opportunity to pray for family and friends, for sinners, for the Church, for any and all intentions, not forgetting your own needs too.
Liturgy of the Eucharist: The Eucharistic Prayers are a rich source of prayer. You may like to offer Jesus to the Father, as the priest does here. This is a time of praise, thanksgiving, adoration, and self-offering, as well as heartfelt prayers for the living and the dead
The Communion Rite: As at Mass we prepare to receive Jesus, and actually do so, you could use this time to make a Spiritual Communion, perhaps preceded by the Our Father and followed by a sincere thanksgiving.
Concluding Rite: It’s time to wrap up your prayer period. Ask God for his blessing and help as you prepare to leave. Perhaps cast an eye over the prayer session and see if anything might be improved. You could make a goal of doing something for the Lord during the day, remembering that you are part of the body of Christ with the obligation of witnessing to the Gospel in your world.
You might also take a word with you to savour…something that stood out in the readings or in your conversation with Christ.
Make the Sign of the Cross and go in peace…to glorify the Lord by your life.
Who knows? Maybe using the Eucharistic Liturgy as a structure for prayer might help you become even more aware of what’s happening during the Mass. That seems like a worthy project. As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says:
“The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator , they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #48)
Prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him whom we know loves us. (St Teresa, Life 8.5)