By Fr Hervé Morissette, CSC –
If you want your family prayer to be regular and inspiring without racing through it, keep it simple and short. Just as your family spirit develops in the course of time, so does your family prayer. It is for you, husband and wife, to adopt the form of prayer most convenient to your children and to both of you. That does not prevent you from saying a short prayer before meals or praying the rosary at a suitable time.
Let me now suggest to you a form of family prayer that you could adopt which is very simple and meaningful. Even if you can pray anywhere – in the bus, in the kitchen or in nature – it is helpful to prepare a little “altar” in the house which will remind you of the importance of prayer. It will show that you give God a chosen place in your home and that prayer matters to you. That “altar” can be a shelf, a place on the wall, a corner of the entrance room or a small table on which you keep a Bible, a crucifix, some holy pictures, a statue, an icon, or an image of the Blessed Virgin. Ask your children what they would like to put on that “altar.” They could also prepare a place of prayer in their own room, if they have one, and the family could occasionally gather there to pray.
When you gather for family prayer, invite one of your children to light a lamp or a candle before the crucifix or the statue of Our Lady. Keep a moment of silence in order to create an atmosphere of recollection conducive to prayer. Ask your children to close their eyes and become aware that Jesus is in your midst: “Jesus, you dwell in our hearts. Give us your Spirit and help us to pray.”
The length of that moment of silence is adapted to the age of your children. If anyone of them looks nervous, it may be because he/she has reached the limit of his/her ability to remain silent for a while. On the other hand, as prayer belongs to the realm of expectations, your children should be taught how to wait without necessarily being left to do whatever they like. The younger your children are the shorter should be the family prayer.
You may sing a hymn that the children like and know by heart. Hymns speak to the children when they sing them as well as when they look around. They relate with God even in their nervous actions. Ask them to stand and raise their hands when they sing. Then read a short passage from the Gospel. Keep a moment of silence after the reading. Invite your elder children to express spontaneous prayers. If they hesitate, do it yourselves, and they will follow your example. Pray for the people you know, especially those who suffer. You may end the prayer with the ‘Our Father’ while you all hold hands.
The secret of perseverance in family prayer is to make it short and remain patient with your children. Try it and you will see. The Spirit will help you. He is your best guide and he often inspires the children to pray in their own words and in unexpected ways. A child kissed his mother and father good night and went to his room. A moment later he called out: “I’m going to say my prayers now. Anyone wants anything?”
As a father and a mother, you are not the only ones who can lead the family prayer. When he/she is old enough, why not ask one of your children to prepare the prayer of the following day? It is for each family to invent its own style of prayer, taking into account the sensitivity of everyone in the house. What matters is that you find time to pray with your children and make use of the prayers they like. This prayer book is meant to help you and your children to choose prayers adapted to the circumstances of your life.
There are also certain events or feasts that can be highlighted in family prayer These celebrations make it possible for the family to give meaning to the different stages of its growth. They are experienced as special moments of intimacy and truth. Take, for example, the blessing imparted by the parents to their children on the first day of the New Year. On that occasion, you can bless your children by laying your hands on them, saying a prayer and making the sign of the cross. Such a gesture is beautiful and has a sacred character.
All the special events of the family, the Church or society can be occasions to pray at home with your children. For example, when there is a baptism, another receives his first holy communion, another celebrates his birthday, two of your children reconciled after a fight, one of them is sick in bed, you are about to start a long journey or you celebrate an important liturgical feast, take these opportunities to thank the Lord for all the graces he has bestowed on your family. You can also pray with your children when you travel or when you go on vacation. You will find many prayers related to these events in this prayer book.
To be continued…