I attended daily Mass on Monday and was reminded again at how woefully inexperienced I am in the way of Catholic prayer and liturgy. You would think that a solid year of participating in the Mass would cause the words to become burned into my memory, but apparently my brain is resistant to learning new things. (Ok, so I haven’t technically put in a solid year of Masses either, but that’s another story).
I used to be very put off by the rote prayers that are common to the Catholic faith. It seemed to me that those offering up their prayers did so with very little passion, their voices often monotonous and lacking inflection. I couldn’t understand what could be so fulfilling about regurgitating back something that was written by someone else.
Years later, however, when I attended Mass a few times with the family I worked for, I found something comforting in the words that were spoken. There is security in familiarity, and many of the prayers were taken from scriptures that I grew up reading and meditating on. At the time I was struggling with my faith and prayer was a constant battle. Never knowing what to say – or how to say it, or if God was even paying attention, my prayer life had become barren. Attending my regular church was a study in frustration. In retrospect I now recognize how self-centered the services could be. It was all focused on the individual experience – what God wants for “me”, what God said to “me”, how God makes “me” feel during the music. I always left feeling as though I had missed something critical.
The structure of the Mass appealed to me because it wasn’t about the individual experience – it was about collective worship, centered around the Eucharist. There is no guesswork – you are guided through the service and given what you need to focus on. As I journeyed through the process of becoming a Catholic, that appreciation deeped when I learned more about prayer as a Catholic.
I no longer chafe at the idea of repeating memorized prayers or responses in the liturgy. I’ve determined that there is actually something very valuable to being able to respond by rote, even if your voice does sound a bit monotonous at times. 🙂 It simply means that the words in the prayer or liturgy, those very sacred words that are spoken, have become so ingrained that no effort is required to call them to mind. And now I find myself motivated to commit to memory as many prayers as I can. How magnificent to know that in a time of struggle or need, when my heart may be too overwhelmed to express to God what I am thinking or feeling, I can rely on the words of a saint gone before me. Words ingrained in my memory not as useless knowledge, but as powerful petitions for the mercy and grace of Christ.