The Art of Family Prayer
“The family that prays together stays together.”
Popularized in the 1950s by Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton, a Knight of Columbus, this famous slogan is still relevant and applicable today. For many families, though, saying grace before a holiday meal or attending Mass on Sunday may be their only experience with family prayer. Changing family habits and behaviors can be uncomfortable, especially if parents don’t have a model to follow.
If we are not praying with our families, it is often a case of not knowing where and how to begin, or not having the tools and materials to lead our families in prayer. Fathers can be very private about praying, particularly as we share our weaknesses and concerns with God. Often, we want to be strong for our families and diminish any of their concerns about our struggles.
However, just as we grow in peace through regular private prayer, that same peace and positive spirit can unite a family that prays together. When families come together to pray and share their joys and struggles, they become unified in the petitions they put before God. Family prayer can bring a peace and closeness like no other experience. Sharing personal prayer intentions builds trust and allows family members to stand together in confidence before God.
As we strive to be models of faith to our families, let us remember to look first and foremost to Jesus Christ as our model. In his book A Community of Love (2007), David Thomas reminds us that Jesus taught his disciples a “family prayer” when they asked him how to pray. Thomas notes, “The familiar opening words, ‘Our Father,’ identify immediately that we are part of God’s family.”
Like any spiritual exercise, family prayer requires discipline. It may not be easy to turn away from televisions or computers, but our families are worth the sacrifice of shutting off all media for a brief time each day.
In his book Building Better Families (2008), Matthew Kelly shares his understanding for how praying as a family can be difficult to start, especially for those who did not grow up with such practices. “It may be hard enough to get your spouse to consent and participate, never mind the children,” he writes. “If you have very young children you are at a distinct advantage. Begin the practice now as a couple, and invite them to join you as they get older. In the meantime, have some version of family prayer on a regular basis.”
If you already pray together as a family, consider adding a new form of prayer to help your family grow deeper in the faith. There are many ways to pray together as a family (see sidebar).
If you and your family are new to praying together, keep it simple and start small. It may simply be starting with “grace” on those evenings that you do have a family meal together or a short discussion after the mealtime blessing, asking family members to share how God has been working in their lives.
The family rosary is also a way for families to reflect on their day and to help children see how they can model their lives after Jesus and Mary. As the mysteries are prayed, the children can share how they lived the mysteries in their day. Did I say “Yes” to God today as Mary did in the Annunciation? When visiting with family and friends today, was I as attentive to them as Mary was to her cousin Elizabeth? In this way, the family rosary can help our prayer come alive as we see how we are living the mysteries of the rosary every day.
However you pray now or decide to pray in the future, each experience of family prayer unites the family and strengthens the ties to each other and to God. For newcomers to family prayer, I think you will find it much easier than you expected and much more fulfilling than you could have imagined.
ROBERT ALZAPIEDI is the chief administrative officer of Holy Cross Family Ministries (HCFM.org), a worldwide ministry in 17 countries headquartered in North Easton, Mass. He is a member of Pope John Paul II Council 13764 in Bolton, Mass.
Copies of the family prayer card (item #10086), featuring a prayer composed by Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, can be ordered through the Knights of Columbus Supply Department. There is a cost of $3 per 100 cards to cover shipping.