There are many prayers that Catholics pray on a regular basis. Most Catholics learn these prayers from the time they are very young.
The Value of Memorized Prayer
To have a relationship with God it is necessary to pray. Prayer should always be a conversation with God, and learning to talk to God in our own words is vital. However, memorized prayers that we can recite are also valuable. If they were not, when his disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus would not have given them a prayer (the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father) that they could memorize and recite (Matt 6:9-13). We do not repeat this formula mechanically; rather, the Holy Spirit enlivens our prayer as a true expression of our hearts.
There are several things that make memorized prayers a valuable tool in our spiritual life.
- Memorized prayers give us words to pray when we can’t think of ways to pray on our own.
- Saying the same prayers as millions of other Christians allows us to pray together when we are gathered in Jesus’ name (cf. Matt 18:20).
- Memorized prayers contain a theology within them that can teach us about God, the saints, and ourselves.
Common Catholic Prayers
Three of the most common Catholic prayers are:
- The Our Father
- The Hail Mary
- The Glory Be
The Our Father
The Our Father is the most important Christian prayer. It is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, and they handed it on for millennia. Catholics pray this prayer at every Mass, and other Christians pray it as well. This means that the Our Father is a prayer that can unite Christians in prayer even when we have differences in our beliefs.
Whole books could be written about the Our Father. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes over 100 paragraphs about this prayer. Even if you don’t want to read whole books about the Lord’s Prayer, it is valuable to know a little bit about its meaning.
Tertullian, an early Latin theologian, said that the Lord’s Prayer “is truly the summary of the whole gospel.”
Jesus tells us, “Ask and you will receive” (Matt 7:7). The Our Father contains a list of petitions, teaching us what to ask God for, and in what order we should ask. We start asking for things that glorify God: that God’s name will be honored, that God’s kingdom will come, that God’s will will be done. Next, we pray for ourselves: that God will provide our daily needs, that he will forgive our sins, that he will preserve us from temptation, and that he will deliver us from evil.
In this prayer, Jesus not only teaches us to ask God for what we need, but also how to view God. We view him as the transcendent Being whose name is above all names, whose kingdom is above all kingdoms, whose will should be honored. Yet we also address him as “Father.” We recognize that we are children of God, and that he has adopted us into his family (cf. Romans 8:14-17). We ask in a spirit of trust that God is powerful enough to supply our needs and that he is a loving Father who desires to give us all that we need.
There are many other things we can learn from this prayer. Just a few of them are:
- We are a community of believers (God is “Our Father”, not “My Father”)
- It is notable that this prayer also literally unites Christians in community, as it is not a prayer exclusive to Catholics
- We must forgive others
- Prayer is the way in which we overcome temptation
- Through Jesus, we experience victory over evil
The Hail Mary
The Hail Mary is another very popular Catholic prayer. For some, it may be hard to understand why we pray to Mary at all. Put simply, we pray to Mary to ask for her intercession, just as we would ask our family and friends on earth to pray for us. Mary is uniquely close to Jesus: she is his mother, after all! Asking for her prayers gives us a powerful intercessor.
The Hail Mary is a very biblical prayer. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” reflects the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary when he greeted her and asked her to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:28). When we address her as “Mother of God,” we echo the words of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, who said, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43).
Next, we ask Mary for her intercession: “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” The two most important times anyone can pray for us are now and at the hour of our death. Now is the moment in which we respond to God. We must not put off our response until some future date, and we must not rely on our past deeds to sustain our relationship with God. Rather, we must respond to God’s call and grace in every moment as we live it. The other most important time for someone to pray for us is at the hour of our death. Where we spend eternity depends on whether we die in friendship with God.
The Glory Be
The final prayer we will look at today is the Glory Be. The Glory Be is a short, simple prayer. “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Yet it contains a deep theology.
The Glory Be expresses our faith in the Trinity. This is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith, and tells us the secret of God’s inner life. The goal of our life is to glorify God, and God deserves the glory.
Furthermore, God is unchanging in the past, present, and future. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, his glory is also unchanging.
The most confusing part of the Glory Be may be the last words: “world without end.” Christians know that eventually God will bring an end to this world and we will live in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). In the original Latin, the words are in saecula saeculorum. This literally means, “into the ages of ages.” In the Mass, it is usually translated as “forever and ever.” The words, therefore, mean that while this world lasts, the glory of God will never pass away. It endures into eternity, the world without end.