Friday, January 13, 2017 - Updated: 7:00 am
QUESTION: Someone told me recently that the rosary is THE prayer of the Catholic Church. I am relatively new to the Catholic faith and was unsure of that. Is there some kind of priority list of prayers in the church?
ANSWER: It’s best to begin by sorting out “public” prayer and “private” prayer as a foundation of an answer to the question posed above.
Public prayer is that prayer of the church that is offered by the church for the entire church. Within that category, the primary, privileged prayer is the Eucharist. It was the “prayer” that Jesus asked his disciples to continue “in memory of me.”
The Eucharist, as celebrated anywhere in the world, is the prayer of the entire church. In the church’s teaching on the mystical body of Christ, there is no action of an individual that is apart from the action of the entire body. That is why each prayer unites us (and why every sin divides and diminishes us). The Eucharist is the celebration of the word of God and the prayer of Christ and the entire mystical body to the Father.
After the Eucharist comes what is called the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Office). This multi-part daily prayer is prayed by bishops, priests and deacons as well as by consecrated men and women and many laypeople each day. It is often called “the prayer of the church.” It is a consecration of the hours of the day. Made up of psalms, readings and intercessions, it focuses our prayer on the life and needs of the entire church.
The celebration of the rest of the sacraments should also be included in the public prayer of the church in that they are never private, independent celebrations but those of the entire church.
In addition to these forms of public prayer, the church has endorsed and encouraged many forms of private prayer. These fall into the general category of devotional prayer and are usually meant for individuals or small groups of people. Chief among these prayers is the Our Father. This prayer emerged from the New Testament as the “prayer that Jesus taught.” Also, the Hail Mary emerged from the words of the Gospel of Luke. In addition, the great New Testament canticles should be included: the Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-56), the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79) and the Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32).
Because the rosary reflects so much of the above biblical prayers, it has long been included among the treasured prayer forms of the church. In its most traditional form it includes the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. Together with meditation on the mysteries of Catholic faith, it forms an important part of Catholic devotional prayer.
It is evident that the prayer life of the Catholic Church provides a wide diversity of prayer forms. But what is at the head and center of prayer in Catholic life is the Eucharist. Our personal prayer should lead us to the Eucharist and be an expression of it in our lives.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.