I was born in 1959, which means that my first few years of faith formation in the early to mid-60s involved the Baltimore Catechism and its emphasis on memorizing. After the Second Vatican Council, my remaining years of formal faith formation (mid-60s and 70s) moved in new directions inspired by the Council but with a definite shift in one specific area. Memorization was deemed an old-fashioned, lifeless way of learning. The result, of course, is that as I grew older and my faith grew (yes, faith formation after Vatican II did nurture my faith!), I lacked the ability to recall formulas of our faith and a number of traditional prayers that my older siblings had taken to heart (memorized).
This caught up with me years later when, as a consultant for the Office for Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Chicago, I visited a parish where the senior citizen’s group was conducting a study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I introduced myself and offered my assistance as a resource, but before I could leave the podium, the woman in charge invited everyone to stand and pray. “Let’s recite the Memorare,” she said. Immediately, every person in the room began praying the words of that beautiful prayer except for you-know-who. I had to lip sync!
That experience left me feeling incomplete as a Catholic: everyone else knew something that I did not. While it’s true that we don’t want to simply memorize words that we can rattle off without thinking, it is also true that these words enable us to join hearts and voices together and to pray in words that have been passed down to us like family heirlooms. The Catechism teaches us that, “The memorization of basic prayers offers an essential support to the life of prayer, but it is important to help learners savor their meaning.” (#2688)
Having said all that, here’s a suggestion for your entire faith community (children and adults alike): A Prayer of the Month. Identify one prayer per month that the entire parish is encouraged to memorize/take to heart (for example: the Memorare, Act of Contrition, or Hail Holy Queen). The prayer could be recited each week after Communion at Sunday Mass as a way to encourage parishioners to join in. The prayer can be included in the parish bulletin, on the parish website, and on social media, along with an accompanying article providing some background and understanding of the prayer. Encourage reading a book like The Words We Pray, which explores the richness of traditional Catholic prayers.
In addition to the “obvious” (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be), which traditional prayers would you recommend be taken to heart by Catholics?