Pray as you can and not as you can’t!

Abbot John Chapman, Spiritual Letters

It really doesn’t matter so much how we pray: what is vital is that we pray. Sometimes people find a way that works for them and then insist that everyone fits that model. They don’t.

This is because prayer is the activity of a relationship between two persons—you and God. You can only relate to God as you relate to God, in the same way that you can only relate to a friend in the same way that you can do so. And God will make himself heard and felt in a way suitable for you.

Which is to say, if silent meditation works for you, then do it. If the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer oils your engine; go for it, and don’t listen to anyone who seems to sneer.

The Liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian life.                                Pope St Pius X

Personal prayer is not the only sort of prayer; communal prayer is also a vital part of our Christian life. This is because we cannot be a Christian on our own; the Church is how God meant us to be, and to pray as the mystical body of Christ, gathered together on Sunday or other occasions is truly to ‘be’ Church.

We think of the relationship of love between God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ (which theologians tell us actually is the Holy Spirit). When we, as Christ’s Body, pray to the Father, then we share in that act of love, and we ‘join with all the angels and saints in their song of joy’.

It is right and just!

Like most sorts of loving actions, liturgical prayer is essentially a ‘giving’ thing. We do not do it in order to feel good, or for spiritual uplift, or indeed to get anything at all ‘out of it’. We pray because God is God, and we are we. We desire to praise him not because he demands it, but because it is right and just that we should give it to him. Just as in a marriage, husband and wife should give attention to each other, and not seek for personal satisfaction, so in our relationship with God, we give; we focus on him, and not on our benefit.

The joke is, of course, that in giving we receive more than we ever could if we tried to take.

God is a spirit, and those who would worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth.

John 4:24

As mentioned earlier, prayer is the act of a relationship of which we are one part. But God is the other part, and in a loving relationship we are going to want to pray in the way that God wants. That is why we have the Liturgy. Turn to the back of the Bible, to the Book of the Apocalypse (‘Revelation’ in some bibles) and look at the descriptions of the worship of heaven; the acts of worship are solemn, ceremonial, formulaic—very ‘high-church’, in fact.

To seek self-expression in the Liturgy is rather like a man who gives his wife a present of a set of chisels or a power-drill: they are really presents for himself.

But in the end, both forms of prayer are important; prayer as we need it, and prayer as God wants it. Sometimes the two happen together; more often we need to set our needs back a bit in public worship.

Pray constantly!                         1Thessalonians 5:17

How often should I pray? The Church has often said that morning and night, with Sunday Mass, is the minimum. You will know best how to work prayer into your life. Though ideally one would like to be able to make life fit around our prayer, unless one is a monk or nun, that is going to be difficult. A weekday morning in a big family can be the last occasion to find some peace!

Often it is a question of simply establishing a habit, associating prayer with some act. If there is some time each day which is ‘blank’ time (walking to work, waiting for a bus or train, sitting in slow traffic, or even waiting for the microwave to ping) it can be an opportunity to habitually turn our mind to God.

Or we can associate a very short prayer with habitual actions. When turning on a light, say ‘Jesus, enlighten me.’ When washing hands, say ‘Lord, renew the grace of my baptism in me.’ When passing an image of our Lady (such as that in a front garden on the Upper Shoreham Road), say ‘Ave Maria!’. These things may be brief, but in time they transform us.

The more we pray during the week, the more Sunday Mass will mean to us. And that’s a promise.

Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God. Penny Catechism

The Liturgy of the Hours

Seven times a day will I praise you                     Psalm 118 (119):164

The Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office (the book is sometimes called a ‘Breviary’) is the official public prayer of the Church outside the Sacraments.

It consists of five ‘hours’ or services (seven if you do the whole lot) each day, with psalms, prayers and readings.

• Priests, monks and nuns must pray at least the five major hours every day.

• Religious and Deacons must pray at least part of it every day.

  1. Lay people are encouraged to do some of it as part of their prayer life.

About the Liturgy of the Hours, and why it is a good idea to pray it.

Wikipedia on the Liturgy of the Hours

Breviaries to buy:

Buy a copy of the whole Liturgy of the Hours in English

Four volumes, leather bound (US version)

English Version, in three volumes,

volume 1, volume 2, volume 3.

Short English Version (everything except the Office of Readings).

Very short English version (the bare bones).

Online Versions:


eBreviary (pdf format)

There are also several versions of the Office available for portable devices such as iPad, iPhone and Android.

Private Mental Prayer

Ignatian Meditation:

Named for St Ignatius Loyola, who employed a particular method, involving imagining oneself as a participant in an episode related in the Gospels, and dialoguing with the Lord and other characters described there.

An introduction to the method.

A short article on the AnamCara site.

Centring Prayer:

We had a Lent Course in Shoreham a few years ago on this technique. It seeks to calm us and exclude external distractions by focussing on a mantra. Unlike Buddhist meditation, though, it is directed towards God, finding Existence, He Who Is, rather than non-existence.

Articles on Centring Prayer

Lectio Divina:

This form of prayer is particularly beloved of the Benedictine Order. It involves taking a book—the Bible, or another spiritual book—and reading it very slowly and thoughtfully. When something strikes us, we pause and let the meaning sink in, and maybe discuss it with God. If you have something of a butterfly mind, this method of mental prayer may suit where the others wouldn’t.

Wikipedia article on Lectio Divina

A rather technical exposition of Lectio Divina, for those who would like something more in depth.

A simpler article.

And here is a link to a very good introduction to all the major methods of mental prayer.

Vocal Prayer

The Rosary:

can be prayed in all sorts of ways. This is the ‘classic’ form of Catholic private prayer which is vocal on one level, but which can lead us into deep contemplation the more it is practised.

How to pray the Rosary.

About the Rosary.

The Jesus Prayer:

What the Rosary is to Catholics, the Jesus Prayer is to Orthodox Christians. It consists simply in repeating ‘Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ over and over again, perhaps using the beads of a rosary.

The Jesus Prayer (an Orthodox site)

Wikipedia article.


The original and best of Novenas was the nine days spent by our Lady and the Apostles from the ascension of our Lord praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Other novenas are the nine days preparing in prayer for some event, such as a feast of the Church. By extension, some like to take nine days praying for a particular intention, or with a particular focus.

Wikipedia article

A selection of ready-made novenas

And another one.

Just Prayers:

Simply, collections of prayers to say as part of our personal daily devotions.

‘The world’s largest collection of Catholic Prayers on the internet’

Some more.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

In our parish we are privileged to have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every day Monday to Friday in Shoreham, and also regularly at The Towers. There can surely be no better way to spend an hour than with the Lord himself.

All about Eucharistic Adoration (Wikipedia)

A helpful article

Suggestions for how to use the time during Adoration