In union with our Catholic brethren throughout the world, we approach this holy season of Lent, heeding the Church as she urges us not to receive in vain the graces of this very acceptable time—a privileged time for drawing close to the Lord through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
It is a time when graces out of the common are bestowed in abundance, and if such is the case for Lent each and every year, all the more is it true in this Holy Year, this once-in-a-generation Year of Favor from the Lord.
This Holy Year indeed has been uniquely designated as the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, an unprecedented declaration that is truly a sign of the times, confirming our hope that, in this world where the ravages of sin abound so appallingly, grace does even now abound all the more!
So let us try to think concretely about our plans to practice Lenten prayer, fasting (and other forms of penance), and almsgiving (and other works of mercy). In particular, I wish to focus on some suggestions for our prayer.
Certainly Lent is a very opportune time for strengthening or even taking up the practice of the daily family Rosary.
The Family Rosary
My father used to recall how, growing up as a Catholic in North Dakota, he and his siblings would be called in from play in the evenings to say the family Rosary. This Lenten practice took such hold in my father’s own life of faith that when he formed his own family, he led us in praying the Rosary not only during Lent, but every night of the year.
Can I suggest a way to intensify your Lenten experience of the Rosary for those families who already pray it daily? Try the “Scriptural Rosary,” which gives a Scripture verse before each Hail Mary—I will tell you that our family’s praying of the Scriptural Rosary had a penetrating effect on me, a real staying power in my young life. It’s also a practice I have recently returned to with the help of an audio recording from “Laudate.”
Alternatively, follow Pope St. John Paul II’s recommendation in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae and just give one Scripture verse or passage before each decade (for convenience, instead of using the Bible, you can use one of the Rosary leaflets that give a Scripture verse for each mystery).
As Pope St. John Paul II also suggests in that letter, be sure to follow the Scripture passage with silence, however brief, before beginning the Our Father.
The Divine Mercy Chaplet
Another wonderful practice, very fittingly undertaken in this Year of Mercy, would be the recitation of the Divine Mercy chaplet, daily or at least on Fridays. I can testify that my family and I experienced this prayer as efficacious and consoling, especially in moments of difficulty or crisis.
Pope Francis says in his Bull of Indiction for the Year of Mercy, “How many pages of Sacred Scripture are appropriate for meditation during the weeks of Lent to help us rediscover the merciful face of the Father! We can repeat the words of the prophet Micah and make them our own:
‘You, O Lord, are a God who takes away iniquity and pardons sin, who does not hold your anger forever, but are pleased to show mercy. You, Lord, will return to us and have pity on your people. You will trample down our sins and toss them into the depths of the sea’.”
For this practice, I especially recommend using the Gospels, since they are the most important part of the Bible and at the same time the easiest to understand! Saint Thérèse of Lisieux said, “But above all, it’s the Gospels that occupy my mind when I’m at prayer; my poor soul has so many needs, and yet this is the one thing needful.”
In this Year of Mercy, we could focus on the Gospel of St. Luke, sometimes known as the Gospel of Mercy because of the special accent St. Luke seems to place on this attribute of God. Lectio divina is a very fruitful means of personal prayer; as Jesus says, “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy and the coming season of Lent, let us each grasp hold of the opportunity God is giving us to experience His love through heartfelt prayer and meditation.
Fr Nigro’s 10 Step Prayer Collation
- Sacred Scripture is also the basis of a family prayer practice known sometimes by the Latin word, “collation.” A saintly old Jesuit, Father Armand Nigro, now in his 90s, gives a step-by-step description of this kind of prayer that I invite you to try this Lent. The following is his list:
- After dinner, before dishes are cleared away (or any preferable time), select a short passage from the Bible, e.g., Mark’s Gospel, 4:35-40. Usually Dad is reader; others can be.
Dad first invites those present to listen carefully to God’s Word and reminds them of Jesus’ assurance: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there, too.’ He begins with a short prayer such as ‘Speak to us, Lord. Help us listen carefully to Your word.’
- Then he reads the passage aloud very slowly, distinctly, with pauses, so that each phrase can sink into the listeners.
- After the reading each in turn shares what it said to him personally: ‘I felt this…’ ‘I heard this…’ ‘This struck me…’ ‘To me it said or meant…’ Keep contributions short, personal (say ‘I’ not ‘we’), honest, simple, not preachy, not applying lessons to others. Be careful not to make this a discussion. That will kill the prayer experience.
- Peacefully, humbly, sensitively listen to God’s word and simply share what it said and meant to you personally. Do not feel uneasy during silent gaps between readings or comments. These silent moments are golden and afford rare opportunities of letting God’s message resonate and slowly deepen in us. Relax. Savor His words during the silences.
- After the first round of sharing, Dad again reads the same passage slowly. It is a richer listening experience this time, because the remarks each one shared have enriched the passage for the others. God speaks to all through each other too.
- A second round of sharing, usually richer than the first, follows the second reading.
- The same passage is read slowly a third and last time.
- After the third reading, only spontaneous prayers are spoken directly to God the Father or to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit or to our Blessed Mother –e.g., ‘Thank you, Jesus, for speaking to us. Help me be more aware of your presence in me and in others.’
- After each has spontaneously prayed, a favorite hymn can be sung and the clean-up in the kitchen begins (or whatever else follows).