Externals of the Catholic Church – Our Daily Prayers

Every Christian feels the necessity of frequent communion with his God. He knows that the Almighty wishes each of us to present our homage and petitions to Him, so that we may acknowledge His power and mercy, and may recognize our dependence upon Him. And as we receive favors from God every day, so our gratitude and homage should be offered to Him daily.

The Lord’s Prayer

The greatest of all prayers is the Our Father. It is the one prayer that is entirely of divine origin. It was taught by our Lord to His disciples, and has been used by the Church since the very beginning of her history. The fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of the Gospel of Saint Matthew contain the “Sermon on the Mount,” and the sixth is largely an instruction on prayer. Our Blessed Lord gave to His hearers a model prayer addressed to His Heavenly Father, expressing adoration, recognition of God’s attributes, and petitions for the graces, temporal favors, forgiveness and protection needed by mankind – and expressing all of these in a few sentences and in simple words.

The wording of the prayer, as given by Saint Matthew, is slightly different from that now used by us. It reads as follows: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our supersubstantial bread, and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

In the Gospels of Saint Mark and Saint John the prayer is not recorded at all. In that of Saint Luke it is found in a shorter form: “Father, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

The prayer, then, as used by the Church from the earliest times and as found in the most ancient liturgies, is a composite product, being formed by combining the versions given by these two Evangelists.

The Concluding Words

“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” Our Protestant friends (at least those of some denominations), use this sentence at the end of the Our Father. Are they right in doing so, or is there any authority for this addition to the Lord’s Prayer? It is not found in the most authentic manuscripts of the Gospels, although it occurs in some of the old liturgical books of Eastern rites. In these books, however, it was not considered as an essential part of the Our Father, but as an “embolism,” or added prayer, intended to increase the fervor and direct the intention of the faithful – a practice which was very common in the Oriental churches. We find an example of another embolism in the prayer which immediately follows the Our Father in our Mass, consisting of a repetition in another form of the request, “Deliver us from evil.” It begins as follows: “Deliver us, we beseech, O Lord, from all evils, past, present and to come,” and asks for peace and forgiveness through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles and the Saints.

Therefore, when non-Catholics ask us why we make the Our Father shorter than their form, we should tell them that the added words which they use are not a part of the prayer as given by our Blessed Lord, but a pious addition which is ancient indeed, but which the Roman Church has not seen fit to adopt in her ritual.

The Hail Mary

There is a prayer which Catholics recite more often than any other. It is the most familiar of all the prayers used by the Church to honor the Blessed Virgin. It forms the greatest part of the Rosary, a devotion that is practised at least occasionally by all Catholics and very frequently by the more fervent among them. It is recited at morning, noon and night, in the Angelus.

It is a prayer which owes its origin to inspiration from God, manifested through one of His Angels, one of His Saints, and His holy Church. It is one of the most complete and perfect of all prayers, expressing in a few words salutation, praise, congratulation, thanksgiving, and petition. This prayer is the Hail Mary.

It consists of three parts. The first is the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, into which the Church has inserted her name: “Hail (Mary), full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women.” The second part is composed of the words of Elizabeth to our Lady: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb,” to which is annexed the sacred name of Jesus. And the third part is a beautiful petition added by the Church of God, giving expression to the feeling with which we Catholics regard the Mother of God, and declaring our confidence in her intercession: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

The Origin of the “Hail Mary”

What is the history of this beautiful prayer? For many centuries it was unknown – a circumstance which seems remarkable to us, who use it so frequently. We may well wonder how Catholics ever prayed without it; but it is a historical fact that the Hail Mary did not exist at all until the eleventh century, and even then only a part of it was used as a prayer.

Its origin was as follows: The monastic orders were accustomed to recite lengthy offices each day; and on certain feasts, especially those of the Blessed Virgin, these services were supplemented by the “Little Office” of Mary. In this the words of the Archangel and of Saint Elizabeth were used repeatedly in the form of versicles and responses. Gradually it became a pious practice, not only for the monks but for the laity, to use these sentences as a prayer. In the year 1196 the Bishop of Paris ordered his clergy to teach these words to their flocks, and within a short time the prayer became well known throughout the Catholic world.

A little later the holy name of Jesus was added, probably by Pope Urban IV, and the last part, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” etc., was introduced about the year 1500, as it was felt that this beautiful expression of devotion to our Mother would be more complete if it included a petition to obtain her powerful intercession.

The Apostles’ Creed

In our daily devotions, after offering to our Heavenly Father the prayer taught to us by His Divine Son, and after having saluted her who is “full of grace,” we are counselled to make a declaration of our faith, to express in words what we believe to be God’s revelation to man. Each of us in early childhood learned a compendium of our Catholic faith, a formula which contains the most important truths of our Church’s doctrine. This is known as the Apostles’ Creed.

It is called a “Creed” from its first word – in Latin, “Credo,” I believe. Why do we call it the “Apostles'” Creed? Because throughout the Middle Ages there was a widespread belief that the Apostles composed it on the day of Pentecost. An ancient legend, dating back to the sixth century and perhaps further, tells us that when the Apostles were assembled at Jerusalem and had just received the Holy Ghost in the form of tongues of fire, each of them, inspired by the Spirit of God, contributed one of the articles of the Creed. According to the story, when the Holy Spirit had filled the souls of the Apostles with knowledge and zeal, Saint Peter arose and cried out, ” I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” Saint Andrew continued, “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” Saint James added, “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,” etc. And so on for the others.

Bear in mind, however, that all this is a legend, of uncertain origin and of very slight probability. There is no allusion to it in the Scriptural account of the events of Pentecost, and the whole story is probably the product of the vivid imagination of some Oriental or Latin romancer. Spiritual writers of those early days, like some of later times, were prone to enrich their pages with details that would have been wonderful if they had been true.

A Profession of Faith

The Apostles’ Creed is, very likely, an amplified form of the “profession of faith” required in the early centuries from converts. In Apostolic times, as at the present day, those who desired Baptism were obliged to make a statement of their belief; and it is probable that the Creed was brought to its present form gradually, being developed from the declaration exacted from those converted to the faith.

The Creed is supposed to be a summary of Christian dogmas. Why is it only a partial summary? Why does it not contain all the articles of Catholic belief? There is no mention in it of the Sacraments, except the “forgiveness of sin”; there is no allusion to the Holy Eucharist, the central object of our Catholic worship. The reason is that, in the early centuries of Catholicity, the faith in its entirety was not taught to converts until after they had been received into the Church. The knowledge of the “Divine Mysteries,” that is, the nature of the Mass and the adoration of the living presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, was not imparted to them until after Baptism. When they learned the Creed, they learned only what the Church wished to teach them; and therefore the things which they were not to know were not included in it.

The Confiteor

This is a prayer which is used not only in daily devotions but on many other occasions – in the Sacrament of Penance, in the Divine Office, and especially by the priest at the beginning of the Mass.

Like the Creed, it takes its name from its first word. “Confiteor,” in Latin, means “I confess.” The Confiteor is a general confession of sin, an acknowledgment of guilt, made in the presence of God and His Saints, and a prayer that the Saints may intercede for the sinner.

The Confiteor was originally a part of the private prayers offered by the priest in preparation for Mass, expressing his unworthiness and asking for grace and forgiveness. After a time, about the tenth century, it became customary for the priest to say this prayer at the foot of the altar, and gradually it came to be regarded as a part of the Mass.

The Confiteor is used also at the administration of Holy Communion, publicly or privately; at Extreme Unction, and at the giving of the Apostolic blessing and indulgence to the dying.

Until quite recently it was usual to recite the first part of the Confiteor in the confessional before making the accusation of sins; but at the present time, for the sake of expediting the confession, it is recommended that it be said before entering, and that only the words “I confess to Almighty God and to you, Father,” be used in the confessional.

Asking the Intercession of Saints

Why do we say the Confiteor? Why should one confess his sins to the Blessed Virgin and to the Saints, none of whom have any power to absolve from sin? This objection may be found in some Protestant works. We answer that it is reasonable to make a general acknowledgment of our weakness and guilt before these as well as before God, because we wish their prayers in order to secure His pardon. Therefore we declare that we “have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed.” We state the reasons why we wish them ” to pray to the Lord our God” for us, but we know full well that forgiveness cannot come from them; and so we conclude the prayer with the words: “May the Almighty God forgive me my sins, and bring me to everlasting life. May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant me pardon, absolution, and remission of all my sins. Amen.”

The Acts

The purpose of the Acts of Faith, Hope and Love is to testify that we possess these three great “theological virtues”; and the Act of Contrition puts into words the sorrow for sin which is necessary for forgiveness.

For the Acts a different wording is to be found in nearly every manual of prayers, and the Church has not declared that any one form must be used. The version which is taught in our later catechisms is clear and concise.

The Act of Faith declares our firm belief in one God and three Divine persons; in the Incarnation of our Lord, and the redemption accomplished by Him; and in all the other truths that God’s Church teaches.

The Act of Hope expresses our trust in God’s mercy and our reliance on the merits of our Blessed Redeemer.

The Act of Love manifests our love of God for His own sake, because he is the Supreme Good, and our love of our neighbor for the sake of God; for our Lord has declared that the love of God is “the first and greatest commandment,” and that “the second is like unto this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The Act of Contrition is the declaration in words of that sorrow for sin which is absolutely required for its forgiveness. This also can be found in various forms, and the one now generally taught is perhaps better than some of the older versions, as it expresses clearly the motives of contrition and is fairly simple in wording.

Prayers at Meals

Our catechisms, after the daily prayers, insert a short form of prayer to be used before and after meals. The prayer before meals is known as a “blessing,” for it consists in the invoking of God’s blessing upon us and upon what we are about to receive; and that after meals is called a “grace,” from the Latin word “gratiae,” meaning “thanks,” because it expresses our gratitude for our food and all other favors which God has given us.

There is no strict rule about the wording of these prayers. In convents and religious houses the blessing and grace are somewhat long, being made up of several verses, responses and prayers. For the use of the laity the brief form in our catechism is sufficient.

Such, then, is the history and the analysis of the prayers which our Holy Church recommends to us for daily use. Every Catholic should recite them at morning and night – the Our Father, to give homage to the Almighty and to invoke His protection; the Hail Mary, to honor our Blessed Mother and to obtain her intercession; the Creed, to profess our holy faith; the Confiteor, to acknowledge our unworthiness; and the Acts, to animate us with faith, hope, love and contrition.