Venerable Patrick Peyton (1909-92), known as the “Rosary Priest” because of the many large rosary rallies he led throughout the world, popularized the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together.” At a time when many families are struggling with many issues and crises, we would do well to heed the wise advice of this holy priest.
Family Prayer and Parental Obligation
According to the 1981 Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, of Pope St. John Paul II, married persons share in the universal call to holiness, aided by reception of the sacraments and offering themselves to God and “through a life of prayer, through prayerful dialogue with the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.”
Major events in life, he said, “should be seen as suitable moments for thanksgiving, for petition, for trusting abandonment of the family into the hands of their common Father in heaven.” Success in family life can only be obtained, the pope notes, “with God’s unceasing aid, which will surely be granted if it is humbly and trustingly petitioned in prayer.” (59) Parents, therefore, have an obligation to teach their children about prayer, as
only by praying together with their children can a father and mother—exercising their royal priesthood—penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface … Far from being a form of escapism from everyday commitments, prayer constitutes the strongest incentive for the Christian family to assume and comply fully with all its responsibilities as the primary and fundamental cell of human society. (60, 62)
It is important to start when the children are young. Have them pray the blessings at meals and pray with them at bedtime. My son-in-law is absolutely amazing in the way he prays with his sons every night. He has them recite and repeat very specific prayers, and he includes a small teaching – absolutely amazing! He has built the faith of my grandsons tremendously.
Familiaris Consortio references a 1976 general audience with Pope St. Paul VI (1897-1978), during which he asked,
Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? Do you prepare them, in conjunction with the priests, for the sacraments that they receive when they are young: Confession, Communion and Confirmation? Do you encourage them when they are sick to think of Christ suffering to invoke the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the saints? Do you say the family rosary together? And you, fathers, do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community, at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action, joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life, an act of worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your homes: Pax huic domui. Remember, it is thus that you build up the Church. (60)
Many Ways to Pray as a Family
There are many ways you can pray as a family. Start with the basics, such as morning and evening prayer and prayers before meals. Go to Mass on Sundays as a family and go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation together at least once a month. Look for opportunities to pray devotions together at your local parish, such as Benediction or holy hours.
I’d also recommend family devotion time together. I know of families who set aside a small corner of their home, decorate it with crucifixes, religious pictures and statues, and congregate around it when it is time to pray.
There are many popular Catholic prayers you can choose from. There is the Angelus (“The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary …”), traditionally said at 9 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. every day. There are many litanies too, litanies to Christ, the Blessed Mother, and the saints and angels. You might wish to do a family consecration prayer to the Sacred Heart. There is a variety of hymns you can sing together, both traditional and contemporary. You can say the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
So-called “binding prayers” are also popular with some Catholic families, prayers which bind the power of demons in the name of Jesus. I’d recommend you purchase a book of binding prayers approved by proper Church authorities.
Some families like to pray novenas, that is, nine days of prayer to obtain special graces (the Latin word novem means nine). According to tradition, after Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles returned to the Upper Room for nine days of prayer, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit: “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Nine is also the number of months the Blessed Mother waited for the birth of Our Lord.
There are novenas to the Holy Spirit, to the Sacred Heart and to the saints. Some are novenas of thanksgiving but most are novenas of petition. Novenas have long been popular with the Catholic faithful. In the 19th century, indulgences (which remit temporal punishment due to sin) were granted for some novenas prayed in preparation for various feasts.
Many faithful Catholic families pray novenas regularly, asking the intercession of the saints, who have gone before them into heaven, for their needs. There are many wonderful books of novenas you can purchase inexpensively at Catholic bookstores.
Positive Impact on Your Life
Whatever prayers you choose to introduce in your home, I and many other Catholics can attest to what a positive impact it will make on your life and the lives of your children. Raising children well has always been one of life’s great challenges, and it is particularly so in our culture. Like most of you, my wife Mary Anne and I have had our difficulties with our children—spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically – but we’ve also received many wonderful answers to our prayers.
We prayed for our daughter Laura, for example, to marry a holy man. Praise God, she married a man we think is a saint in the making! He wasn’t Catholic when they married, but he converted to the faith years later, and now he is, in many ways, an evangelist! He’s also been an invaluable support to her in recent years as she has battled lung cancer. Both of them are leaders in their parish, and Laura is a worldwide advocate for lung cancer research.
My oldest son is an attorney who defends the poor, and my youngest son works for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Los Angeles. They are doing amazing things!
What is the key? Faith, prayer, and never giving up. The Letter to the Hebrews offers important instructions on persevering. I suggest committing these verses to memory to recall during discouraging times: “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36).
The Blessed Mother and the Rosary
I want to conclude by giving special attention to the Blessed Mother and devotion to the rosary. One of the best home prayers for families is the rosary. In Church-approved apparitions of the Blessed Mother, such as at Lourdes and Fatima, Our Lady specifically requested we say five decades of the rosary daily. It is a powerful spiritual tool for families. I have experienced its power in my own life.
When my children were teenagers, I felt everything I did was wrong. I said, “Green,” and they said, “Red, blue and white!” One day, when I was totally beside myself, I went at midday to a church and there, alone, I prayed fervently. The Lord came upon me and said, “Pray the rosary every day for your family and children.” I haven’t missed in thirty years! I thank the Blessed Mother for many blessings that have come upon me and my family.
How blessed are we that we have the love of the Christ’s Mother! We have a spiritual mother who intercedes for us with her Son, just as she did at the wedding feast in Cana. John’s Gospel speaks of the special relationship we have with Mary when he recounts one of Jesus’ last actions as He was dying on the Cross. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27).
The saints throughout the history of the Catholic Church have been devoted to the Blessed Mother. St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-97) said, “O, how I love the Blessed Virgin. If I were a priest how often would I speak of her. She is described as unapproachable, whereas she should be pointed to as a model. She is more of a Mother than a Queen.”
St. Louis de Montfort (1673-1716), known for his promotion of Marian devotion through such works as Secret of the Rosary and True Devotion to Mary, said, “Never will anyone who says his rosary every day be led astray. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood.”
My grandmother, Carmella, took Louis’ advice and prayed the rosary every day, as well as during Mass on Sunday. Growing up, I observed how peaceful she was when she prayed, but I did not have a devotion to Mary until later in life.
I know of a woman involved with our Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry who experienced the loss of a child at a young age due to illness. She was overcome with grief and sorrow. She related that at her lowest moment of despair the Blessed Mother came to her, assured her that God had not forgotten her, and that she understood her pain and would not abandon her. This profound experience changed the woman, gave her peace, and helped her through the hardest times.
When we pray with our Blessed Mother and ask her to intercede for us with Jesus, we can be confident we’ll receive an answer.
Most of us parents work very hard to give our children a great education and spend time with them to help them do well in school. This is wonderful and important, but how does it compare to teaching them about Jesus, prayer, and helping them obtain eternal salvation? Family prayer is critical for us to help them on the road to heaven!