A brief guide to prayer

Two Rules of Prayer

As I promised in my recent article for Return of Kings, I am posting here brief rules of prayer, which could be used for beginners who wish to make a start at formal prayers.

The most perfect rule for morning and evening prayers, would be to pray Lauds/Prime in the morning, and Vespers/Compline in the evening, from the Divine Office. When one learns how to do this, it is actually quite easy, does not take very long, and richly accompanies one through the liturgical year with its variable prayers, chants and lessons as the seasons change. But the learning curve can be sharp, at first, so I will give some set forms below that will be much easier to learn.

A bit of advice: it is better to persevere regularly in a shorter bit of prayer, than it is to try (and frequently fail) at praying for a longer period of time. The Church’s theologians and canonists have discerned that we owe God a minimum of 15 minutes in daily prayer, as a matter of justice; and, of course, charity impels us to go farther. You may pray more briefly and frequently, or less often for longer periods; you may add prostrations, etc.  In any case, just keep this in mind.  If you would like to supplement/exchange the prayers in the rules below, you will find many other, soundly Catholic devotions in traditional prayerbooks: “Christian Warfare” from Angelus Press, “A Manual of Prayers for use of the Laity,” the traditional prayerbook printed at the command of the third plenary council of Baltimore (here) the “Dominican Manual” (here), etc. The Latin and English texts of many prayers, litanies, etc., can be found here. And, of course, there is the Rosary, contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina, etc.  I heartily recommend a daily Rosary.

I will only say two things further, as a preface to what follows. First, in the following prayers, a “+” indicates that one should make the sign of the Cross. The general rule is to do this whenever the Trinity is mentioned, when preparing to make a prostration, or ad libitum, especially at the beginning of a new prayer.
Second, there is a pious custom of hailing the Virgin with the devotion of the Three Hail Marys in the morning and evening. In this devotion, the Hail Mary is said three times, with the following prayer repeated after each Hail Mary: “By thine Immaculate Conception, make my body pure and my soul holy; O my mother, free me this [day/night] from deadly sin.” You may wish to incorporate this within the prayer rules below, or do it separately.

 

A Very Short Rule

For those beginners who need something very short, because they find that even spending seven-ten minutes at a time in prayer is too difficult at first, I present a very short rule of prayer. Remember that you want to try to spend fifteen minutes a day in prayer, at a minimum; so break once or twice more in the middle of the day to repeat this little rule, or pray a Litany or some other prayer of your choosing at various intervals. Add another short prayer to our Lord or our Lady, etc. Remember, you can repeat brief prayers throughout the day; try to get in the habit of this, and frequently ask God for an increase in charity, patience and attentiveness, so that you can increase your time in prayer.

Morning:

+In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, amen.

+Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and kindle within them the fire of Thy love.

+ Reign as king, we beseech Thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, over the hearts of Thy servants; multiply within us the gifts of Thy grace, that we be delivered from all assaults; that we abandon not Thy present helps; and that we rejoice in those things which Thou hast established forever, amen.

+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 daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

[Here one may make as many prostrations as one likes, while repeating one or more of these prayers: “Deus in adiutorium meum intende; Domine ad adiuvandum me festina” (“Incline unto mine aid, O God; O Lord, make haste to help me”); “Domine Iesu Christe, Filii Dei vivi, miserere mei” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me”); “Domine Iesu Christe, Filii Deiparae, miserere mei” (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Deipara, have mercy on me” – the ‘Deipara’ is the Latin translation of “Theotokos,” or ‘the Birthgiver of God,’ the Blessed Virgin Mary)]

+I believe… [Apostles’ Creed or Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed]

+Hail Mary [may be done thrice, for the devotion of the Three Hail Marys]

+ All ye saints of God, especially [here name the saint whose name you bear, any other patron saints, or perhaps the main saint or saints of the day, found on the traditional Church calendar], pray for us, that we be rendered meet for the promises of Christ. Amen.

+O holy angel of God, minister of the heavenly realm, whom almighty God appointed as my guardian: by His majesty and paternal care I humbly beg thee so to guard my body and soul, that I may stand unspotted before Christ’s tribunal in the dreadful day of doom. Amen

[Try from time to time to include a general prayer for the good estate of the Church and society; a couple are listed below: the “In Thy fatherly care,” or the “O mighty Lord.”]

+Most Blessed Trinity, be nigh; let what human power cannot do, be done in Thy name.  Amen.

Evening:

+In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen.

+Let the fire of the Holy Ghost smelt our hearts and reins, that we may serve Thee in bodily chastity, and please Thee in purity of heart, through Christ our Lord, amen.

+We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee; for by Thine Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. [Bow, kneel or prostrate yourself] Holiest Lord Jesu, Thou Son of the living God, may Thy most sacred heart pity me, and teach me to fear, to love and to serve Thee. Amen.

+Our Father… but deliver us from evil, amen.

[Here one may make as many prostrations as one likes, while repeating prayers as in the morning.]

+My God, I adore Thee; I trust Thee; I await Thee; I love Thee; I pray Thy pardon upon them that neither adore, trust, await nor love Thee. Amen.

+Hail Mary [may be done thrice, for the Three Hail Marys devotion, above]

+I pray and beseech ye, all ye saints of God, especially [here mention your patron saints and/or saints of the day], and thee, my angel guardian, that ye would have me in your prayers, lest the adversary, or any foe, be able to harm me at any time.

[Here, kneel and/or prostrate, and reflect on your sins and shortcomings of the day that has now passed; ask God to grant you true contrition for them, time for penance, and amendment of life.]

I have sinned, O Lord, before Thee and before Thine angels. Deal with me according to Thy mercy! Heal me and I shall be healed, for Thou art my healing and salvation. All honor and glory be Thine, for endless ages of ages, amen.

[Try from time to time to include a general prayer for the good estate of the Church and society; you’ll find some in the books and sites given above, and a couple are listed below: the “In Thy fatherly care,” or the “O mighty Lord.”]

+Preserve us, O Lord, as we keep vigil; guard us as we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ, and rest in peace. Amen.

 [Bless your bed with the sign of the cross and holy water before sleeping.]

 

A Flexible Paradigm

The very short rule observes a basic pattern for morning and evening prayers. It invokes the Holy Ghost, and then Christ, and then the Father. It contains prayers that express Faith, Hope and Charity, and seek an increase in the same. It honors the saints, beginning with the Virgin, the patron (and all) saints, and one’s guardian angel. It asks for forgiveness of sins, and increases in grace and the virtues. Obviously there could be many options for such an approach.

When I started praying, I found that it was good to find the prayers I liked best and to type everything out in order; one can type up alternate options as well, and use them as one likes. One could add use separate, specific Acts of Faith, Hope, Charity, Contrition, etc., or find a prayer that expresses all of this at once. About the only standard elements, are beginning prayer with invocation of the Trinity, and then a prayer to the Holy Ghost. Nighttime prayers take the time for an examination of conscience, reflecting on shortcomings or sins of the past day, and express contrition and the desire for repentance. Peruse the websites and books linked above, or search the web for other sound, traditional Catholic prayers (avoid newer items).

I suggest here a few prayers additional options for various prayers, which you may wish to use.

For invoking the Holy Ghost: “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” or “Veni, Creator Spiritus” (easily found on the web), the “O Heavenly King” (below, in the brief rule from the Christian East), or the simple inovcations from the very short rule, above.

A brief prayer to Jesus Christ: “Jesu for Thy holy name, and for Thy bitter passion, save us from sin and shame, and endless damnation; bring us to Thy bliss that never shall have end, o sweetest Jesu.  Amen.”

A prayer to Jesus Christ for all that is necessary: “Lord Jesus Christ, True Light that enlightenest every man coming into the world, enlighten the blindness of my heart, and kindle within me the fire of Thine ardor, and grant me upright Faith, sure Hope, perfect Charity, Temperance, Fortitude, Wisdom, Justice, Final Perseverance, and all other virtues, by which I may understand how to fear Thee, and how to love Thee, and how to keep Thy commandments. When my last day shall have come, and my life’s end, let the angels of peace receive me, and snatch me from the devil’s power; let me take delight in the company of thy saints amidst blessed rest, and be placed at Thy right hand. Grant me these things, O Thou Son of the living God, Who hast said, ‘ask, and it shall be given unto you,’ Who also livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost through all the ages of ages. Amen.”

There are many wonderful hymns to our Lord, which could be used from time to time in place of a shorter prayer – such hymns as: Salutis Humanae Sator, Auctor Beate Saeculi, En ut Superba Criminum, Cor Arca Legem Continens, Salvete Christi Vulnera, etc.

A prayer to the blessed Virgin Mary: “Holy Mary, glorious and ever-virgin Theotokos, Who wast found worthy to bear the world’s Light and Salvation, and didst offer the Glory of heaven and earth to those witting in the darkness and in the shadow of death: be unto me a loving Mistress, my heart’s Illuminatress, and before God the Father, my steadfast Patroness, that I may be found worthy to receive pardon of my transgressions, to escape the darkness of hell, and to attain unto everlasting life through the Same Christ, our Lord. Amen.

There are many great hymns and antiphons to the Virgin, which could also be sung, amongst which are: Sub Tuum Praesidium, Axion Estin, Salve Regina, Ave Regina Caelorum, Alma Redemptoris Mater, Regina Coeli (not appropriate for Lent), Ave Maris Stella, O Quam Glorifica Luce Choruscas, O Gloriosa Domina, Quem Terra Pontus Aethera, Praeclara Custos Virginum, Ave Mundi Spes Maria, etc.

One will find many humns suitable to various days/seasons of the year (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, etc.) in various Breviaries, and also here.

A general prayer to God for the Church, society, and everyone: “Of Thy fatherly steadfastness, we beseech Thee, O Lord our God, to keep us and all the Catholic folk in all holiness; and all those joined to us by blood or familiar intimacy, or by confession and prayer, do Thou purge of all vices and brighten with all the virtues. Grant us peace; remove war afar off; drive sickness away; increase charity for our friends and our foes; and to all the faithful, both living and dead, grant everlasting life in the land of the living, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, through all the ages of ages, amen.”

A prayer for the health of the Church militant, prayed by St. John Fisher in a time of disaster for the Church: “O Mighty Lord, strengthen and build again the walls and gates of thy City the Church Catholic. Restore the ruins and gather together the citizens thereof, now dispersed like sheep without a Pastor, by licentious life and perverse doctrine. So, good Lord, do now in like manner again with Thy Church militant ; change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stones ; set in Thy Church strong and mighty pillars that may suffer and endure great labours, watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold and heat ; which also shall not fear the threatenings of princes, persecution, neither death but always persuade and think with themself to suffer with a good will, slanders, shame and all kinds of torments for the glory and laud of Thy Holy Name.”

A prayer at the beginning of the day: “I give thanks to Thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Everlasting and Almighty God, Who hast deigned to bring me safely through the night and unto the morning hours; grant me to pass this day without sin, that I may pay Thee thanks yet again at eventide, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

A prayer at the end of the day: “We pray Thee, Lord God, that just as we have gladly completed the day by Thy grace, we may also pass the night safely in Thy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

 

Brief Rule from the Christian East

This brief prayer rule is easy to memorize, and so is easily done at any time. Seraphim of Sarov taught this brief prayer rule to his spiritual children, and in the East it is ascribed to St. Pachomius, with the legend that he received it from an angel. I would need to know more about the history of it to say one way or the other; it may be that they are confusing this with his Rule for monks, also said to be received from an angel. In any case, it could easily be used for morning and evening prayers. It goes thus:

+In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen.

+Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.

+Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (Three times)

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

+O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, blot out our sins. O Master, pardon our iniquities. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.

+Lord have mercy. (Three times)

+Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

+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 daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

+Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

Lord, Have mercy. (Twelve times)

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the unto the ages of ages. Amen.

+O come, let us worship God our King.[prostrate after each verse, if you like]
+O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and God.
+O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and God.

(Psalm 50)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; and according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee, that Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged. For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me. For behold, Thou hast loved truth; the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom hast Thou made manifest unto me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me to hear joy and gladness; the bones that be humbled, they shall rejoice. Turn Thy face away from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and with Thy governing Spirit establish me. I shall teach transgressors Thy ways, and the ungodly shall turn back unto Thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; my tongue shall rejoice in Thy righteousness. O Lord, Thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise. For if Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I had given it; with whole-burnt offerings Thou shalt not be pleased. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise. Do good, O Lord, in Thy good pleasure unto Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be builded. Then shalt Thou be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, with oblation and whole-burnt offerings. Then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.

( The Creed)
+I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man; And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And arose again on the third day according to the Scriptures; And ascended into the heavens, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; And shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life; Who proceedeth from the Father and from the Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the prophets. In One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the age to come. Amen.

The Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. [Repeat this prayer as long as you like; some try to go 100 or even 1000 at a time. Prostrate each or every other time, if you like]

+ It is truly meet to bless thee, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most blameless, and Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, thee do we magnify. (Three times)
or
+Virgin Theotokos, rejoice! Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb; for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls. (Three times)

+Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

+Lord, have mercy. (Three times)

+O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, through the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, of our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind. Amen.

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