Let Us Pray…Separately…Together

“Justice is sweet and musical;
but injustice is harsh and discordant.”

-Henry David Thoreau

I want you to imagine your local parish. People are gathering for Sunday Mass. Some of you might have a rosary before Mass. Others might just gather for Mass. Whether it comes to the parts of the Mass or praying the rosary, I want you to imagine the prayer in your parish. “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” “Glory to God in the highest…” Whatever prayer you wish to imagine, do so. Now, I want you to think about your parish specifically. Think about the few young people at Mass, or the elderly people in your parish. Think about the family that sits in front of you, always distracting you. Think about the collective tempo of the praying. If you listen carefully (or even not so carefully), I am sure that it is not so difficult to hear someone, or some people praying a little (or a lot) faster than everyone else. I am sure there might also be people praying a little bit slower.

Why? Why do we do that? Why is it that we have to all pray at our own paces? If we desire to pray according to our own desires, what is the point in praying with others? I really do not want this to be a ranting post, but this truly confounds me. I thoroughly doubt that they are clueless to the fact that they are praying at a different speed. For the sake of the edification of you readers, I will seek to be more positive in this post.

Here is an honest question: Why do we pray together? Why is it different for me to pray a rosary with my parish, than praying a rosary by myself? There are surely a couple aspects to examine. Firstly, as Aristotle said, “man is by nature a social animal.” We were made to be in community with others. Thus, when we pray with others, we join in that community for which we were made. Secondly, the Church is a community of believers. Though the Church is a communion, which goes beyond mere community, community is an important quality of belonging to the Church. Thus, when we take the time to pray together, we acknowledge those around us who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we grow closer to one another, we grow closer to Christ.

When joining the Church, we recognize the importance of the community that we find in the Church. Thus, we seek to take part in that community. Whether at the parish-level, diocesan-level, or an even larger level, we as Christians seek to build up the Body of Christ. One of the most effective means of doing so is prayer. In the Prayer of St. Francis, we pray, “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.” [I honestly don’t know if that is a part of the prayer, but Google told me it was, so I’m going with it.] Thus, discord is a form of disharmony, in which individuals remain focused upon themselves and their own personal part, rather than the communal portion of prayer.

One of my favorite passages from any of Tolkien’s writings is that of the Ainulindalë (the Creation account in the Silmarillion). After creating the Valar (the angels), the Creator enlists their assistance in singing creation into existence. However, Melkor, who mirrors Lucifer in Catholic theology, sows discord and disharmony into the creation song:

“But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar, for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge…Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound. But Ilúvatar sat and hearkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged. Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Thus, in my understanding of this passage, disharmony is a form of evil, for evil is a privation of a good. When voices are to lift together in prayer to the Lord, there truly is a good that is lacking when there is a discord. We must seek to allow the Lord to touch our disharmony, to sanctify it, and to create a true harmony amongst us. Raising our prayers together to the Lord, we can grow in that harmony within ourselves, with others, and with God. I say it again – we must pray together. We must seek to sow harmony in all we do, but most especially in our efforts for communal prayer. By recognizing our common goal, we can enter into prayer in a greater harmony, seeking that goal truly together.

“How can we live in harmony?
First we need to know we are all
madly in love with the same God.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

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Duc In Altum

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