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“…it would be a very praiseworthy thing and the correction would be so easy to make that one could accommodate the chant by gradual changes; and through this it would not lose its original form, since it is only through the binding together of many notes put under short syllables that they become long without any good purpose when it would be sufficient to give one note only.”
— Zarlino (1558) anticipating the Medicæa

Weak-Kneed Prayers or Religious Patrimony?
published 17 September 2014 by Guest Author

0319_DO-LG N GOING THROUGH some old books that had been discarded by a Catholic school library, I found a book from 1982 on planning Masses with children. Filled with various articles about liturgical planning involving children, I chuckled at the drawings and skimmed through the text. One article on prayer (itself written and published in 1981) caught my attention. The author questions her readers:

“What will the next generation of students say about their school prayers? Will they rise up 20 years from now to criticize us for giving them a diet of weak-kneed prayers, full of trendy jargon and self-conscious posturing? Or will they complain that they have learned nothing by heart because we never used the same prayer twice? Or will they thank us for introducing them gradually to the strong and surprising words of praise that are a part of our religious patrimony?”

I could not help but think of my own grade-school years when all of us learned our prayers by heart (the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity, among others) and had to practice them and recite them from memory to our teachers. This was certainly not the case across the country or the world.

Even today, in 2014, in one diocese in the United States, in a survey of 11th grade Catholic school students, only 28.1% stated that they always pray with their family before meals (48.6% stated always or often). In the same survey, 54.1% of 11th graders said they never pray the Rosary alone or with family at home.

The author of the article I found in that discarded book wondered what students would say about their school prayers 20 years in the future. It’s been 33 years since she asked those questions and I haven’t heard young adults thanking their elders for “introducing them gradually to the strong and surprising words of praise that are a part of our religious patrimony” (which, by the way, is not a bad thing: our religious patrimony should be passed down to each generation). Instead, one can see with groups such as the Juventutem International Federation, college councils of the Knights of Columbus, and various Newman Center campus organizations/parishes a return to authentic religious patrimony—a patrimony that was, sadly, not passed down.

Do we criticize the older generation for the “diet of weak-kneed prayers, full of trendy jargon and self-conscious posturing?” Do we complain that nothing has been learned by heart because no prayer was used more than twice? It’s been 33 years: the blame game has been played and doesn’t need to be played again. Rather, let’s focus on returning to our authentic religious patrimony so the next generation can thank us for that.

We hope you enjoyed this guest post by Fr. Alan M. Guanella.