How Catholics Pray…

The other day in the Cathedral at lunchtime Mass, I was merrily sailing through the Lord’s Prayer, only to find myself (to my horror and embarrasment) ringing loud and clear in a solo tenor: “For thine is the Kingdom…” Oops. Spot the Protestant. I’ve been Catholic for six years, but sometimes old habits die hard!

I led grace at a gathering of my Lutheran friends on my birthday, using the Grace from Luther’s Small Catechism “The eyes of all look to thee, O Lord…” But of course, I said it the decent pace required of any ritualist, and thus got the comment at the end: “Praying like a Catholic…”

So what is the difference between how Catholics and Protestants pray? You may think the only difference is that we pray to Mary and the Saints and Protestants use a lot of “we just’s” but no, my friends, the difference is much greater. Here’s how to spot a Catholic at prayer:

1) He prays fast. Very fast. Quicker the better. Liturgy can often turn into a race between the priest and the people as to who can get the response in quickest.

2) This is related to the fact that Catholics love to say memorised prayers. Book prayers don’t frighten us. Why make up your own prayer when someone has already said it much better? AND in Latin?

3) And finally, the best way to pray is to say memorised prayers as fast as you can and REPEAT them over and over again. Three Our Father’s, three Hail Mary’s, and three Glory be’s? A doddle! Favourie repeated prayer: The Rosary.

Now a Protestant will point to all this and call it “False Prayer”. He points to Jesus’ saying in Matthew 6:7 “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

So here’s how to spot a Protestant at prayer:

1) He makes his prayers up as he goes along. The best prayers are “ex corde”, from the heart. Or “ex sleeve”, as one of my old Seminary lecturers used to put it. Spontaneity is a virtue!

2) He says his prayers slowly. You have to “mean it”. If you have to use rote prayers (like the “Lord’s Prayer”) take about five minutes to say it. And “think about every word”.

3) By definition, such prayer cannot and is not repeated.

Not that Protestants mind using lots of words, mind you. And contrary to Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6:5-6, it is taken as a sign of spiritual maturity if you are able to pray freely out loud in a prayer group. Silent prayer doesn’t cut it, and using memorised prayers… well, as I said above.

All this is, of course, a complete characterisation. But a warning to the wise if you are a Catholic going to a Protestant Church service: Make sure you pause at least a second before saying any response printed in your service order, or they will “Spot the Catholic!”.

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