Prayer Books or Mental Prayer? A Challenge From Cardinal Arinze 


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Cardinal Arinze

I’m a BIG FAN of  Catholic prayer books.  Huge fan.  Love them. Especially because growing up in a protestant bible church I didn’t have any prayer books. Now that I’m Catholic I simply love reading the prayers of the saints.  They blow me away.  The only way that I can describe it is that reading the prayers of the saints teaches me how to pray well, to elevate my prayer to a higher (or deeper) level of contemplation. The beauty and sublimity contained in these prayers cannot help but to stir a greater desire for God and a deeper life of prayer with Him.

Take for example this amazing prayer said before receiving Holy Communion by  Saint Thomas Aquinas.  It is awesome!  And look how much it teaches us about the kind of reverence we should have when we receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament:

“Almighty and ever-living God, I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Lord, in your great generosity, heal my sickness, wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness.

May I receive the bread of angels, the King of kings and Lord of lords, with
humble reverence, with the purity and faith, the repentance and love, and the determined purpose that will help to bring me to salvation.  May I receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and its reality and power.

Kind God, may I receive the Body of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus
Christ, born from the womb of the Virgin Mary, and so be received into His
mystical Body and numbered among his members. Loving Father, as on my
earthly pilgrimage I now receive your beloved Son, under the veil of a
sacrament, may I one day see Him Face to face in glory, who lives and reigns
with You for ever. Amen.”

Now, I can’t pray like this.  At least not yet (I have to be optimistic, right?). This prayer and the prayers of the many saints we have recorded in our Catholic prayer books are simply profound. They are the product of much desire and love for God, and likely sufferings and sorrows as well, that I simply haven’t arrived at yet. But as inspiring as these prayers are, I have to avoid the inclination (given my weaknesses) to rely on these prayer books too much, or having them replace my own heartfelt prayer to God.

There is a great video clip from Cardinal Arinze that hits this point.  He admonishes us not to use Catholic prayer books as a substitute for our own personal prayer to God.  He admonishes us in this video,

“But all these prayers [in Catholic prayer books], beautiful, necessary, helpful—but they do not take the place of my personal prayer to Jesus.  They DO NOT.  My personal prayer to Jesus will be just like me, personal.  Yours, just like You.  There is no other you . . . Your prayer will be just like you. Only you can pray that prayer with the Holy Spirit guiding you.”


Video Link

Cardinal Arinze calls it a “pity” if Catholics need a prayer book each time they speak to Jesus. Of course he isn’t discounting the importance and usefulness of prayer books.  What he is doing is emphasizing how important the personal aspect of prayer is. Our prayers to God are person to person communication, and we can’t forget that God wants to hear from our hearts too. We shouldn’t only recite prayers written by somebody else. We have to remember that each of our hearts are unique creations, and God wants to hear from them, in our OWN words!

“The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.”  Psalm 33:15

Copyright 2012 Gretchen Filz

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4 Comments

  1. I’m an atheist, but I grew up in a Methodist church. I agree that others’ prayers should not be substituted for your own.
    I do think, though, that a prayer book gives a profound insight into the thinkings of others, ones which have shaped faith in the past.

  2. I also love reading prayer books because they do help me see prayer from another’s perspective. But, I have a hard time feeling like they are my own prayers. I feel I just learn from them as there are times when we experience spiritual dryness and they help to fill my heart. But, I also recognize the dryness at times when God wants me to listen more than I speak.

    • Yes, I am just learning about the dryness is a key part of growth in prayer. EWTN podcasts just offered a free Fr. Dubay series (it may still be there, it wasn’t too long ago) on contemplative prayer and he made that point, which was somewhat new to me.

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