Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Does Our Language Reflect Our Beliefs?

Lex orandi, lex credendi: The rule of prayer is the rule of belief. When I was studying theology I wanted to write my thesis on this phrase (maybe I'll still get the opportunity one day). I love this simple saying because it reminds me that our beliefs are formed by the language of our prayer. This is why prayer, especially prayer rooted in the tradition of the Church, is so important. It is why we recently spent almost 10
years implementing the English translation of the revised language of the Holy Mass that Blessed JPII approved in 2002. It might seem strange to us to say, "and with your spirit" when "and also with you" makes more sense, but how does the former prayer shape our beliefs of the nature of man and the reality of the sacrament of holy orders? It reinforces in us the understanding that we are tripartite beings containing body, soul, and spirit. It also reflects the reality that in ordination a man's spirit is ontologically changed in order for Christ to act through him. All of this is packed into these 4 little words, "and with your spirit." The Eucharist, and by extension the Mass, is the source and summit of our faith and we should be very mindful of the language we use to pray it. When we water down our language, we end up watering down our beliefs.

This holds true in our daily, personal prayer life as well. I spent most of my childhood and early adulthood praying like so, "Thank you God for everything you have given me..." and then I was stuck. I could ask God for things and I could thank Him for specific blessings in my life, but I struggled with what to say outside of that. On the other hand, while I had a good understanding of the teachings of the Church, I had not really owned them. I believed them and tried to live them, but there was disconnect between my head and my heart.

About 4 years ago I transferred to a new college to study theology and gradually my approach to prayer changed. As I learned more about our rich faith tradition, I realized that I didn't have to rely on myself alone in prayer. I started to better understand the beauty and richness of simple prayers I had taken for granted. I began with the Hail Mary. I prayed it slowly and thought about the words I was saying. I thought about all that the words contained. I even learned to pray it in Latin to force me to think about the words with a different perspective. What stood out to me most was a part I had most overlooked in the past, ora pro nobis, pray for us. It's so simple, yet so powerful. With every single Hail Mary, we are entreating Mary to help us twice, now and when we die. Think about all the Hail Marys you have prayed in your life. Do you think Mary would abandon her promise when your hour comes? No, she will be with you and fervently praying for you when you need it most.

Another phrase that struck me was "mother of God", a title that I used to gloss over, but took the Church many years and much strife to define. Why was it such a big deal? What does it really mean? And most importantly, what does it tell us about the person of Christ? I never knew how much theology was contained in a simple prayer I learned at 5 years old.

The amazing thing about all of this is, the more I rely on the resources made available to me through the Church, the richer my extemporaneous prayer becomes. The language I am learning from prayers composed by others has enabled me to more deeply express my own thoughts and feelings to God. I am no longer stuck going through the same list of blessings in my life every Sunday during the Eucharistic prayer. I still do this, but I am not confined to only this prayer. Praying with "set" or pre-formulated prayers has actually given me more freedom of expression.

No comments:

Post a Comment