Obviously, no Catholic can be without the Our Father or Hail Mary. But Catholicism has a rich treasury of other prayers as well.
One of the most useful, I think, is the Jesus Prayer, which is adapted from Luke 18:13: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” While the prayer is mainly associated with Eastern Orthodoxy, it also has a long tradition of use in the Catholic Church, and is even praised by the Catechism. Practitioners of this prayer repeat it as often as possible throughout the day, until it becomes an automatic action of the heart. I like this prayer because it’s so simple–it’s easy to remember even when you’ve had only a few hours of sleep and have been fruitlessly trying to entertain a screaming baby all morning. It makes unceasing prayer attainable for the layperson.
I also like St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer, from the “Contemplation to Gain Love” in the Spiritual Exercises: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my intellect, and all my will—all that I have and possess. Thou gavest it to me: to Thee, Lord, I return it! All is Thine, dispose of it according to all Thy will. Give me Thy love and grace, for this is enough for me.” I pray it as a morning offering prayer, to remind myself that all my capabilities come from God, and everything I perform with them must therefore be done for the glory of God. In giving Him everything, I am not being magnanimous; I am only giving Him what is His.
My favorite prayer preceding Mass is a long one. It’s written by St. Thomas Aquinas–who, though he’s often stereotyped as a dry, methodical scholastic, was also capable of grasping the most profound Eucharistic mysteries. He wrote the beautiful Corpus Christi hymn “Pange lingua,” and his prayer here is on the same subject:
Almighty and eternal God, behold, I approach the Sacrament of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I approach as one who is sick to the physician of life, as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, as one blind to the light of eternal brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore I beseech Thee, of Thine infinite goodness, to heal my sickness, to wash away my filth, to enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of Angels, King of kings, and the Lord of lords with such reverence and humility, with such contrition and devotion, with such purity and faith, as may conduce to the salvation of my soul.
Grant, I beseech Thee, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also the fruit and virtue of this Sacrament. O must indulgent God, grant me so to receive the Body of Thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, which He took of the Virgin Mary, that I may be found worthy to be incorporated with His mystical body and numbered among His members.
O most loving Father, grant that I may one day contemplate forever, face to face, Thy beloved Son, Whom now on my pilgrimage I am about to receive under the sacramental veils; Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.
The prayer expresses such a keen sense of his own unworthiness before the sacrament, such a desire for Christ to dwell within him spiritually as well as physically, and such faith in the veiled and mysterious presence of Christ. All of us should internalize these sentiments, even if we don’t all memorize the prayer itself.
Do you have any favorite prayers, or do you prefer to pray spontaneously?