Learning to Speak God - A Talk About Prayer





LITURGICAL CATECHESIS: What is the significance of the various colors? (Part 3 of 3)

Continuing with the use of liturgical colors … Rose symbolizes anticipation, rejoicing. It is used on Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (fourth Sunday of Lent). Both “gaudete” and “laetare” are variations of “to rejoice” in Latin. The Sundays occur at the midpoint of Advent and Lent and are a reminder of the upcoming joyful events. They also offer a change of tonality within the respective seasons.

Red symbolizes blood, fire, passion. Since it commonly represents blood, the church assigns this color to Palm Sunday, Good Friday, the celebration of the Lord’s passion, the birthday feast days of apostles and evangelists, and the celebration of martyred saints. As a symbol of the Holy Spirit and the burning fire of God’s love, red also is used on Pentecost Sunday, the sacrament of confirmation and the votive Masses of the Holy Spirit.

Black symbolizes death, mourning. Although not used frequently in the United States, black may be used at funeral Masses, the feast of All Souls or the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Following Vatican II, white is the preferred color since it reminds us of the Resurrection and our baptism.

Some color variations are allowed based on tradition. Dioceses in Spain and Mexico, and other nations of Spanish heritage, for example, have been given permission to use the color blue for Marian feasts, including the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Blue also is granted to some Marian shrines. Further information can be found on the website.


I’ve been writing about Jonathan Merritt’s book Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing-and How We Can Revive Them. I wanted to pull some specific examples from Merritt’s book, and compare them to some passages “The Rule of St. Benedict.” The idea is to see if the language of one of the ancients of our faith can be synchronized with the words of a modern linguist. Let’s start with the topic of prayer.

Jonathan Merritt writes that “Western Christians are used to spending ‘prayer time’ begging God to give them what they want or to act when God feels absent.” Prayer of this kind is rather simple, but it works for many people. As one example, Merritt references a prayer “guide” with which many of us are probably familiar. This is the acronym A.C.T.S. This stands for Adoration – Contrition – Thanksgiving – Supplication. Although this might seem simplistic, it is actually based on solid, classic prayer tradition. Many prayer masters (Sr. Francis de Sales for example) say to start your prayer thanking God for all in your life that is good. Contrition is a good place to go from there. Ask God to forgive you for any sins that you have committed. The idea of supplication, or asking God for something, comes from “The Boss” himself…”Give us this day our daily bread.” Finally, simply adoring or praising God is a noble and high form of prayer. You are simply turning your mind and heart to God with no strings attached.

Merritt then moves to another type of prayer tradition - Lectio Divina or “the divine word.” If you’ve been hanging around Jason Carter or Megan Nulty lately (or if your children have been) then you will be familiar with this ancient prayer form. You begin by opening your Bible. Pick any place in the book. Then simply start reading. At some point, a word or phrase or sentence will strike you. STOP! Close the book. Begin thinking about that word, phrase or sentence. How is it speaking to you? How is it relevant to you in your life now? How might God be speaking to you by means of these words?

Merritt writes that Lectio Divina allowed him to “encounter a new way of understanding the word ‘prayer.’ This was especially helpful as a tool for spiritual formation. The author cites several scientific studies which indicated that “prayer changes our brains and bodies in the moment. However, when practiced over time, it also leads to permanent physiological transformation. In other words, “the practice was relational, rather than transactional, which is how it becomes transformational.” Here is where doing the “God speak” thing can have an effect in society. “If spiritual practices provide a general strengthener for the brain, he notes, the effects could spill over into many other areas of life.” Merritt mentions friendship, marriage, and relationships at work as a few examples.

Let’s return to the “ACTS” idea again. Those four components of prayer assume a certain level of humility before a transcendent God. Chapter 20 of The Rule of St. Benedict is “Reverence in Prayer.” Benedict writes that if “we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station, we do not presume to do so except with humility and reverence. How much the more, then, are complete humility and pure devotion necessary in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe! One of the nice aspect of “ACTS” is that it is brief. You can pray those four parts within a short period of time. This is exactly the advice that St. Benedict gives. “Holy Father Benedict” draws from Matthew 6:7 – “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” He writes, “Let us be assured that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard, but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction. Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure, unless it happens to be prolonged by an inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, let prayer be very short.”

Next week, let’s see what these two authors say about the topic of pride.

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