I had an interesting insight tonight while praying with a wonderful group of men and boys that meets at my parish.
As the meeting began we all knelt down to say an opening prayer from their prayer book. Facing the cross, we prayed the “En Ego” prayer. Here is a version I found online:
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
while before Your face I humbly kneel and,
with burning soul,
pray and beseech You
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope, and charity;
true contrition for my sins;
and a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Your five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Your prophet, said of You, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones.”
And it occurred to me: we need to use prayer books. If prayer is merely spontaneous, it is easy — especially for beginners — just to pray for needs and wants (Lord, please give me X, Y, or Z) or perhaps to pray for others (Help so-and-so with such-and-such). Would a group of boys ever learn to ask for faith, hope, and charity in a habitual manner without further guidance? Would they meditate on the Lord’s wounds while considering their need for repentance?
A good prayer book (such as this one) teaches us how to pray and what to pray for, beyond our perceived needs or those of others. Indeed, the faithful use of such prayers can lead us into a deeper personal relationship with Christ. Of course it is not automatic — we can, after all, recite pre-written prayers in a perfunctory way. But when we strive to say the venerable old prayers from the heart, we ask for things we might not have thought to ask for otherwise, and the Lord shapes and guides us in ways we might not have been open to otherwise.
There is wisdom in using a good prayer book on a regular basis. It cannot replace meditation and spontaneous prayer, but it can add a great deal to them. What is your favorite prayer book?