Guidelines for Prayer in Parish Pastoral Councils
Adapted from Prayer for Parish Groups by Dónal Harrington and Julie Kavanagh
Introduction “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labour” Psalm 127
Praying together is the heartbeat of every parish group. If there is no prayer, the group has lost sight of what it is about. The time given to prayer together is what gives the group its identity. The work of parish leadership is the Lord’s work. God is sharing responsibility with us by inviting us to be partners in the divine task of transforming all things in Christ. If prayer is understood as something we have to do and we have to do quickly, the experience of prayer is reduced to mere words. The work becomes simply our work. Without prayer the group might work efficiently, but the work will cease to be truly “Christian”.
- Prayer unites the group in a single spirit.
With their varied life experiences, members of the group each bring their own colour and spirit to the group’s prayer. Prayer makes it possible for individuals to be in the same place for a period of time.
- Prayer helps the group focus on their vision and purpose.
Prayer helps us to “gather” ourselves and recover a sense of our overall direction.
- Prayer provides an opportunity for group members to share both their hopes and anxieties about their work. Prayer can bring a new depth of relationship within the group.
- Prayer enlightens the group and makes members less anxious about “doing” and achieving and to be more aware of “being” in a particular way, as a group who identify themselves as followers of Christ.
- Prayer is both comforting and challenging. It regenerates motivation and commitment. In the midst of complacency, prayer challenges members to renewal.
Guidelines for Leaders
Prepare ahead of time. Give the person who is leading the prayer plenty of opportunity for thought and reflection.
Move forward gently
It is important that the time of prayer is a positive and non-threatening experience for everyone. Begin with very straightforward prayer, focusing on the text and not too much focus on silence or spontaneous shared prayer.
As time goes on, and the group becomes more familiar with the format, the prayer can become more creative, using sacred space, silence, shared personal reflections and prayers. The time for prayer may increase from 10 minutes minimum, to 20 minutes or more.
Aim for the participation of all
The prayer should allow for maximum participation, through sharing out prayers and readings and allowing for spontaneous prayer. It would enhance participation if members were given a copy of the prayer text. It means that members have the texts to ponder during times of quiet reflection and for any spoken responses they might have in the prayer. Members can take home the text for private use if they like. Leadership could be rotated around the group and initially members could work in pairs.
Review the experience
It is important to review the experience of prayer with the members. Tensions or concerns about the prayer or its leadership can be raised and members can share the experiences and benefits of prayer in the group. Reviewing prayer reminds members not to take prayer for granted.
Mood and atmosphere are very important. Setting includes the lighting, heating and seating arrangements.
The Sacred Space
The sacred space refers to a central, visual, focus for the group. It reminds the group of the presence of the Lord among them. It may be as simple as a candle placed on a cloth in the middle of the group. It may be more elaborate, including, flowers, leaves/branches, icon, photos etc. What is chosen will depend on the images within the text of prayer and/or the time or season of the year.
The Introduction and Focusing
The first words spoken by the leader are key to setting the tone for what is to follow. It is important to help people to focus on the theme. It might be appropriate to play some music and/or slowly read the focus text on the prayer sheet, if there is one.
Music can enhance the prayer experience, by supporting the theme or by helping people enter into a time of reflection. It can be instrumental or sung.
Reading(s) and/or Reflection(s)
Readings should be slowly and carefully read, with plenty of time for pauses. Explore the images and mood of the text.
At times the group may be invited to do such things as light a candle, pick up and hold one of the symbols from the sacred space, share a sign of peace or stand.
Silence is necessary some times. Without silence our prayer is weakened. If we have no silence, how will we hear God speaking to us? Sometimes it is necessary to inform the members when there is going to be a time of silence.
Shared Prayer/ Reflection
Sharing should come freely from members. The leader may invite sharing and there may be a poor response, but people will share when they feel more familiar with the pattern of prayer.
Intercessions allow the group to respond with one voice. They can be read by the leader or other members.
This prayer may be said by the leader or everyone may be invited to join and pray. The group could finish the prayer by making the sign of the cross.
Some of these elements may be very new to group members. They are flexible and need not all be present on each occasion. Once the prayer begins, trust and let go. And let the Spirit work!