Praying at home with children

Published on 24 Mar 2020
A child with a book/notebook on their lap

Dushan Croos SJ has been wondering how we can  engage children staying at home using different ways of praying, now they can’t get to school or church. Here are some of his suggestions…

Children like to use their imagination and to move around, according to all my encounters with children. That’s difficult when they are restricted to the small flat or house where they live, to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and so protect health and life. The rare suspension of public Masses by the Bishops’ Conference for this reason, underlines for us that we do need to follow the civil authorities within their area of competence.

Sitting children in front of the screen and asking them to keep quiet can engage them for only some of the time. The head of a school where I once taught, always asked us not to show videos in the last days of term, because a couple of days watching videos for every lesson would leave pupils bored and frustrated, resulting in misbehaviour.

Use of the senses

To engage every aspect of a person, Catholic prayer and devotion have for a long time, (if not always), used imagination and the senses. They have also used movement, such as in pilgrimages, processions. Mass or public prayer stimulates the senses: for example the colours of flowers, vestments, images in our churches, the sound of music, bells, or varying tones of speech, the smell of incense, beeswax, flowers, the alternation of tastes through fasting and feasting, and the touch of statues. Clearly, touching statues is not safe at this time, and many of those usual practices are not available to us. Can we adapt any of them for this moment? How might we engage children using praying during the moment we are living through? 

Traditional prayers, prayed in different ways

Perhaps the mysteries of the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross or Stations of the Resurrection, or acting out Biblical scenes might help children (and adults!) at this time. The Mysteries of the Rosary were developed to help lay people pray at a time when they did not have enough free time, or the ability to access and to read the Latin of the Gospels and of the hundred and fifty Psalms which monks and nuns recite at different moments of the day over the course of week. Some background might help us think about ways of adapting these practices.  

One of the difficulties experienced in praying the Rosary is the continued repetition of the same words, (though it has nourished Christian prayer from the earliest days). People from Catholic countries say that to soft boil an egg, it boils for a certain number of Hail Mary’s and of course, more to hard boil it. St Ignatius suggests in his First Method of praying, towards the end of the Spiritual Exercises that one should meditate on each of familiar list of Christian Qualities[1] measuring this reflection by the time required to recite three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys [SpEx 241]. We’ve again become familiar with this idea through the instruction to wash our hands for two 'Happy Birthdays'. Pope St John Paul II added the Mysteries of Light to the Rosary in 2002 and suggested that every event in Christ’s Life could be contemplated in the same way.

Imagining, acting out or moving around

Might we think of meditating on the Mysteries of the Life of Christ, for the time it takes to recite one Our Father, ten Hail Mary’s, and one Glory Be. Perhaps with children, one person might recite the prayers (even quietly) to time the meditation, and the others could imagine the scene in the familiar way of Imaginative Contemplation. Children could be invited to act out gestures or expressions that they imagine from that mystery, though perhaps a whole decade might be too long to hold one gesture or expression, perhaps changing it after each Hail Mary could be better. Experience would refine how to do it.  Alternatively, one could they move round a room, if there is space, with each Hail Mary, if that is easier, or sing verses of a hymn reflecting that mystery? Similar approaches could be used for the Stations of the Cross or Resurrection or the Seven Last Words.  

Telling the stories

Finally, the Gospels and the whole Bible are full of stories, originally intended for public recitation, and offering great details for the imagination. Perhaps acting out the scenes with children, developing the way we read the Passion in Holy Week, or the old custom of Passion Plays or Mystery plays could open out the scenes in an engaging and interesting way for children. There are a lot of stories in the Bible, so it should keep them engaged for some time, though, of course, it would be advisable for an adult to read through the scenes carefully beforehand, and choose scenes that are suitable, since many Biblical stories are clearly unsuitable for children! 

[1] the Ten Commandments, the Seven Capital Sins, the three faculties of the soul (memory, will, and understanding)  and the five senses of the body

Try the Examen for children

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