Catholic pastors often preach about the importance of regular family prayer. They have many good reasons to encourage parents to pray with their children. Two major documents of the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, as well as the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” emphasize the benefits of communal spiritual practices. Family prayer enables parents to pass on their Christian faith to their children, promotes family unity and supports expressions of faith outside the home.
The Catholic Church believes that it is the responsibility of Catholic parents to nurture their children’s faith, from early childhood through the teenage years. One of the Second Vatican Council documents (the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church") used the term “domestic church” to describe the key role of the family. Family prayer is one way for parents to pass on their Catholic faith to their offspring. Children look to their parents for guidance and tend to adopt their parents’ beliefs. Gathering occasionally to recite together the Our Father, Hail Mary -- or other prayers that the child knows -- can have a powerful impact on the youngster's faith development.
According to traditional Catholic understanding, there are three pillars of a Catholic upbringing -– the home, the Catholic school, and the local parish church. Each is necessary if the toddler drawing biblical characters with crayons is to develop into a young adult with a mature and fully rounded faith perspective. The parish church provides the sacraments and the school provides formal instruction on Catholic faith and doctrines. In the home children are taught how to integrate Catholic beliefs and practices into their day-to-day lives.
In his apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" (“On the Family”), Pope John Paul II called the Christian family an “intimate community of life and love.” Regular family prayer supports this community by promoting family unity. As an old expression puts it, "the family that prays together stays together." Prayer is a low-stress activity, and each member of the household can contribute at his or her own level. A parent or older child can lead the prayer while a younger child recites in unison. If there are ongoing quarrels or tensions in the home, this regular prayer time provides a valuable opportunity for the whole family to meet peacefully and interact cooperatively.
Expressions of Faith
Family prayer is important because it encourages expressions of faith in the parish and in the community. Children growing up in a home where there is regular prayer are often spurred to express their Catholic beliefs and values outside the home by becoming an altar server, by volunteering in charity drives at school or in the neighborhood, and by engaging in other activities inspired by the Gospel. Also, family prayer provides spiritual support to those young people who are considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
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