Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Lent 2011: Praying and Preparing to Pray

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the activities that shape the church’s observance of Lent. Fasting is an obviously penitential practice, and almsgiving, even though it is of positive help to someone else, involves sacrifice and is penitential. When we pray, we also “give up” something precious to us: our time. People often don’t pray because they are too busy to do so, but they are too busy to do so sometimes because prayer can make us uncomfortable.

It is a fearsome thing to come into the presence of the living God. In prayer, we turn our time over to God and listen. Then we set our lives before God and listen again. Then, in adoration and thanksgiving, we acknowledge who God is and give back to God what he has given to us, not only our time but our very selves. Love makes self-sacrifice joyful; but our love is often tepid and prayer is a penance, a sacrifice of time we would rather use for our own purposes.

Our entire way of life can turn us toward prayer or away from it. If prayer is a completely segregated activity and our life is filled with distractions of every sort, prayer will gradually disappear from our lives. If this is true of lawful distractions, how much more difficult is it to pray when our life is filled with sinful distractions. Habits of sin make it hard to pray. Habitual sexual promiscuity, corruption in business or political life, dishonesty in family life will surely destroy the will to pray.

There is a reason why the characters in TV series are almost never shown praying; the lifestyles they present are often sinful, filled with violence toward others, sexual aberration and self-righteousness. At best, prayer would be an esoteric activity they might reluctantly respect; at worst, prayer would be a reproach and something to be avoided at all costs. Our Lenten penance helps weaken the hold of sin on our lives and gives us the freedom to pray, to approach the Lord with a desire for unity, for intimacy with him.

Nevertheless, God gives up on nobody, and the invitation to pray is always part of every life. It is good to be honest with ourselves during Lent and ask again if our way of life prepares us to pray well in private and in church. Conversion of life is the purpose of the Lenten observance.

The invitation to pray publicly brings us to novenas and devotional prayers and to the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. The public prayer of the church is most fruitful when it meshes with our inner spiritual life. Just as we have to prepare for personal prayer, so must we prepare together to pray well publicly. Often I’ll hear that a “teaching” Mass, where the priest or someone else explains each part of the Mass, is helpful in our parishes or schools. It is easy, especially for priests at times, to forget how much we take for granted in talking about the Mass and the sacraments. Further instruction is appreciated by those who want to pray the Mass well.

The church at this time is inviting all Catholics to renew their understanding and appreciation of the Sacrifice of the Mass in order to receive a new translation of the missal used to celebrate the Eucharist. A new translation is a moment for renewed understanding of what happens at Mass. I am especially proud of what is being done in the Archdiocese of Chicago to help Catholics pray the Mass well. Our Office of Divine Worship, directed by Todd Williamson, is bringing various study sessions to the parishes (see Msgr. Richard Hynes and Father Lou Cameli are supervising many programs, with the help of materials prepared by Liturgy Training Publications, directed by John Thomas. Resources on The Roman Missal are available at the Liturgy Training Publications website, For those who want good information straightforwardly presented, LTP has two booklets on “Preparing Your Parish for the Revised Roman Missal” (Liturgy Training Publications, 3949 S. Racine Ave., Chicago IL 60609). The Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary (see has also created materials that inspire because of their spiritual and theological depth. Their guide is entitled “Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass” (also published by LTP). Their materials place the new translation of the Missal in the history of the entire liturgical renewal of the last 80 years.

We are very fortunate to have such excellent aids to help us prepare for this new moment in the development of the church’s public liturgical prayer. Even small changes in the language of prayer can make a big difference, for good or ill, in the lives of Catholics. The difference will be for the good if the change is well prepared.

I hope this Lent will be not only a time for prayer but a time to prepare for prayer, both personal and public, private and liturgical. If the preparation is good, God will see to it that the prayer unites us to him. At its best, prayer time is the most joyful time of our lives. Please keep me in your prayers; you are in mine.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago