Every Catholic school I know gathers together to pray in some way beyond the celebration of Mass. In grade schools especially, there are many times throughout the day that students and faculty stop and pray in unison.
The challenge is making sure these public prayers do not become so routine that students and teachers lose touch with the deeper meaning behind the words that they say.
Sure, prayer is essential in a Catholic school, but it doesn’t have to be forced. It can be a fruitful and life-altering or life-supporting experience on a daily basis.
I have a challenge for principals and teachers: make these prayer experiences more than just a way to check off the Catholic identity box.
Don’t let these daily prayer breaks be just one more thing to do. Challenge the kids to slow down and think about the words that they pray. Give them something to think about. Give them something to do each day to help reflect on those prayers.
Here are a few ideas that will help you do this.
Which Daily Devotion is Best for Your School?
In preparation for this article, I reached out to a close friend, Chad Barwick, a fellow ACE alumnus who has served as a principal and president at Catholic schools at every level.
He had two pieces of advice on school prayer:
- “Rote prayers are critical in schools–they become background DNA and confer grace. Students remember the memorized words and have it as a foundation throughout their day.”
- “A short reflection that ties the prayer or reading to the kids’ interests is also important.”
There are all kinds of Catholic devotions that schools are integrating into their daily routines. Here is a list of prayers I know schools are praying together during the school day (email me if I missed one that your school is praying):
- Lord’s Prayer
- Hail Mary (Living Rosary)
- Morning Offering
- Act of Faith
- Act of Contrition
- Angelus (Download these School Angelus Reflections)
- Prayer Before Meals
- Divine Mercy Chaplet
- Daily Readings
Each of these devotions has their own unique ways of encountering the Lord. They each speak to something deeply important to us as Christian disciples.
The questions you must ask are:
- Which devotion best fits with my community and the path we are on together as staff and students?
- Which of these devotions will reinforce your school mission?
- Which of these prayers will best unite the staff and students together in common pursuit of that mission?
Or, possibly the prayers you pray each day are just inherited from years past–traditions the school has carried on year after year. To respond to the challenge at the beginning of this article, it may be the time to take this opportunity to reestablish the purpose for praying each prayer or to pick a new devotion instead.
That act of establishing or reestablishing a prayer can go a long way in inviting students and staff into an encounter with Christ.
Get the Staff on Board
The first step in transforming the way you pray as a school is to get the staff on board.
If you are a leader, talk to them about the importance of the prayers. Share why the prayer is important to you and what you want the students to experience through it. It is so important that the adults who lead the students in prayer know why the prayer can make a personal impact. The more personal you get the better.
If you are a teacher, then build up the courage to speak up in staff meetings. Tell your colleagues why the prayer is so important to you. Tell them how it has made an impact in your life. Tell them how you have come to know and love Christ in a deeper way. It might feel scary to stand out in front of them, but this little story may be the nudge they need to have an encounter with Christ too.
Preparing Students for the Prayer
Often these school-wide prayer experiences can feel rushed or forced. Get students in a position to experience that quiet encounter with Christ.
Before you pray, take a few minutes to have them take some slow deep breaths. Encourage them to spend a few moments in silence–something they nearly never get to experience in their daily lives.
If possible, find a book of reflections to read to them throughout the year to help them prepare and meditate on the words that they pray. Those short invitations to pause and reflect on the words of the prayer will make them more than memorized words.
We really want them to experience the loving presence of the Lord. These short reflections may be the words that makes something click in their minds to see and pray the devotions in a whole new way. Read the reflections before or after the devotion to help them think, pray, and meditate.
For any school practicing the Angelus on a daily or weekly basis, I hope you will consider using the book Praying the Angelus to help teachers and students prepare for the prayer.
I also put together this collection of brief reflections or schools to read before praying the Angelus:
Empower Student Prayer Leaders
Of course, school-wide prayer can be a great opportunity to empower students to lead prayers. Ensure that they take these experiences very seriously. Talk with them about the importance of what they are doing. Set the tone for them before they lead others in prayer. At the beginning of the year, model the piety that you expect them to mirror in the way they pray before others.
There are many opportunities for students to lead prayer. Among them are:
- Morning Announcements
- Before Lunch
- End of the Day
- School Mass
- Feast Days
Even Public Prayer is Personal
What is the key to effective school-side prayer?
I asked Chad what he thought and here was his answer:
“Humbly, I would say emphasizing the connection to the student’s life or a personal connection for the speaker always makes things real.”
I agree, 100 percent.
Here’s the key take-away if you haven’t picked up on it yet:
Make it personal.
As in, personal to you, because if they can see in you how this prayer is making a difference, then the door is open for them to experience an encounter with Christ through that prayer too.
All prayers are handed on from one person to another or from the Church to its members. We are always invited first before we start praying a devotion ourselves. Equally important, however, is passing on our love and passion for the devotions, too.
If you want to transform the culture of your school or parish with prayer, then the transformation must start with you and then be shared with others.
Share why the prayers you practice are important to you if you want others to experience the presence of Christ in some way, too. Without that personal story, the school, staff, and students will lose sense of the “why” behind the devotions. They will just be habitual, meaningless and mindless habits. Don’t let that happen. Pray these devotions. Make them your own and then invite others to share in them with you.