Common prayers and simple phrases help a child turn to God as they grow up.
If we do not know these forms of prayer, we will find ourselves not knowing how to pray. With a head full of worries and no rosary, you really don’t get very far. That’s why it is important to teach our children simple prayers at an early age.
The Our Father: The prayer of prayers
Whatever we say in prayer, it is always a reflection of what is in the Our Father, no matter how specific it may seem to a given circumstance. We will find nothing in the prayers of the saints that is not contained in that prayer and, while we are free to say it in another way, we are not free to change the meaning.
The first prayer that we must teach children is, therefore, the Our Father. Do they understand what they are saying? Certainly not all of it, but very early on they are able to grasp the essential point, namely, that God is their Father. This prayer learned “by heart” will be imprinted in them, in their heart, in their intelligence, in order to nourish their entire spiritual life.
The Hail Mary: The most beautiful prayer addressed to Mary
The Hail Mary recalls the words of the angel Gabriel. Learned since childhood, this prayer remains and will always be the lifeline we hold on to in days of anguish, it is the light that shines when the darkness becomes too dense, it is the rope we hold on to to get us out of the abyss of our sins and the simplest way to express our love.
We should teach children the Hail Mary and get them into the habit of greeting their Mother in this way, of entrusting themselves to Her, of lying down in Her arms to find rest and consolation. Tirelessly repeating the Hail Mary during the Rosary is not at all unreasonable; when one of our children, curled up in our arms, repeats: “Mom, I love you,” it does not seem to us that they’re being unreasonable. When we pray the Rosary it is exactly the same.
Learning a prayer by heart is to learn it with one’s heart
Many other prayers can be learned by heart: the Apostles’ Creed promotes trust in the Holy Trinity, and also clearly sums up the essence of the Church’s faith; the Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity; prayers of penance such as the Act of Contrition, and the Confiteor; psalms and biblical songs (the Magnificat, for example); short formulas such as: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” All these texts, especially when they are prayers taken from the Word of God, are like a treasure that comes to continuously nourish our prayer.
To learn a prayer by heart is to learn it with your heart: not like a repetitive parrot, but with love and intelligence. Learning a prayer is not like learning a lesson. You learn a prayer by praying it. Children learn by listening to their parents saying the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary every night by their crib, where they will naturally be assimilated. And, one day, without ever having learned them in the school sense of the term, they will know how to pray with those words exactly like they know how to use their mother tongue without having “learned” it.
The mother tongue of prayer is also silence
God, who reveals Himself in words, also speaks to us in the silent language of prayer. And this is both the difficulty and the greatness of prayer: difficulty because it is hard to meet Someone that our senses cannot grasp; greatness because this “Someone” is greater than our words and because He gives us, through silence, the capacity to know the Unknowable. Or rather: to allow ourselves to be seized by Him. Silence, then, is also the “mother tongue of prayer” and like everything else, it is discovered by watching one’s parents, by seeing them standing in silence before God. Teaching silence to a child does not mean saying “Be quiet,” but saying “Listen.” For the words of prayer ultimately have no other purpose than to make us attentive to the One who comes to love us.