Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Ind., 2007 edition; $18.95
Do you ever find yourself at a loss for words when the moment arrives to pray during special family gatherings – when Christmas or Easter dinner begins, for example, or after a child’s baptism when everyone is back at your house, or maybe during a celebration to announce an older child’s engagement to marry? If so, “Prayers for the Domestic Church” may be the resource you need.
You will find prayers here for the blessing of your Advent wreath or Christmas tree, prayers to use when a child graduates from high school and prayers for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and birthdays.
“May candles burn bright on this feast, as signs of the fire of life that burns today on this birthday and on every day. … Lord of Birthdays and Festivals, dance on our roof and join us with your divine mirth,” the book’s author, Father Edward Hays, writes in a birthday-celebration prayer.
Father Hays, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., is the author of many books on spirituality.
Numerous prayers of blessing are found in “Prayers for the Domestic Church.” Discussing this kind of prayer, Father Hays explains that “the blessing of persons or objects is not done for the purpose of making them holy, since all that God has created is good and is holy. Rather, blessings call forth a special grace from God to use an object as its artistic creator intended.”
One blessing prayer is for the home itself. “May the spirit of pardon and forgiveness reside with us and be always ready to heal our divisions,” this prayer reads in part. It adds, “May the spirits of mirth and laughter, hope and faith, playfulness and prayer, compassion and love be perpetual guests in our home.”
You’ll find prayers in this section of the book for blessing an automobile, a new possession, a pet or farm animals. There is a prayer for use “upon hearing good news. This section in the book even includes a blessing prayer for a marriage bed. It asks God to “open our eyes to see [the bed] as sacred, since within it we shall recommit ourselves, in love and hope, to one another.”
A wedding-anniversary prayer appears later in the book. The insightful prayer observes: “Like sun and rain, joy and sorrow have been mixed together to create the rainbow of love that has surrounded our marriage. For all these times and gifts, we are grateful.”
The prayer asks that “when another year has passed and we come to gather again to celebrate this special day,” it may be found “that we have grown in devotion and love of each other and of You, our God and Divine Matchmaker.”
A small group of prayers in the book addresses a need that I am sure arises in most homes sometimes — the need for reconciliation. Introducing these prayers, Father Hays points out that the gift of unity, or communion, within a home represents a “delicate balance between the experience of self and the experience of the other.”
The fact is that “an imbalance can easily be produced, ushering into our lives pain and suffering by the absence of communion,” he writes. As a result, “one of the most frequently needed rituals in the home is that of reconciliation.”
One prayer here expresses the concerns of a person who feels wounded by someone else. Another prayer is composed from the perspective of someone seeking forgiveness. “Open to my vision the ways by which I have failed,” that prayer asks of God. It adds, “I will need your help so that I may move beyond my own feelings to an awareness of the other who is also suffering.”
This unique book of prayers not only includes entries for special occasions when people gather in a home, but many prayers for personal, individual use.
You’ll find prayers for times of sickness and for moments when the “shadow of death” makes itself known – when news of someone’s death has just been heard, perhaps, or on the anniversary of a friend’s death. I thought Father Hays was particularly perceptive in presenting a prayer for the anniversary of a parent’s death, a day so many older couples definitely mark and observe.
Today, “once again, we look upon the home as a place of prayer and worship” – a domestic church, Father Hays stresses at the start of his book. He believes the family table ought to be the center of the domestic church, “the place where all gather in love and affection; it should be one of the most honored places in the home.”
Naturally, then, this book includes prayers of grace for family meals. I enjoyed the one that included these sentences:
“Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we pause to break bread together. May our eyes be opened, and, in this act of common sharing, may we see the risen Lord in one another. May we see the Lord of Life in our food, our conversation and lives shared in common.”