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Anna McDonnell

Catholic Centering Prayer


Several times throughout my life I have gone to our local parish with my parents for
what we have always called Holy Hour. We are devout Catholics and try to have an active
prayer life. Holy Hour is basically an hour of centering/contemplative prayer that can be done
as many times a week as is offered at ones local parish. It is done in front of a monstrance set
at the altar; a monstrance being a vessel for the consecrated Eucharist, which Catholics
believe to literally be the Body of Christ. It is an hour of reverence and in most cases it is an
hour of complete silence.
In previous years, whenever I have gone to Holy Hour it has been carried out in the
traditional manner. If it is being held by clergymen or a lay person, there are usually brief
prayers and a certain song/chant that goes along with it at the beginning and end of the hour.
When it is not being more formally held, it is done at any time and the entire hour is completely
silent. When I was little my parents would often go to the latter type of Holy Hour, and
sometimes they would bring me but honestly I remember not liking it because an hour is a very
long time for a child to sit in silence. I found it boring. I also hadnt fully grasped my faith yet,
and so I did not yet realize the importance. I would try to pray but as a child there wasnt much
to say so it would hardly last the entire hour.
Now that I am older I know the importance of centering prayer and I actually know how
to center myself during these hours of prayerful meditation. I feel I couldnt achieve this as a
child simply because I was a child; a child does not have the patience or attention span to
meditate, in my opinion. Meditating in front of the monstrance always has a relaxing effect on
me now, because I just forget the troubles of the world and focus on Christ and his goodness.
When I moved to Utah my high schools parish, St. John the Baptist, sometimes had Holy
Hour but only when someone would organize it. This was with the brief prayers and
chanting/singing. As of the last couple years the church that my family and I regularly go to
every Sunday started doing a scheduled Holy Hour. At Blessed Sacrament Church, they started
having Holy Hour once a week where a layperson was in charge and they did several readings
and prayers and there was not much silent time. My family and I found it quite annoying,
because it just seemed irreverent and was very distracting. We felt it took away the whole
meaning of Holy Hour; which is silent, contemplative prayer.
I feel it is easier to devout all of my attention to God when there is no distracting
singing, noises, talking, etc. Chanting a prayer works for me in the beginning, but my thoughts
start to trail off into other things after a while and I dont realize I am still speaking. The most
recent case of this was on Sunday April 27th, which was a major day in the liturgical year for
Catholics called Divine Mercy Sunday. My family and I went to a parish right next to the SLCC
Taylorsville campus called St. Martin de Porres for Latin mass and a type of Holy Hour afterward
for this particular day. Mass is an hour, and when it is in Latin it is hard not to get distracted if
you dont speak Latin. There are books to follow along, but its difficult. On Divine Mercy
Sunday we then have another hour of prayer immediately following mass where we say a
prayer called the Chaplet. This can either be said or sang and uses repeated statements like in
the Rosary but with different prayers. There is a prayer at the beginning, and then you recite a
second prayer 10 times, and end with another prayer. This system of prayers is done 5 times,
with a few prayers at the beginning and end of the entire Chaplet. My family actually tries to do
this every night for 9 nights during certain times of the year as a part of a series called a
Novena, but we do not sing it. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, I tried to stay focused but it was
difficult because after an hour of Latin mass I get fidgety and spending an additional hour on my
knees was not very comfortable. I always feel bad whenever my thoughts wonder during mass
or prayer because it is disrespectful and misses the whole point. I have to keep myself on track.
And when I begin to get uncomfortable on my knees I have to remind myself to offer up my
suffering for the souls in Purgatory. Being comfortable is key in meditation, but in this type of
centering prayer one has to sort of find the right state of mind and let go of feeling. To
successfully do this sort of prayer you must be fully focused on God and nothing else. Overall,
that Sunday was not the best centering prayer experience for me, but its difficult for anyone
who doesnt do it every single day.
Like with other types of meditation, I do best with complete silence or occasionally soft
music. Music actually helps with my centering process as long as it is somewhat soothing. It
gives my brain something to stay focused on and focusing on the music eventually lets me let
go of my surroundings. Music such as a Gregorian chant has really helped me focus on prayer
and meditation. The fact that it does not include instruments and is monophonic resonates with
my spiritual side in a way.
I hope to one day attend a session of centering prayer at a monastery with actual monks
chanting and so on. I feel like these are the best types of Holy Hour, because you can really
feel the reverence and it just makes me feel internally happy to see that such reverence still
exists in todays day and age. I have unending respect for the monks who dedicate their lives to
prayer and fasting. Especially in the very secluded monasteries, all they do is meditate on
Christ; they are not distracted by the on-goings of the outside world and are at peace. This is
how everyone should be, because if they were the world would be much different.