Lex orandi, lex credendi: The way we pray leads to the way believe
Joan Patano Vos March 22, 2019
This Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi, which reflects a deep understanding of Catholic prayer and faith, was first coined by Prosper of Aquitane in the 5th century in these words: “legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi,” meaning “the law of prayer is the law of faith,” or “the Church believes as she prays.” It can be explained or described in any number of other ways, too:
- the law of prayer becomes the law of belief.
- it is in the manner of our prayer that we are formed in the manner of our beliefs;
- how we pray shapes how we believe;
- the structure of our prayer shapes the structure of our beliefs;
- the line or pathway by which we pray becomes the line or pathway that we believe.
- let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer
This understanding has shaped the church’s approach to the liturgy, especially since the Second Vatican Council initiated the liturgical renewal, and this understanding continues to shape our liturgical life. How we pray matters.
The older document of the United States Catholic Bishops called Music in Catholic Worship, 1972 (No. 6) said it a little bit differently: “Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken and destroy it.”
So let’s think about how we pray, especially in terms of the intercessions of the Universal Prayer, which have a particular pattern in the liturgy but are not a standard text. The Sunday Mass Universal Prayer intercessions are to be written by some member(s) of the worshipping community each week. What we pray for, and how we shape the words of these prayers, if we hold to lex orandi, lex credendi, will have an effect on how and what we believe.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Nos. 69-71) gives us this instruction: “In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal Priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all…petitions may be offered for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for those weighed down by various needs, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the whole world.”
When writing these prayers, we need to also consider the spirit of the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World/Gaudium et Spes, 1965, as best stated in its beautiful opening sentences: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”
How do we address the urgent issues of our wounded and weary world by how we word the Sunday Universal Prayer intercessions? Members of each parish community need to gather weekly to examine the readings for the upcoming Sunday and spend time in prayer and reflection to shape these intercessions in ways that speak the full truth about the Catholic faith today, as shaped by the wisdom found in church documents. Here are some possible examples that, depending on the Sunday readings, can serve as models for these petitions:
- That our country will find enduring ways to heal the wounds of racial division and unrest
- For all who suffer mental instability, that they may find refuge among caring and loving people
- For healing and peace to break upon the hearts of those whose actions are motivated by anger and fear
- For people of all faiths, that we may grow together in a spirit of mercy, forgiveness and love
- That government leaders will find the wisdom they need to legislate an end to gun violence
- That humanity will rise up, repent and be healed of the sins of violence we commit against one another, in our homes, in our communities and between nations
- That we will all have the courage to stand up and work for Christ’s way of truth, justice and self-emptying love
- That we may become better stewards of the earth
- For those who are homeless, that we continue to work tirelessly to find them a safe place to live
- That we may all grow in our understanding of the dignity of every person, and learn how to treat one another in that God-given dignity
- That we may always see those who are different from us through the eyes of God’s love, and that the way of that love will forever outshine the sin of hatred
Lord, hear our prayer.
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