To begin the prayer, choose one or two songs of praise.
Jesus prayed these age-old prayers of his people. Christians have always found a wellspring of life in them. The psalms place us in the great communion of all believers. Our joys and sorrows, our trust in God, our thirst and even our anguish find expression in the psalms.
One or two persons can alternate in reading or singing the verses of a psalm. After each verse, all respond with an Alleluia or another sung acclamation. If the verses are sung they should be short, usually two lines. In some cases, the congregation can hum the final chord of the acclamation while the solo verses are being sung. If the verses are read and not sung, they can be longer. It is not necessary to read the entire psalm. Do not hesitate to choose just a few verses, and always the most accessible ones
Reading Scripture is a way of going to “the inexhaustible wellspring by which God gives himself to thirsting human beings” (Origen, 3rd century). The Bible is a “letter from God to creatures” that enables them “to discover God’s heart in God’s words” (Gregory the Great, 6th century).
Communities who pray regularly customarily read the books of the Bible in systematic fashion. But for a weekly or monthly prayer, more accessible readings should be chosen, as well as ones that fit the theme of the prayer or the season. Each reading can be begun by saying “A reading from...” or “The Gospel according to Saint....” If there are two readings, the first can be chosen from the Old Testament, the Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles or the Book of Revelation; the second should always be from one of the Gospels. In that case, a meditative song can be sung between the readings.
Before or after the reading, it is a good idea to choose a song celebrating the light of Christ. While this is being sung, children or young people can come forward with candles to light an oil lamp set on a lampstand. This symbol reminds us that even when the night is very dark, whether in our own life or in the life of humanity, Christ’s love is a fire that never goes out.
When we try to express communion with God in words, our minds quickly come up short. But, in the depths of our being, through the Holy Spirit, Christ is praying far more than we imagine.
Although God never stops trying to communicate with us, this is never in order to impose. The voice of God is often heard only in a whisper, in a breath of silence. Remaining in silence in God’s presence, open to the Holy Spirit, is already prayer.
The road to contemplation is not one of achieving inner silence at all costs by following some technique that creates a kind of emptiness within. If, instead, with a childlike trust we let Christ pray silently within us, then one day we shall discover that the depths of our being are inhabited by a Presence.
During a time of prayer with others, it is best to have just one fairly long period of silence (5-10 minutes) rather than several shorter ones. If those taking part in the prayer are not used to silence, it can help to explain it briefly beforehand. Or, after the song immediately preceding the silence, someone can say, “The prayer will now continue with a few moments of silence.”
Intercessions or Litany of Praise
A prayer composed of short petitions or acclamations, sustained by humming, with each petition followed by a response sung by all, can form a kind of “pillar of fire” at the heart of the prayer. Praying for others widens our prayer to the dimensions of the entire human family; we entrust to God the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and the sufferings of all people, particularly those who are forgotten. A prayer of praise enables us to celebrate all that God is for us.
One or two persons can take turns expressing the petitions or the acclamations of praise, which are introduced and followed by a response such as Kyrie eleison, Gospodi pomiluj (“Lord, have mercy”), or Praise to you, Lord. After the written petitions or acclamations are finished, time may be left for people to pray spontaneously in their own words, expressing prayers that rise up from their hearts. These spontaneous prayers should be brief and be addressed to God; they should not become an excuse for communicating one’s own ideas and opinions to other people by formulating them as a prayer. Each of these spontaneous prayers should be followed by the same response sung by all.
At the end, the singing can go on for some time. A small group can remain to sustain the singing of those who wish to keep on praying.
Other people can be invited for a time of small group sharing nearby, for example by reflecting together on a Bible text, perhaps using the “Johannine hours.” Each month in the Letter from Taizé “Johannine hours” are proposed, a time of silence and sharing around a text from Scripture.