By Oonagh Timson
Twenty-five per cent of Irish families say family prayers. Seventy-five per cent do not. This is shown by random surveys throughout the whole of Ireland. In some areas family prayers take place in only 10 per cent of homes while in other areas it is as high as 40 per cent.
It may come as a complete surprise for many people that Ireland, with its tremendous tradition of missionary priests and nuns, should be running a campaign in Ireland with the slogan "Pray Together at !tome."
Sunday, December 2, !named the opening of the month-long campaign with a pastoral letter from the hierarchy on Prayer in the Home which was read in all Catholic churches in Ireland.
The bishops invited the Irish people to rededicate themselves to prayer in the home. They asked that each family in which the tradition of the family rosary had lapsed, to revive it.
This revival might be difficult. especially in the beginning, they said. but "we are convinced it is important." Besides the traditional concentration on the rosary, the bishops take account of families who wish to combine the rosary with the reading of scripture.
A format which Fr. James Lennon, a director of the Research and Development Unit of the Catholic Communications Institute, uses in his booklet "A Book of Family Prayer" also takes that wish into account.
I asked him why, in his opinion, the campaign was necessary.
He believes that'people today have so man... distractions television, cinema. records and that people's lives have changed so drastically that there is no longer the habit of the family kneeling down and praying together. In spite of this "parents everywhere have been increasingly worried and one hears again and again the complaint that it was becoming extremely difficult to get young people to join in the family rosary."
Many prayer booklets have been brought out. In Fr. Lennon's, which covers a 15-day period, he has for each day a short reading from scripture, prayers relating to the way of life of the family, and a reflection on a mystery of the rosary.
Fr. Lennon has no illusions that he has found the solution for non-praying families. He says: "I don't pretend for one moment that I have found the perfect format. "It is my hope that this booklet will achieve two things
that it will help some families to start praying together again, and that it will be a base on which someone else will build and improve." There is no shortage of advice or guidance for those who want to pray. Indeed, advice and small print come so thick and fast that another problem is raised — that of singling out the particular prayer book that suits the individual before confusion sets in, and with a shrug of the shoulders the would-be pray-er turns away.
It was last June that Cardinal Conway put to the hierarchy the need to revive the practice of the family rosary. As part of the campaign, an organising. ec ntral committee under Bishop Eamonn Casey of Kerry was set
This committee was made up of nuns, priests and lay people. It had to work out a format for the campaign — publicity and advice to the hierarchy were part of its functions. All of the present-day publicity paraphernalia were used—car stickers, posters, magazine and newspaper features, booklets and hooks, radio and television coverage. Cardinal Manning, the Cork-born American prelate, came over and appeared on the television religious programme "Ln counter" early in the campaign. I he committee pulled out all the stops.
But here a curious thing developed. In spite of the publicity' and hard work, the campaign seemed to cling only to the recognised outlets of the Church — the religious programmes, the religious press, and basically to people who already pray together. It seemed unable to move outside these boundaries, in spite of priests like Fr. Brian D'Arcy, C.P., editor of The Cross magazine, and one of Bishop Casey's committee members.
Fr. D'Arcy says: "There is a great reaching out towards God, particularly among young people. I feel we need to find different forms of prayer for the family. All forms should he considered. The family is the whole of society in miniature. If God i5 not there, He won't he found in society either."
However, Cardinal Conway was not at the press conference announcing details of the "Pray Together at Home" campaign, nor were there any bishops present, and there was no underlining by the hierarchy of the importance of the campaign.
One religious affairs observer said that this would seem to indicate a difference of approach between the committee and the hierarchy. Indeed the emphasis on the family rosary by the hierarchy overshadows the other forms of family prayer put forward by members of the committee.
One got the impression that a tight rein was put on the committee from early on. fhe original slogan "Pray Together Again" was scrapped, and "Pray Together at Home" was substituted, even though the posters and stickers with the original slogan on them had already been printed and circulated.
The pastoral letter, it is understood, was also changed drastically by Cardinal Conway when he received the draft. The Archbishop Dermot Ryan of Dublin reportedly threatened to withhold his signature unless the text was amended again nearer to the original version 'put forward by the committee.
Already the campaign seems in danger of just fading away, although we still have religious programmes telling us how to pray, and giving us the usual format of priest and steadily praying public.
What a pity that such an opportunity has been thrown away. The advice, experience and expertise of younger priests is there waiting to be used. It is these priests who are in touch, to some extent. with young people who badly want to communicate with God. but find themselves tongue-tied.
This mouth of prayer also saw the beginning of Ireland's participation in the Holy Year. 1974. The theme is Reconciliation.