Favorite Prayers or Scripture Passages

Which stirs memories for you?

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Father CarrionHaving favorite prayers and Scripture passages is common. These can be the prayers that, when they come around every four weeks in the Psalter, brighten the day. Or maybe it is that favorite Eucharistic prayer whose tab you pull even when it is not the best fit for the readings, but it is what is needed for you that day. Or it could be a prayer or Scripture that might be a favorite because it is a reminder of a meaningful, never-to-be-forgotten time in your life. It might have become a favorite because one day, after having heard it countless times, a lector read it in a way that gave a different perspective, allowing the reading to be heard again for the first time.

No, these personal favorites are not your four or five go-to readings for funerals that are appropriate for most situations when you have little or no knowledge of the deceased. One’s favorites tend to have a more personal connection and are as varied as there are people.

“My soul rests in God alone, / from whom comes my salvation. / God alone is my rock and salvation” (Ps 62:2-3) has a deep place in my life. It became more of a two-verse mantra 40 years ago as my mother drifted into a coma the Monday after Thanksgiving then died the day after Christmas. She drove herself to the hospital one day, and the next day she was in a coma. The verse may have been the psalm response or a recent antiphon, and it stuck in my head. It was reminding me that God was here while I mumbled the mantra as my mother silently lay there. It is an easy-to-remember one-liner; I still recite it when times are tough and out of my control.

Psalm-prayers in the breviary are a treasure trove of short one-liners. Sunday, Week 1, psalm-prayer for Psalm 63 is one example: “Father, creator of unfailing light, give that same light to those who call to you. May our lips praise you; our lives proclaim your goodness; our work give you honor, and our voices celebrate you forever.”

The litany of nouns — lips, lives, work, voice — and verbs — praise, proclaim, give, celebrate — state so much. It is a homily in eight words. It reads as if it is a to-do list or an examination of conscience asking: Today, did my lips praise God? Did my life proclaim him? Did my work honor him? Did my voice celebrate him?

Soon after this psalm-prayer is the picturesque Canticle of Daniel with the three men with unique names dancing and singing away in the furnace. They are giving praise to God for everything under the sun.

Ironically, it became the first reading at my father’s funeral. My father worked for NASA in the glory days of the race to the moon so “you heavens,” “sun and moon” and “stars of heaven,” each phrase immediately followed by “bless the Lord,” seemed fitting. Besides his occupation, his avocation was hunting, training his dogs, field trials, fishing, an outdoorsman, so “let the earth” and “seas and rivers” and “sll you birds of the air” seemed equally a way to “bless the Lord” for his life and to honor him, even if it was a bit whimsical. While Daniel 3 does not make the top 13 suggested funeral readings, it worked for my dad.

My mother had a ragged envelope of old prayer and holy cards that she read nightly once her three boys were in bed. Sometimes, I would get out of bed and sit next to her while she read all her little prayer cards. I had a favorite, which she knew. She would bribe me, “If I read your favorite, will you go back to bed for me?” She lost her envelope and all her cards, we discovered once she was admitted to the hospital. These prayer cards were so old they could not be found anywhere to replace them. All were out of print. I heard my favorite so many times that I could paraphrase it. I still glance around in Catholic gift shops, hoping one day it will be there waiting for me:

How good is God who made us, / Who showered us with love, / Who placed his faith within our hearts, / And blessed us from above.

God made the world to house us, / The stars to light our way, / The birds and beasts to cheer us, / The flowers to make our day.

Despite these gifts unnumbered, / He was not satisfied. / So, he gave his Son to be our food / And for our sins he died.

What are your favorite prayers and verses? What prayers and verses stir deep memories for you?

FATHER PATRICK CARRION is pastor of five parishes in East Baltimore, Maryland, and director of the Office of Cemetery Management for the Archdiocese of Baltimore

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