Apart from the prayers for the different times of the year, this book prepared by the brothers of Taizé community also gives practical instructions on how the elements, such as prayer around the cross, the icons and the meditative chants, contribute to our personal intimacy with God.
pp. 174. To purchase this book online go www.taize.fr/en
A word from Brother Roger of Taizé
From the depths of the human condition a secret aspiration rises up. Caught in the anonymous rhythms of schedules and timetables, men and women of today are implicitly thirsting for an essential reality, for an inner life.
Nothing is more conducive to a communion with the living God than a meditative common prayer with, as its high point, singing that never ends and that continues in the silence of one’s heart when one is alone again. When the mystery of God becomes tangible through the simple beauty of symbols, when it is not smothered by too many words, then prayer with others, far from exuding monotony and boredom, awakens us to heaven’s joy on earth.
For many Christians down through the ages, a few words repeated endlessly have been a road to contemplation. When these words are sung, then perhaps they have even more of an impact on the whole personality, penetrating its very depths.
To celebrate such an all-inclusive prayer only a few people are needed, and already the heart becomes more encompassing in an encounter with Christ. And in addition, if these people were to join, at least once a week, the prayer of the local Christian community, the worship of a parish or congregation where all the generations are present, including little children, young adults and elderly persons, then the universality of communion in Christ would find a clear expression.
Prayer is a serene force at work within human beings, stirring them up, changing their hearts, never allowing them to close their eyes in the face of evil, of wars, of all that threatens the innocent of this world. From it we draw the energy to wage other struggles, to transform the human condition and to make the earth a place fit to live in.
All who walk in the footsteps of Christ, while holding themselves in the presence of God, remain alongside other people as well. They do not separate prayer and solidarity with others.
The Order of a Prayer
Preparing a Welcoming Space for a Meditative Prayer
Prayer Around the Cross and Festival of The Resurrection
The Cross on Pilgrimage
Index of Psalms
Index of Bible Readings
This book offers a collection of prayer formats adapted to the different seasons of the liturgical year in order to make it possible for one or many persons to pray regularly. The elements it contains can also be used separately or combined in different ways to prepare group prayers.
The liturgical year offers us a way of following the stages of Christ’s life: the season of Advent leading up to Christmas, then the season of Lent culminating in Holy Week, and finally the season of Easter which lasts until Pentecost. The weeks between these seasons make up the time of the Church.
Fourteen prayers are proposed for the time of the Church, thus making a two-week cycle possible. For each of the seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter, a week-long cycle is offered. For Christmas, Holy Week and Pentecost, three prayers are provided.
The other feasts of the liturgical year are not mentioned in order not to overload the book. The fourteenth prayer of the time of the Church, however, is useful for celebrating the memory of holy women and men of the past: the apostles, Mary, the first person who said yes to Christ, the martyrs, and so on. In this way, our prayer sets us within the communion of all believers.
THE ORDER OF A PRAYER
To begin the prayer, choose one or two songs of praise.
Jesus prayed these age-old prayers of his people. Christians have always found in them a wellspring of life. 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. A choice of accessible verses has been made for each prayer. If other psalms are used, do not hesitate to choose just a few verses, the most accessible ones. It is not necessary to read the entire psalm.
Reading Scripture is a way of going to “the inexhaustible wellspring by which God gives himself to thirsting human beings” (Origen, third 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, sixth 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 which fit the theme of the prayer or the season. In this book we have chosen to offer some key texts that require no explanation. If a shorter reading is desired, only the part printed in bold characters can be read. To complete this choice of Biblical texts, the bimonthly Letter from Taizé proposes a short reading for every day of the year.
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, God never wants to impose anything. Often God’s voice is 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.
The prayers suggested are chosen from among those written by Brother Roger.
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.
PREPARING A WELCOMING SPACE FOR A MEDITATIVE PRAYER
When possible, it is preferable to meet in a church, making it beautiful and welcoming. The way the space is arranged is important for the quality of the prayer. Naturally it is not necessary to do a complete restoration of the church; very simple means can be used to create a prayerful atmosphere. If it is not possible to meet in a church, it is important to make the prayer-space as harmonious as you can.
It is preferable for all the participants to face the same direction during the prayer, as a way of expressing that we pray not to one another but to Christ.
A place of prayer can be made welcoming with very little: a cross, an open Bible, some candles, icons, flowers. The lighting should be subdued, not glaring. Place a carpet in the center for those who wish to pray while kneeling or sitting on the ground; chairs or benches should also be available around the edges for those who prefer to sit on them.
It is helpful to welcome people as they enter, giving them the song-sheet and inviting them to come forward.
Leading the prayer is a service to others. It entails preparing the prayer and making sure it goes forward in a way that allows everyone to remain focused on the essential, with no distractions. Once the prayer has begun, there should be no technical announcements or explanations that interrupt the flow.
In the fourth century, Saint John Chrysostom wrote, “The home is a little church.” Today, in secularized societies, by using some symbols of Christ, our dwellings can give glimpses of an invisible presence. A corner in every home, no matter how small, can be set aside for prayer, for example with an icon, a candle, a Bible.
Icons contribute to the beauty of worship. They are like windows open on the realities of the Kingdom of God, making them present in our prayer on earth.
Although icons are images, they are not simply illustrations or decorations. They are symbols of the incarnation, a presence which offers to the eyes the spiritual message that the Word addresses to the ears.
According to the eighth-century theologian Saint John Damascene, icons are based on the coming of Christ to earth. Our salvation is linked to the incarnation of the divine Word, and therefore to matter: “In the past, the incorporeal and invisible God was never represented. But now that God has been manifested in the flesh and has dwelt among men, I represent the visible in God. I do not adore matter; I adore the creator of matter, who has become matter for my sake, who chose to dwell within matter and who, through matter, has caused my salvation” (Discourse 1,16).
By the faith it expresses, by its beauty and its depth, an icon can create a space of peace and sustain an expectant waiting. It invites us to welcome salvation even in the flesh and in creation.
PRAYER AROUND THE CROSS AND THE FESTIVAL OF THE RESURRECTION
From the beginning Christians have recalled each week the deepest mystery of their faith, the “passover” from death to life that Christ undertook and that he continues to undertake in the lives of human beings. Every week can thus conclude with the celebration of the dead and risen Christ.
Christ’s passover from death to life can be celebrated on two successive evenings, Friday and Saturday, or else in a single service. At the end of one of the prayers in this book, the particular celebration can be added.
Prayer around the cross is a way of expressing an invisible communion not only with the crucified Jesus but with all who suffer–all the victims of abandonment, abuse, discrimination or torture, all those condemned to silence. In the center of the Church the icon of the cross is laid flat, resting on a couple of low stools or cushions and illuminated by a few candles. While the meditative singing continues, those who wish to do so come up to the cross to pray. They can make a gesture, such as placing their forehead on the wood of the cross, as a sign that they are entrusting silently to Christ all that burdens them as well as the difficulties of other people, both those they know personally and those who are far away: the oppressed, the ill, the poor, the persecuted. This prayer reminds us that here and now, risen from the dead, Christ accompanies every human being in his or her suffering, even when his presence is not recognized.
A festival of the light of Christ is a way of celebrating the resurrection which, for each person, already begins invisibly here on earth. Upon entering the church, which should be dimly lit, everyone receives a small candle. While a song of resurrection is sung, each person’s candle is lit, until the whole church is full of light. This is a sign of the light of Christ, which also symbolizes our identity as Christians as children of the light. Then one of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection can be read, followed by more joyful meditative singing.
THE CROSS ON PILGRIMAGE
The icon of the cross itself can be brought from place to place, thus creating a bond of communion between groups, parishes and families. When a cross sets out on pilgrimage, a whole life of prayer springs up around it. Passing an icon from one community to another makes our fellowship concrete; it is like a sign of Christ who comes to visit every human being without exception. It is also a way of living out reconciliation, of creating ties between very different persons and groups.
This sign of reconciliation is very powerful when the places the cross goes to are as diverse as possible. It can be present for the usual prayer of a parish or congregation, of a family or group. It can be welcomed in places of suffering and exclusion by people who live in solidarity with those in need. A prayer around the cross can be made up simply of a short period of silence, a few songs, a Bible reading and some intercessions.
Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short chants, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God. It allows everyone to take part in a time of prayer together and to remain together in attentive waiting on God, without having to fix the length of time too exactly.
To open the gates of trust in God, nothing can replace the beauty of human voices united in song. This beauty can give us a glimpse of “heaven’s joy on earth,” as Eastern Christians put it. And an inner life begins to blossom within us.
These songs also sustain personal prayer. Through them, little by little, our being finds an inner unity in God. They can continue in the silence of our hearts when we are at work, speaking with others or resting. In this way prayer and daily life are united. They allow us to keep on praying even when we are unaware of it, in the silence of our hearts.
The “songs of Taizé” published in different languages are simple, but preparation is required to use them in prayer. This preparation should take place before the prayer itself, so that once it begins the atmosphere remains meditative.
During the prayer it is better if no one directs the music; in this way everyone can face the cross, the icons or the altar. (In a large congregation, however, it may be necessary for someone to direct, as discreetly as possible, a small group of instruments or singers who support the rest, always remembering that they are not giving a performance for the others.) The person who begins the songs is generally up front, together with those who will read the psalm, the reading and the intercessions, not facing the others but turned like them towards the altar or the icons. If a song is begun spontaneously, the pitch is generally too low. A tuning-fork or pitch-pipe can help, or a musical instrument give the first note or accompany the melody. Make sure the tempo does not slow down too much, as this tends to happen when the singing goes on for some time. As the number of participants increases, it becomes necessary to use a microphone, preferably hand-held, to begin and end the songs (they can be ended by singing “Amen” on the final note). The person who begins the singing can support the others by singing into a microphone, being careful not to drown out the other voices. A good sound-system is essential if the congregation is large; if necessary, check it before the prayer and try it out with those who will be using the microphones.
Songs in many different languages are appropriate for large international gatherings. In a neighborhood prayer with people of all ages present, most of the songs should be in languages actually understood by some of the participants, or in Latin. If possible, give each person a song sheet or booklet. You can also include one or two well-known local songs or hymns.
Instruments: a guitar or keyboard instrument can support the harmonic structure of the songs. They are especially helpful in keeping the correct pitch and tempo. Guitars should be played in classical, not folk style. A microphone may be necessary for them to be heard. In addition to this basic accompaniment, there are parts for other instruments.
For more details, including solo verses and instrumental parts, see the different editions of Music from Taizé.
A humble prayer is something accessible to everyone. Expressing our innermost longings to Christ in utter freedom and great simplicity, we can entrust all our burdens to him. God does not ask for marvels beyond our capacities nor superhuman efforts in our praying. Countless believers have had an intense prayer-life using a few simple words. The apostle Paul wrote that “we do not know how to pray as we ought….” And he added, “…but the Holy Spirit comes to help us in our weakness and prays within us” (Romans 8,26).
There are many ways we can express our personal prayer–gestures like the sign of the cross or like the disciples’ posture at the end of Luke’s Gospel, bowing low with their foreheads touching the ground. Praying in this way expresses our deep desire to renew the gift of our life at every moment.
Some people pray using many words, others just a few, always the same, in a short prayer that expresses an inner call. This kind of praying is not a “method.” But in the course of our day, such a short prayer can bring us out of ourselves and lead us to the wellspring:
In all things peace of heart, joy, simplicity and mercy.
God buries our past in the heart of Christ and will take care of our future.
Christ Jesus, inner light, let me welcome your love; may I find joy.
I love you, perhaps not as I would like to, but I do love you.
Holy Spirit, Spirit of the risen Christ, you fill us with your constant presence; come and quench our thirst for trust, peace and forgiveness, veness, to such an extent that the wellsprings of jubilation never run dry.
By preparing us for Christmas, Advent prepares us to welcome Christ.
In the life of the people of Israel, God prepared the coming of Christ. The prophets announced his coming; John the Baptist opened the way. Advent reminds us of the longing of God’s poor: Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah….
Advent is also a time of longing for Christ’s presence in us and, through us, in the world. This longing is made up of simplicity, the spirit of childhood and joy.
O Lord, you once favored your land
and revived the fortunes of Jacob,
you forgave the guilt of your people
and covered all their sins.
Will you not restore again our life
that your people may rejoice in you?
Let us see, O Lord, your mercy
and give us your saving help.
I will hear what the Lord has to say
a voice that speaks of peace,
peace for his people and friends
and those who turn to God in their hearts.
Salvation is near for the God-fearing,
and Glory will dwell in our land.
Mercy and faithfulness have met;
justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
and justice look down from heaven.
The Lord will make us prosper
and our earth shall yield its fruit.
Justice shall march in the forefront
and peace shall follow the way.
from Psalm 85
Paul wrote: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
O Wisdom, coming from the mouth of the Most High! You reign over all things from one end of the earth to the other; come and teach us the way of wisdom.
–Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Lord and Head of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai; come with outstretched arm and ransom us.
–Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Morning Star, Splendor of Light eternal and bright Sun of justice; come and shine on all who live in darkness and in the shadow of death.
–Lord Jesus, come soon!
O King of the nations, you alone can fulfill their desires; Cornerstone, you make opposing nations one; come and save us. You formed us all from clay.
–Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Emmanuel, Hope of the nations and their Savior; come and save us, Lord our God.
–Lord Jesus, come soon!
The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!
–Amen! Lord Jesus, come soon!
Jesus, joy of our hearts, your Gospel assures us that the Kingdom of God is in our midst, and the gates of simplicity, and those of innocence, open within us.
Bless us, Christ Jesus; in you our heart finds joy.