Anyone, whether Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Deist, can pray by themselves, and at least derive the psychological benefits of connecting with that which is greater than themselves.
But as Catholics, we don’t merely “connect,” and our primary goal in worship is not to derive “psychological benefits” (though these are a great added benefit).
In addition to our own personal prayer, we follow the precept that Christ taught: “where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Thus we pray together solemnly as a Church, and our official public prayer is called Liturgy, based on the Greek word Leitourgia, meaning public duty.
Many Christian churches gather on Sundays (or Saturdays) to pray together and read scripture. But the structure and practice of Catholic Liturgy goes all the way back to the Jewish Synagogue and how Jesus and His disciples actually prayed.
After Our Lord’s death, His disciples obeyed the command to “Do this as a Remembrance of Me,” and continued to pray as they always had, simply adding Christ’s modified version of the Passover Ceremony to their prayers. And because Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, it is a precept of the Church that we must be present for this Official Prayer of the Church on Sundays, lest by neglecting the presence of our God we fall into greater and greater sin.
As the Church grew and spread throughout the world, the lengthy early liturgy, which lasted from Saturday evening until dawn on Sunday, was split up into parts. The portions from the Passover Ceremony formed the Mass, and the rest formed the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, as it is currently called. These prayers, which include the recitation of all 150 Psalms over the course of the week, have been chanted together by priests, monks, nuns and countless other religious since the earliest days of the Church.
But the common man, most of whom could not read and could not spare the time from their duties to pray the Divine Office, needed a way to be united in prayer outside of the Mass too. Leave it to Our Lady to take care of this problem: she gave us the Rosary, which, with its 15 decades, was called the “Poor Man’s Psalter” because the 150 “Hail Marys” represented the 150 psalms of the Divine Office.
So while the public recitation of the Rosary is not a liturgy, it nevertheless was intended from the beginning as a unique way of uniting the prayers of the ordinary Catholic with a Liturgical prayer to which he or she had limited access.
For countless centuries, it was extremely common for the laity to pray the Rosary while Mass was going on, since few understood Latin, nor could they afford hand Missals to follow along. Therefore they signified their intention of doing so by practicing this devotion. It was a great solace to the people to have this means of uniting themselves with the Mass.
Fast forward to today. Now the barriers between ourselves and the Mass are not our physical means, nor the mystery of Liturgical language. They are locked doors and government mandates. We have done our best to patiently cooperate with these measures in the name of “flattening the curve.” We have contented ourselves with livestreamed Masses and other replacements. But to watch a liturgy from afar is not to be physically present with the Word made Flesh, while a most time-honored way of uniting ourselves with the Church’s official, public, Liturgical prayer when barriers prevent it, is to pray the Rosary.
Now that we have seen that there are ways to keep many businesses open while keeping people safe, it is crucial for the Liturgical prayer of the Church to continue as it was intended, because as the Mystical Body of Christ, we are suffering in all our members due to this deprivation of our solemn public worship.
Many Catholics are now able to attend Mass again, but for those who are not, with discretion and respect for others, now is a good time to begin uniting ourselves with the Mass in this traditional, time-honored way of praying the Rosary…together, during Mass, in physical proximity to our Churches, while Christ is truly present on the altar inside. If we cannot enter the doors, we can at least be as close as safely possible to our Lord, and offer those prayers that the Laity have been given.
Moreover, Our Lady has promised to be our advocate in times of trouble like this. This is her month, and in fact, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima is coming up this week. Let us place our trust in her intercession and put ourselves in her capable hands.
Go to church this Sunday. If you cannot be inside while Mass is going on, stand outside and pray the 15 decades of the Rosary together. You may even wish to add the Litany of Loreto, which is a form of liturgical prayer. And let’s continue doing it until the Mass is restored to us.