There is a certain cadence to Catholicism, a common familiarity with simple basics like the rhythm of the Hail Mary and the flow of the Our Father. The words are wrapped around core values: relationships, communication, respect and trust. They point to the significance of one and the essential Other. Somehow, whispered in solitary or said in common, the words invite a sense of oneness or unity wherever they are recited: beside a hospital bed with a dying patient, before the altar during a wedding, after the petitions at Mass, during the Rosary or in a car on a dark and frightening winter roadway.
The words of the Hail Mary frame reminders: the Gospel description of the announcement of Jesus’ birth; the broader framework of the bonds between mother and child; the idea of praying together in spite of, or maybe because of, humanity. There is a trust in the concept of something greater than self that makes speaking the words have meaning, purpose. The soothing mantra of repetition allows deep breathing that hollows a sacred space for healing and quiet, strength and comfort, for perspective.
There is a luxury in the reality that the words remain, are spoken and prayed somewhere in the world, even when neglected or rejected, doubted or disparaged. They are there to return to if desired, to reopen and reexamine when necessary, to explore and to pronounce at will. There is choice in practice.
And so somehow, the words of the Hail Mary and the Our Father provide shelter, a home for a Catholic. Speaking them, praying, is about experiencing the whisper, the hint of the transcendent. But prayer is also about discovering, knowing, the richness of sharing the words in common. What can be dismissed as rote and meaningless can also be the very thing that deepens and shapes a sense perspective on the world and life, self and others as well as Other.