Should Children Memorize Prayers?

Want to start a fight? Ask two teachers what they think about memorization as a learning tool. (Go ahead! Try! I'll wait here with some bandages and antiseptic ointment.)

Personally, I have always been a fan of memorization, even though (or perhaps because) I don't have a great memory. In the Google Age, of course, facts are always just a click away! But I often feel annoyed with myself when I am forced to do an Internet search for something I should just . . . know. When Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries flew into the news after 9/11, I was ashamed that I had never memorized the geography of that region. When the US invaded Iraq, I had no mental context for the battle and had to spend time searching for maps of the Middle East. Sure, the maps I needed were easy to access, but I was frustrated, even embarrassed, that my brain had never permanently recorded a basic image of that region of the globe. Memorization provides perpetual, immediate access to helpful details.

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church (¶ 2688) suggests that "the memorization of basic prayers offers an essential support to the life of prayer." The Catechism doesn't stop there, however. The paragraph continues, insisting that memorization should never become robotic or ignorant: ". . . it is important to help learners savor their [the prayers'] meaning."

Memorized prayer can, unfortunately, become robotic, but consider another phrase we use to describe memorization: learning by heart. Prayers learned by heart nourish us. Sometimes these prayers come to us when our own words fail. What’s more, they connect us to our massive faith community: over the centuries and across the globe, spiritual masters—including Jesus himself—have written prayers we receive and pass on as part of our heritage of faith. Children who have favorite prayers committed to memory call upon those prayers instinctively, especially in times of trouble. Many parents teach their children to pray when they hear a siren, for example. This instinct to turn to memorized prayer provides stability and comfort.

Visit our video page to see episode 2 of our "Praying with Children" series: Memorized Prayer. If you feel so moved, please comment on this post below to share your experiences with memorized prayer. God bless you!