On an average college day, I was in my dorm room praying a Rosary with a few friends when I realized my mind had been wandering for the entire first decade. I always find it more difficult to pray with a group of people because it feels louder and it’s harder to focus, but I am aware of the benefits of praying with friends, as well.
I quickly attempted to refocus myself before we began the next Sorrowful Mystery. Instinctively, I sat up a little straighter, adjusted my fingers to the correct rosary bead, and turned my gaze to the little crucifix hanging on the opposite wall above my bed.
These little motions help. It is so habitual and instinctual to adjust our posture and gaze when trying to concentrate, whether in prayer or while studying. But why does this work?
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We are made up of both body and soul. Our souls can’t be in a perfectly prayerful disposition without our bodies maintaining a similar posture. We need both the physical and spiritual elements in order to be fully and properly engaged.
The Church knows this. At Mass, we kneel during the consecration and stand for the Gospel. The Church utilizes incense and beautiful music, and we literally get to taste Jesus Christ. The Mass is perfect prayer and worship, and the congregation gets to experience all of these ways that offer glory to God.
The Mass sets an excellent example for how to engage our senses while praying in order to maintain concentration, reverence and devotion in our own homes. Here are five ways to do just that.
The Catholic Church has a proliferation of prayers, devotions and ways to stimulate your mind and senses while praying.
First of all, it is important to be intentional about where your eyes are settling during prayer. Crucifixes and statues are especially good to have wherever you choose to pray. If you tend to become more distracted when your eyes are closed, then look intently at a statue of Mary or St. Joseph while you pray. Catholic statues generally portray Jesus or a saint with a calm, peaceful facial expression. Focusing on this expression of prayerful peace or contemplating Christ’s passion with a crucifix to look at can help develop a good disposition of attentiveness.
Next, it is always important to pick a quiet space for prayer when possible. If you don’t prefer the silence, you can also play spiritual music, such as Gregorian chant or traditional hymns. What you listen to while praying can affect your concentration and reverence. Beautiful music is proven to have a profound influence on the spiritual life, and it can encourage or inspire you, especially when you are at a loss for what to say to God.
Smell is also an important factor that can contribute to a prayerful and reverent disposition for prayer. The Church uses incense and candles, and anyone can buy candles to light during prayer. There are even Catholic candles that are scented to remind us of specific saints or devotions, using familiar scents such as chrism, frankincense and flowers.
Touch is the next sense that can affect your focus. The Church has rosaries and crucifixes that people hold while praying. Part of the experience of praying a Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet is moving your fingers from bead to bead to keep track of the prayers, and this can help keep your hands busy if you tend to feel restless. You can also hold a crucifix or statue, or simply hold your hands together in a prayerful position. Just be intentional about what you do, and pay attention to what feels natural and what tends to lead to more distraction.
Finally, there is taste. We get to receive Jesus Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity every time we go to Mass. This is the most perfect and fulfilling feast, and it is more than just a way for the Church to engage the congregation’s senses. The point is, however, that Jesus knew how impactful it is for us to physically receive him and taste the Blessed Sacrament. We can engage our taste with small things at home while praying, such as a cup of tea or coffee. This can even help you look forward to prayer if you tend to put it off.
The Church offers an abundance of devotions, prayers and ways to worship God, with the Mass as the most important and perfect way of worshiping. From the lighting to the music, the Mass is designed to glorify God in the most reverent and proper way. We can imitate this in our own homes by engaging our senses to offer more perfect concentration, devotion and reverence to him.