Learn by Heart: A Gift You Can Give Yourself

Memorization has fallen out of favour these days. In grade school I was required to learn some soliloquies from Shakespearean plays and then write them out in their entirety by memory. Today I cannot recall my own cell phone number but I could still make a fair attempt at reciting the Bard’s verse! I wonder if students are still asked to memorize anything today. Why bother, you might ask, with Google at your fingertips? Catholics have always been known for their recitation of rote prayers and the repetition of rituals. Our faith uses ritual language and gestures to affect us at a level deeper than our conscious thought. Yet, who has not at some time found themselves rattling off the words to a prayer while their mind is elsewhere? The response is not to stop memorizing but rather to consider and practice what it really means to learn something by heart.

To know something by heart means you have it memorized but it also implies that — in the way the heart animates the body by pumping blood — the text or gesture is inside of you, animating your every word, action, and thought. Think about the things that you know by heart: a recipe passed down through several generations, a loved one’s date of birth, your banking PIN. What you know by heart says something about your history, your relationships, and your priorities.

Part of our identity as Catholics includes knowing by heart the texts, gestures, and rituals that shape our belief and bind us to one another.

Most of us have memorized some traditional Catholic prayers like the Hail Mary and a blessing before meals. We also know the Lord’s Prayer and the ordinary parts of the Mass. Yet, when it comes to the Mass texts, we often know them only conditionally. It is easy enough to recite something surrounded by others reciting the same thing or when reading from a screen but if you try to recite the prayers alone, you might falter. Sometimes saying a prayer quickly can help the memory until you trip up and then have to go back to the beginning because you did not really know what you were saying anyway. Or perhaps you can sing the texts but if the melody is taken away, you become completely lost. These levels of memorization are admirable but their conditional nature challenges us to deepen our efforts by revisiting familiar texts, pondering their meaning, learning more about them, and inviting them to penetrate our hearts.

Making the effort to learn by heart is a gift you can give yourself. Once you have learned a prayer by heart, it becomes yours to pray at any time in any place. We do not always know in advance when we will need a prayer and so when the need arises, we may not have at hand a bible, a prayer booklet, and definitely not a projection screen with PowerPoint! With memory you can look into your heart for prayers to implore God’s help, receive consolation, to comfort others, to strengthen those whose faith may be wavering, or to draw together with others in prayer. If you are still looking it up on Google, it is not yet yours.

Part of our identity as Catholics includes knowing by heart the texts, gestures, and rituals that shape our belief and bind us to one another. During this season of Lent, consider learning by heart a new liturgical text. Strive not to only rattle off the words by memory but rather to savour the texts, learn what they mean, and pray the words so that, having learned them by heart, they can animate every word, action, and thought of your life.

Here are some suggested texts to learn by heart:

  • Apostles’ Creed and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed
  • Gospel Canticles from the Liturgy of the Hours: Benedictus (Canticle of Luke), Magnificat (Canticle of Mary), Nunc Dimittis (Canticle of Simeon)
  • Psalms, especially 23, 34, 95, 141
  • Angelus and for Easter season, Regina caeli

You can find texts to memorize:

  • in most hymnals
  • in the Sunday or weekday missalette
  • on the Internet

Tips for memorization:

  • read the text over many times
  • read portions of the text and repeat it to yourself
  • repeat the text to others
  • practice writing down the text
  • test yourself on your recall of the text
  • use mnemonic devices like melodies or images
Related Offices Carillon Office of Liturgy
Related Themes Liturgy Prayers

Ritual for the Unspoken Grief

I was away from home and from my husband when my miscarriage happened during my summer pastoral studies in Chicago. I remember answering the door to welcome a colleague during the first few days after the miscarriage. I was not keen for a visit since my pain was still raw, so we both just fell into a long silence after she told me how sorry she was for my loss. When I finally looked up and saw the gleam of tears in her eyes, I broke down and cried with her. Until today I still think of it as the day God wept with me.

When parents experience a pregnancy loss, frequently the grief goes unspoken because secrecy often accompanies the early stages of pregnancy. Support from the community can be rare, as most of the time most friends and family do not know anything about the loss. Even when the grieving parents do share their loss, the many kind comments and sentiments they receive often fail to alleviate the sorrow and guilt parents feel.

Surrounded by ministers who had been shaped by their life experiences and ministries, I was blessed to have been able to confide in those who understood and knew what I had been through. My experience as a liturgical minister did not help in preparing a ritual for my own child. The sorrow was very numbing and I was simply unable to be resourceful.

Looking back, words cannot express my gratitude for my thoughtful colleagues who prepared and organized a Liturgy of the Word to commemorate our loss. It is difficult to put pain adequately into words but rituals speak beyond words alone because they consist of symbolic actions and language. It allowed me to give voice to my pain through prayers and lamentations. It sanctified my experience as I was entrusted to God’s loving care and compassion.

It is truly a humbling experience to be at the receiving end of so much love and support, and to encounter Christ in the face of friends and family. As God’s people, we are not meant to grieve alone. God weeps with us. In the embrace of the community, grieving parents allow themselves to be sustained and cared for as they put the pieces of their lives back together. Our grieving should naturally unite us with the community, a place where both have something to give and receive.

The Diocese of Calgary invites parents, their families and friends to join us in a prayer gathering by attending the Memorial Liturgy for Miscarried and Stillborn Infants on Friday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 1307 - 14th Street SW. For more information or to RSVP, please visit our website at

Related Offices Carillon Office of Liturgy
Related Themes Liturgy

Rite of Election & Call to Lenten Renewal

The Rite of Election closes the period of the catechumenate proper of those individuals seeking Baptism at Easter and initiates the final, more intense preparation for the sacraments of initiation both for the catechumens (subsequently called the "elect") and for baptized adults seeking full communion with the Catholic Church (known as "candidates").  All parishes are invited to take part at the Rite of Election:

  • Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 7:30 PM at St. Mary's Cathedral or
  • Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 3:30 PM at St. Mary's Cathedral.

Note that parishes have been assigned to either Saturday/Sunday celebration.

Related Offices Office of Liturgy
Related Themes RCIA Liturgy Liturgical Celebration Baptism Parish Life

Sing the Liturgy: O Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New

Alost child calls out in a busy grocery store – “mama, MAMAAA!” Can you hear the music? Can you hear the intensity, the tone, or the dynamic? This is not an example of everyday casual speech, but a call that begs to be heard. This past October, the Sacred Music Committee invited music directors and clergy from across the Diocese to spend a day to explore chant during the Sing the Liturgy: O Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New workshop lead by Lowell A. Davis, executive director of the St. Basil School of Gregorian Chant.

The above example of a child calling out to his mother helps us to hear that &lquo;sung speechrquo; or chant is a useful tool to proclaim your situation or, in our case, to proclaim the Word of God.

The Church has a vast treasury of music which has been with us for generations to help us proclaim scripture beyond casual speech. Chant lets us hear the Word of God, united in one voice, with a renewed sense of understanding and purpose.

At the workshop, Mr. Davis proposed this concept and described it as the “unity of the community.” This is useful to know when we discern why and how we might use chant in our parish worship. We become one voice through word, song, soul, and prayer. Mr. Davis said, “chant is highly energetic, it flows, it stresses the weight of the text, and deepens our prayer.” The best part is that it’s not difficult. One of the resources† we practiced involved us using a set of chanted Entrance and Communion Antiphons for the church year, composed by Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB. The texts have been taken directly from the Roman Missal and the musical line is formed with the text in mind. Cantors or choirs have a role to play but more importantly, so does the congregation, as we endeavour to become one voice in prayer.

As a musician, it is fascinating to see how music begins, how music notation develops, and how it is passed on throughout time. What I was really looking for at the conclusion of this workshop was a hook that I could use to implement in parish liturgies. When asked, Mr. Davis suggested, “Why not start with chanting the communion antiphon?” We have the text, and we have a simple chanted melody that can be learned by ear, and this is definitely an achievable goal. It’s concise and doesn’t subtract or change anything that we are currently doing musically.

Ideally, this example will start a conversation amongst parishioners, liturgy committees, and pastors. Ask: How often and during which celebrations throughout the year might we use chant? How deep will we dig into our vast and historical treasury of music?

As a music director, I like this new tool in my toolbox! This is actually a lost, but now found tool that we can use. I have one final consideration for you: What can you as directors, cantors, choirs, and our true choir (you, the congregation) enact this coming Sunday based on what I’ve shared from this recent chant workshop? The short answer is everything! Consider, uniting as a community, and sing words like “Glory,” “Praise,” and “Joy” with more conviction. Listen to the psalm for the week, and respond with equal intensity; and maybe, chant a communion antiphon or two!

The Sacred Music Committee works through the Office of Liturgy to carry out the Bishop’s mission of Sacred Music in the Diocese. The SMC researches current issues and practice in liturgical music and promotes understanding of music in the liturgy throughout the Diocese. Members of the SMC are people of prayer with experience in catechesis and music ministry. They have discerned a calling to this ministry and enjoy working as part of a team. For more information or questions, email:

Related Offices Carillon Office of Liturgy
Related Themes Liturgy Liturgical Music
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