Catholic Mom Book Spotlight

The Words We Pray: Discovering the Richness of Traditional Catholic Prayers
by Amy Welborn
Paperback: 210 pages
Publisher: Loyola Press; (October 1, 2004)


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Most Catholics, whether they actively practice their faith or not, can recite the words to the Hail Mary as instinctively as they tie their shoelaces. They may not know the meaning or origin of the words they pray, but the prayer itself is a part of their core, their identity, their soul. In her latest book The Words We Pray (Loyola Press, October 2004, paperback, 210 pages), Amy Welborn gives her readers a gift – the gift of prayer, of knowing not only the words to our favorite prayers, but the stories behind them and the occasions in life when turning to them can provide solace and joy.

I have long admired Welborn’s ability to write. Picking up one of her books, or treating yourself to an article she’s written is like a combination of having lunch with a friend and a tutoring session with a knowledgeable mentor. The Words We Pray continues this tradition for me, as Amy Welborn captures so effectively the essence and origin of traditional Catholic prayers. The book opens with Welborn’s heartfelt description of her own “journey” towards an eventual embracing of prayers such as the Salve Regina.

The true stars of
The Words We Pray are the prayers themselves. Welborn has included eighteen of the most popular and powerful Catholic prayers, and has richly described their histories and traditions. When we as Catholics turn to God in communication using these wonderful gems of our Faith, we take our place in the Communion of Saints who have over countless years turned to these prayers to seek intercession and aid. Welborn’s book concludes with an interesting discussion of “where our prayers go” and the value of praying vocally, using traditional prayers. The Words We Pray serves not only as a valuable reference, but also as an invitation to a deeper and richer prayer life.

Q:  I am pleased to have this opportunity to interview Catholic author, Amy Welborn. Amy, congratulations on the publication of your latest book,
The Words We Pray and thanks for taking the time to participate in this Catholic book spotlight. First and foremost, I know you're a Catholic mom. Would you please start off by telling us a bit about your family?

A:  I'm married to Michael Dubruiel, also a writer and editor. I have four born children at this moment, ages 22, 19, 13 and 3. A fifth is expected in just a few weeks.

Q:  For those who have not yet had a chance to read
The Words We Pray, please give us a brief synopsis of the book.

A:
The Words We Pray is a look at the background behind many different traditional Catholic prayers, from the Sign of the Cross to Amen. I unpack the really interesting historical background behind each prayer, but more than that, I try to help the contemporary reader see the continuing resonance of each prayer, as well as of traditional vocal prayer in general. It's a book that combines historical background, personal reflection and (I hope) contemporary spiritual resonance.

Q: What motivated you to write
The Words We Pray and what message do you hope readers take away from their experience of reading this book?

A: I was motivated by my own experiences, first and foremost of monastic prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours, hundreds of years old, is, along with the sacramental life of the church, the spiritual backbone of Catholicism. The Liturgy of the Hours has certainly taken many forms and has evolved over the centuries, but through it all, the Psalms have remained central to it, and a startling number of other Catholic prayers and prayer practices have evolved out of it, as well. Millions of Catholics and other Christians have found spiritual richness in the Liturgy of the Hours, and I was moved to ponder....perhaps our contemporary spiritual trends, which really give short shrift to traditional vocal prayer...are missing something?

I hope that readers take away, not just historical facts, but a renewed appreciation for traditional vocal prayer. St. Paul tells us that "we do not know how to pray as we ought,” and all of the Church's great spiritual masters encourage the use of traditional vocal prayer. The heart of prayer is, of course, the heart. St. Therese says that prayer is a "surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven." And this is true.

But the fact is that our hearts and its surges need guidance. St. Augustine says many times that the purpose of prayer is to put ourselves into God's presence so that we may be formed by Him. Unguided, our prayers can often lapse into self-reference, self-pity and just ...thinking, instead of really being willing to be formed by God. What the use of traditional vocal prayer, as a beginning and a framework for our own prayer does, is to, as I say in the introduction, take me "beyond my own vision of what was wrong, to share in God's vision of what was right."

Q: Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for some of the "classic" Catholic prayers. I loved hearing the stories behind the prayers that have been such a big part of my life! How did you go about doing research for this book? Do you have a favorite prayer?

A: Well, there's a lot of historical work out there, just ready to be gleaned. Most useful to me, to tell the truth, was the work of an early 20th century British historian Herbert Thurston, whose works are mostly out of print. Some of the research came out of historical journals - especially the material on the "Peace Prayer of St. Francis." As far as I know, the story I tell of this prayer (which was not written by St. Francis, while certainly in the Franciscan spirit) has not been told in any other English-language work for the general public, available only in scholarly journals and in some French and German works.

I think my favorite prayer of those I worked on, if I had to choose, would be the Anima Christi. The words just express what is in my own soul, pretty much all the time.

Q: How can we, as parents, express the richness of these traditional prayers to our children?

A: Well, I think that loading kids with historical background about the prayers they're praying isn't the point. I would hope that parents might take what they learn from my book, and as they pray with their children, use these traditional prayers in a way that helps kids connect with them. For example, when a child is feeling hopeless or defenseless, to pull out St. Patrick's Breastplate, and perhaps tell the legends of its composition. Or to get into the habit of praying the Psalms regularly, planting in our children a sense of the richness of traditional vocal prayer and their connectedness to the entire Body of Christ.

Q: I can't miss this opportunity to ask you about your wonderful Prove It! series for teens. My 13 year old loves the new Prove It! Bible. Please tell our readers about your work on this project. Are there plans for future Prove It! installments?

A: Thanks very much. There is tentative talk about a Prove It! You! book which would basically be morality, but I'm not sure. I have another book to write and a baby to birth - then I'll decide.

Q: With our recent celebration of All Saints Day, I have to tell you that I refer people very frequently to two of your wonderful books for children, the Loyola Kids Book of Saints (Loyola Kids) and the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes: Stories of Catholic Heroes and Saints Throughout History. How did you choose the people you highlighted in these books? How do these books differ from traditional lives of the saints books?

A: I think the main difference between my saints books and others is that I don't go chronologically through the liturgical years. I wanted to give a stronger framework than that, one that could be more easily used by parents and teachers, by grouping them thematically. For the first book, once I came up with the concept, ("Saints are People who..."), I simply filled in the blanks, and tried to pick saints who very vividly lived those qualities in a way that was understandable to children. The second (Heroes) was a bit more difficult, even after I came up with the framework, which is the virtues - it was hard because of course, so many of the saints embody all of the virtues so well, it was hard to separate them out. But I think it turned out well.

I also wanted to pick saints who represented a wide range of experience and interests, as well as global diversity.

Q: I'm a fan of the writing of your husband, Michael Dubruiel and your co-authored projects. What is it like writing together? Do you have any future projects in the works?

A: We've been writing together for a long time. We enjoy it, although right now we don't have any joint projects planned - we're too busy frantically finishing up our new individual projects, due out next Spring.

Q: Amy Welborn, thank you so much for your time and the wonderful gifts you give us through your writing. Are there any closing thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?

A: One of the common themes running through all my work is a hope that contemporary Christians be willing to develop a strong sense that the Communion of Saints extends across time and space. As a person living in a corner of Indiana, in the beginning of the 21st century, I don't have all the answers to my own questions, or even the resources to answer them. But I do have 2,000 years of Christian tradition (not to mention the 4,000 years of Jewish tradition) - millions and millions of men and women who have walked this same walk, asked the same questions, faced the same darkness and rejoiced in the same light. There is no way I can find wisdom just depending on contemporary voices. The past - which is, if you're Catholic, not really the past, of course - has a great deal to teach me. As I listen and learn, I'm just trying to share that with others.

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