Prayer before dinner and bedtime are regular practices for many families in the Diocese of Trenton, including the Malinowskis of Resurrection Parish, Delran. Photo courtesy of the Malinowski family
Prayer before dinner and bedtime are regular practices for many families in the Diocese of Trenton, including the Malinowskis of Resurrection Parish, Delran. Photo courtesy of the Malinowski family

Family prayer can include both times of devotion and levity, particularly with quibbling siblings or toddlers in the mix. It can be a time for petition and learned prayers, and at least one child attempting some gymnastic maneuver.

And that’s one of the beauties of family prayer: It doesn’t need to be a model of perfection.

As our family gathers right before bedtime to recite familiar prayers and petition for loved ones, it often looks like this:

“‘Hail Mary, full of grace’ … sit up, we don’t hang off the couch backward … ‘the Lord is with thee’ … pray with me, I can’t hear you.”

“I AM praying, in my head.”

“What’s the weather tomorrow?”

“‘We pray for those who were affected by the earthquake …”

“Do we get earthquakes in New Jersey?”

Families are messy, unpredictable and sometimes downright irreverent – often when Mom and Dad are attempting to instill and demonstrate the faith. But just because it is imperfect doesn’t mean those planted seeds will not yield fruit.

For the Samuel family, members of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, Saturdays are a particular focus. The family of eight – husband and wife Diego and Ana, and children Lucia, Mariana, Felipe, Alicia, Dani and Elena – gathers for a “speed Rosary” of five Hail Marys per Mystery, to gain willing cooperation from all ages.

“We try to load up each Mystery with their intentions, so it’s more personal for them,” Ana Samuel explained. “For example, one child will want to pray for a friend whose parents are going through a divorce … another will ask us to pray for their test tomorrow. We pray for family members who have stopped practicing the faith.”

Kerry and Laura DiBlasio and sons Luke, 18, and James, 11, members of Resurrection Parish, Delran, use both Mass and mealtimes to pray together.

“Meal time is the best because of our busy schedules,” Laura DiBlasio said. “Our children learn to be grateful for what they have, and that they can help others by praying for them.”

For the Malinowski family, grace before dinner and prayers before bedtime in the living room offer an opportunity to reflect together and pray for others.

“When the first person wants to go to bed, we gather and say prayers – family dog included,” said Donna Malinowski. She and husband, Bill, and twin sons Cole and Ryan, 13, also belong to Resurrection Parish. “Our sons are learning that prayer isn’t just about our needs, but also the needs of others, as well as prayers of thanks.”

Other family prayer times include those Catholic prayers of the holidays, such as the Valentino family’s tradition of centering their Advent wreath on the dining table.

“We begin each dinner with lighting the candles, a reading and discussion,” said Megan Valentino, wife of Joe and mother to Chris, seventh grade, Brendan, fifth grade, and Audrey, kindergarten, who belong to St. Paul Parish. “The discussions are usually led by the kids, but we use the opportunity to help focus the discussion toward the true meaning of the season.”

No matter the form prayers take, families attest to its strengthening properties – both for interpersonal relationships and for growing that bond with God.

“After family Rosary, we often stick around in the living room to talk about other things, so it turns into family time,” Ana Samuel noted. “[Praying together] is an indirect way to let each other know we care … [and] it helps us to experience the mystical Body of Christ by speaking to God together as a family.”