I basically learned the faith from Sr. David Mary, a member of the Sisters of Loretto. I had her as my teacher in elementary school for nearly three years—I had to move away in the middle of my third year—and she drilled us in the Baltimore Catechism #2. She also taught us our prayers and we went through them daily at school. We opened the schoolday as a class with the Morning Offering, paused for a decade of the rosary at mid-morning (covering the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, but also including the Hail Holy Queen), said grace before and after meals at lunch, said the Confiteor aloud together before we began the afternoon classes, and ended the day with the Act of Contrition.
Sister was very conscientious about us properly saying the prayers. For instance, more than once she testily stopped us in mid-prayer (somewhat shocking!), and finally had to threaten actual retributive punishment, if we didn’t stop putting three syllables into the word “grievous.” We kept saying “through my fault, through my fault, through my most griev-i-ous fault” until it nearly drove her batty. She broke us of the habit eventually. I still think of this today every time one of our parish priests says “griev-i-ous” at Mass. Sr. David Mary would not be pleased!
However, it wasn’t until the year after we moved, when I was in seventh grade, that I had a religion teacher who decided that we should actually write out all these various prayers. Sr. David hadn’t thought of that and she missed a step! As I confidently wrote out the Hail Holy Queen, the teacher was walking the aisles and happened to glance down at my paper. She broke out in laughter. Instead of “to thee we send up our sighs,” I had written (what I always thought it was and which made sense to me) “to thee we send up our size.” I thought we were the little guys down here on earth (especially the children) and Mary, Jesus, the Saints, etc., were the big guys. We were just being humble to admit our smallness. This thought still runs through my mind decades later every time I say the prayer—and I don’t fight it. It’s part of my unique and beautiful (not to say peculiar) prayer-life. I always think of offering up my size and my sighs together. But it is a good thing that I learned the truth about the prayer!
Similarly, a childhood friend of my daughter Veronica thought for the longest time that in the Divine Praises, St. Joseph was Mary’s “Most Chased Spouse” because he was chased out of Israel into Egypt. I wonder if she still lovingly remembers that nuance even now (and adds it to the richness of her prayer) as she thinks of “St. Joseph, Her Most Chaste Spouse” whenever that line comes up in the prayer?
A couple of my grandkids have taken comparable creative liberties with the Our Father. I’m sure examples abound for many of the lines of the prayer, but they seemed to have trouble with the last one, “Deliver us from evil.” One thought that what was being said was, “Deliver us from people”—and of course, on any given day, there is some truth in that sentiment. The other thought it was “Deliver us from Nemo”—which was quite confusing to the poor child.
Again, I heard of another kid who thought that the opening stanza to Immaculate Mary was:
Immaculate Mary Your Praises We Sing
You Reign Now in Splendor with Jesus, Sour King
This also could lead to spiritual confusion. Why such great praise for the mother of a sour king?
So, verbal rendition and memorization are not enough. Sr. David Mary had me for three years and didn’t know my “size.” Make ‘em write their prayers out and see what they come up with! It’s good for the soul and might be good for a laugh!
If you have any examples of your own, please add to the treasure trove in your comments!