Praying with your (non-Catholic) spouse
The Sacrament of Marriage joins husband and wife together in more ways than one! Marriage also often heralds a shared name, a shared mortgage, a shared home… And in that home, books come together too. In our home, Quantum Physics in a Nutshell and Early Medieval Architecture share a bookcase, though not a shelf. Sharing a shelf, you’ll find CS Lewis sitting beside Mother Teresa;Evangelium Vitae beside Rowan Williams’ Open to Judgement and The Treasury of Catholic Wisdomstands next to Love’s Redeeming Work: the Anglican Quest for Holiness.
Ours, you see, is a ‘mixed marriage’: I am Catholic and my husband is Anglican. Over half of married Catholics in the UK are married to Christians who are not Catholic and so the chances are that you are from one of those marriages. Welcome! Here, we’ll look at some of the many possibilities for praying together with your spouse that might be particularly relevant if your spouse is not a Catholic Christian but from a different denomination.
It might be tempting to think that as an ‘inter-church couple’ you can just pootle along your own spiritual path much as you did as a single person, albeit in parallel with your spouse, but no, this is not so! In addition to the many changes that marriage brings, you’ll find that your prayer life will change also. Whilst your spouse has officially become your ‘number one’, remember that you can only love your spouse as well as you do because you have first known God’s unconditional and superlative love. Knowing His love, patience and forgiveness enables you to bring those virtues to your married life. You still (more than ever!) need to remain close to the Lord in prayer and draw ever closer to Him, both aloneand with your spouse. Consider these words of St Paul to the Colossians:
All things were created
through him and for him
He is before all things
And in Him all things hold together.
A marriage that takes place between baptised Christians in a Catholic Church is a sacramental marriage. The sacramental grace, which God pours abundantly into the spouses as they bestow the sacrament on each other, is the very life of God, living and working with and through the couple as they co-operate with that grace in their lives. Of course it is possible to live together without praying together but what amazing treasures we miss out on if we do! I know – believe me, I know – that it is difficult to find ways of praying with your spouse if you don’t have the same faith background, but look again at St Paul. Does he say, ‘in Him all cosy Catholic couples hold together’? No! Our marriage is just as sacramental as a marriage between two Catholic Christians and if we want Christ to be at the centre of our lives and our homes, we also need to ensure he is at the heart of our marriage. How can we do that unless we know Christ as a couple?
You have probably come across instances where you know both halves of a couple from different places. Maybe you know the wife through work, while you know the husband through doing the Cubs run or whatever. They have a common surname and it had never crossed your mind that they even knew each other until one day, they both come to pick up their Cub and you’re really surprised… initially at least. As the Cubs runs over time (or is that just our boys’ Cub Pack?) you chat with them both and find that each of them ‘make sense’ to you, now that you are meeting them as a couple. They are a little different when they are together; more complete, somehow – you feel that you are, for the first time, seeing the whole of each person.
I’m not, of course, saying that if you never pray together then God doesn’t know you’re married but I do think that when we pray together as husband and wife, we are more fully ourselves; greater even perhaps, than the sum of our parts. When we pray together, we are more likely to bring our wholeselves to the Lord, including our marriage in all its gritty glory. If we pray together, we are also much more likely to be honest with ourselves and each other; more likely to show each other our vulnerabilities, to support each other, to seek support from each other. We are more likely to ask – and grant – forgiveness if we pray together to the One who first forgave us.
All very well, but how?
Firstly, start from where you are. Don’t try to create a prayer life for you both that is unfamiliar to youboth. It may seem that when it comes to prayer, you have little in common but try asking yourself these questions:
- What does your prayer life contain at the moment? For example, do you use hymns or other worship music as a form of prayer? Do you say a Morning Offering? Or grace before meals? Do you find moments of prayer when reading from the Bible? Do you like to light a candle when you pray, or use an icon or statue as a focus? How do you find praying at Mass or at other church services?
- Where do you find God in your life at the moment?
- What moves you to prayer? What about your spouse?
- Are there forms of prayer that you are uncomfortable with?
It might be that you need to look again at when you pray. Just before you go to bed, for example, might not be the best time? Early evening might now suit better: after work and dinner, just simply putting a few minutes aside to light a candle, sit together and pray silently for a moment, then thank God for your day, for each other, for your marriage. There might be a prayer that is especially dear to you both that you might use as a focus. It doesn’t need to be fancy – God’s not giving you marks out of ten! – but what is important is that you remember, daily, that your marriage is grounded in God.
Looking at what you hold in common, you might find that your spouse’s church use the same series of readings at Sunday services as we do. It might be an idea, then, to use the Sunday Gospels as a basis for your prayer. You can read more about that here: (Link to Lectio Divina for inter church couples). This would be more of a weekly aspiration, assuming your lives are already full-to-over-flowing.
At the end of the day, remember that there are no gold stars awarded for fancy prayers. God loves you both already, and your love of Him and your spouse delights Him more than we could ever guess. Be bold in your love and together, spend time loving Him who first loved you.
It would be fantastic to grow this section of our website with your prayer ideas.
How do you pray as a couple? If you have ideas, we’d love to hear them. Please do let us know using the ‘contact us’ box.
Lectio divina for ‘inter church’ couples: What? So what? and Now what?
The term ‘lectio divina’ simply refers to the time-honoured method – practised by monastics since their beginning – of prayerfully reading the scriptures.
Whilst understanding scripture is important, lectio divina is more about learning to listen to what God says to us through scripture and to respond prayerfully to what we hear. It is a perfect form of prayer for married couples who come from different Christian denominations, as it uses something we share – the Bible – and enables us to hear God speaking to us individually and as a couple. It offers opportunity for us to pray together as a couple and so it strengthens our marriage. It is important to note that this is not Bible study. A good way to think about it is that the scripture passage like is one half of a telephone call. Our prayer experience in lectio divina is like the other half of that call. My half can be completely different from my spouse’s half and that is fine – after all, wouldn’t it be a bit freaky if our conversations with God were exactly the same? Not even identical twins are that alike!
To practice lectio divina, we set some time aside – maybe half an hour to begin with – and start by establishing external and internal peace. It could be that some music or a prayer focus such as a candle or icon might help. Then, asking the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin the first stage (lectio): one of us reads a passage of scripture aloud (usually the Gospel for the coming Sunday) and we simply try to listen to the passage as though we’re hearing it for the first time. This is so that we pay attention to what the passage is saying of itself. Without paying attention to scripture at this level, there is a danger that we simply manipulate the text to our own purposes, rather than letting God speak through his scripture.
The second stage of the process is meditatio: we listen to what the scripture passage is saying to each of us. This stage is deeply personal. This is not a search for something original or clever to say about the text, nor is it a quest for identifying the most objectively important message of the passage. It requires a listening of the heart: which word or phrase ‘jumps out’? There is no need at this stage to analyse the reasons for it (indeed there is a risk that if we do so, we may suppress a challenging or otherwise unexpected response to the scriptures), but simply acknowledge that it is there. We share that word or that phrase briefly, then we go further into our meditation and, through reading the passage again, we ask in prayer what that word or phrase means to us.
Having meditated attentively upon the Lord’s word, we move on to the third stage of lectio divina: oratio, or prayer. What do we say to the Lord in response to his word?
The fourth stage of the lectio divina structure is contemplatio. As we spend this time in wonder, we pray for the grace to see as God sees and for the wisdom to discern God’s will for us. David Foster compares this stage of contemplation – or ‘wonder’ – with lingering after sharing a meal with a friend:‘We sit and take time to enjoy the food shared, and especially to enjoy the company in which we have shared the food and drink. It is a time for gratitude, humour and togetherness. So it is good not to hurry out of the presence of God we have savoured in our time of prayer… this is a time just to let God be God, and to let God be God for me. Our own self-offering to God will come naturally out of that.’
Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation are the four stages of lectio divina but of course, there is always actio, for as St Paul says, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor 5:14). The impact of our lectio divina in our lives – the caritas (or charity) it inspires – is the true completion of the process of lectio divina. In what way is God calling us to change as a result of our encounter with His word?
As an ‘interchurch’ couple, it might be all too easy to see the differences between us when it comes to faith, but the practice of lectio divina cuts through denominational differences and straight to the heart of Jesus’ rayer ‘Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you’ (Jn 17:21). Lectio divina is a form of prayer that you can practice at home as a couple that will not only strengthen your spiritual lives but your marriage also. In my own practice of lectio divina, I have been challenged, surprised, delighted and have received many unexpected graces, but don’t just take my word for it, though: Pope Benedict XVI has said of lectio divina,
‘if it is effectively promoted,
this practice will bring to the Church
– I am convinced of it –
a new spiritual springtime.’
It may be that you or your spouse have a lectio divina group in your parish – if so, go there and get started! When you’ve got the hang of the format, you can then use it at home too. If you don’t have a group available locally, then do have a go at home by simply using the Gospel for each Sunday. If you don’t have a Sunday Missal, the readings for Mass can be found at Universalis (http://universalis.com/mass.htm).
 David Foster, Reading with God (2005), p. 112
 Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the participants in the International Congress organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation ‘Dei verbum’. 16th September 2005