Just before bedtime a peaceful hush interrupts the usual chaos of our home. In a corner of the living room, my husband lights a candle on our family altar, and we gather together, kneeling in a semi-circle on the rug. The most sacred part of our day unfolds.
We begin our evening prayers with a hymn, usually traditional, and together we sing the same first verse throughout a week. Sometimes the kids take turns choosing the hymn, and sometimes I choose it based on the liturgical season or a Marian feast. By the end of the week, we all know that verse very well, so on Saturday nights we sing all of the verses, and the hymn alone comprises our prayer. (Saturday night prayers are my kids' favorites.) These songs become lodged in our minds and hearts---I can't tell you how much joy it brings me to hear my two-yr-old sing Immaculate Mary as he plays with his cars or my little girls crooning At the Lamb's High Feast together in the bathtub.
After our hymn, my husband offers specific petitions on behalf of our family. These are usually the people or situations that we believe most need prayer at that moment. Then each of the children, beginning with the youngest, prays for his or her godparents and one or two (or three or four) other loved ones. I pray for our godchildren. It's interesting to hear the names our kids offer: a sibling across the room, a neighbor down the street, a relative far away, and sometimes a person whose existence we can't quite pinpoint.
Together we pray a decade of the Rosary, with the kids leading the Hail Mary prayers. My husband believes that it is better for us to pray one decade really well than to stumble through five. In fact, a few months ago, he shortened our decade to three Hail Marys, hoping that we could train our two- and four-year-olds to focus better with a shorter amount of prayer time. It worked---they are now kneeling quietly with their eyes closed (theoretically) for most of prayers---so it may be time to add a few more. Ideally, when we return to saying a full decade each night, we will focus on a specific Mystery Monday through Friday and complete an entire set of Mysteries each week.
Following our "decade," we offer the Prayer to St. Michael for our country and its leaders and for our troops and their families. We have recently added our nephew Sean's name during these intentions since he is now serving in Iraq. We end our evening prayers by asking for the intercession of the patron saint of our family, St Joseph. Through our adoptions and moves, he has been a faithful friend to us.
During the varied seasons of our lives, we've prayed in different ways as a family---morning prayers, the Angelus, the Jesse Tree, Stations of the Cross---but none except the Holy Mass have remained more constant or more unifying than our evening prayers. They are precious moments I cherish, the coming together of a family at the end of the day to remember the One who gives us all.