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Is Worshipping Together Better Than Praying By Yourself?

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
June 12, 2011

Ask the Religion Experts:
Is worshipping together better than praying by yourself?

The Ottawa Citizen - June 12, 2011

Rev. GEOFFREY KERSLAKE is a priest of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Ottawa.

In the Acts of the Apostles we read about the earliest days of the Church: “in the first community of Jerusalem, believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” This sequence is characteristic of the Church’s prayer: founded on the apostolic faith; authenticated by charity; nourished in the Eucharist” (Acts 2:42; Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 2624). From the very beginning of the Church, the community gathered together to offer prayers of thanks to God and to celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist. This communal celebration was the foundation of the Christian life. We can pray anywhere we find ourselves, and the Church has a long tradition encouraging us to “pray always and everywhere,” but the prayer of the people of God assembled together is special. The Prayer of the Church, its liturgy, is the place where we meet the Lord together as His people, united around the altar. The Church reminds us that all prayer is centred in the Liturgical Prayer of the Church: ”in the sacramental liturgy of the Church, the mission of Christ and of the Holy Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation, which is continued in the heart that prays. The spiritual writers sometimes compare the heart to an altar. Prayer internalizes and assimilates the liturgy during and after its celebration. Even when it is lived out “in secret,” prayer is always prayer of the Church; it is a communion with the Holy Trinity” (CCC n. 2655). The truth is that we need to pray together and we need time alone with the Lord; it is not helpful to think that it is ‘either pray together’ or ‘pray alone’. To be an authentic Christians we need to do both.

Rabbi REUVEN BULKA is head of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and host of Sunday night with Rabbi Bulka on 580 CFRA.

Notice how you phrased the question. The alternatives you presented are worshipping together or praying by yourself. You seem to suggest that together it is worship, and alone it is praying. As if we cannot pray together or worship alone. I am not sure this is true.

Perhaps this switch off was not intentional, but it did convey that together the expression takes on a different dynamic. This might actually be a response to your question. The togetherness of prayer creates a sense of community, that the praying community is together, that each member of the community needs the other community members, and that praying for each other is a potent means to communal growth and achievement.

With all this, I am not that comfortable with the general almost either-or nature of your question. There are times when praying together is better, there are times when praying alone is better. And there are times when something other than prayer is better.

Consider any situation wherein immediate action is necessary. Such times as when one’s wife is having serious contractions, are not times for prayer. Those are the times for stepping up, and rushing her to the hospital.

Back to prayer and worship. Getting together with others in prayer has a unique dynamic. Within Judaism, the prayers with a group are more likely to be prayers for the community, for the world. When these prayers are not merely mouthed, and instead are really taken to heart, they build sensitivity to the world, sensitivity which then hopefully gets played out in real life, via making time and devoting energy to helping others in whatever way one can.

On the other hand, praying alone has great advantages. In public some might be reluctant to pour out the soul, but alone one can emote without inhibition. There are few constraints when praying alone. There are no time limits, there are no limits to the issues and concerns raised during the prayer, and no restrictions on the way one raises them.

Which is better depends on the situation. Both are good, and a healthy mix of public worship and private entreaty is probably the best approach. Like anything else in life, a balanced approach is better than either-or.

is an Anglican priest and director of the Anglican studies program at Saint Paul University.

Before trying to respond, it’s important to clarify a confusion that we have about prayer and worship in general. There are deep influences in our philosophical tradition that lead us to see prayer as our souls sending messages to God through assembling certain intellectual statements in our minds. What we are beginning to re-discover is that the primary reality of which prayer and worship seek to be the expression is that God in his loving-kindness addresses us. Thus, when we pray on our own or with others we need to seek a kind of poised relaxation, a state of openness and readiness in which we are prepared to be addressed by another. That other is God as God has revealed himself and as God is calling me and us here and now. For the Christian, prayer is essentially openness and response to the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ and continues to do so through the Scriptures and the living faith of the Church.

From this perspective, then, there is no better or worse in your question. Worshipping with others and praying alone are both means to the same end: responding to God’s word.

That said, Christianity is an inevitably communal matter. The God who speaks and summons does so to individual persons, to be sure, but these persons are always called in and to a community. The prayer that we undertake on our own is shaped, directed, corrected and reformed by the community’s worship. The community’s worship is strengthened, enlivened and given depth by the prayerful individuals who comprise its membership.

The two sides of prayer — corporate and individual — lead to what the 20th century monk Thomas Merton called “the unspeakable beating of a Heart within the heart of one’s own life.”

is a Bahá’í scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Bahá’í theology and poetry.

The phrase “better than” could reflect the value judgment that praying in a group might be more powerful than individual prayer. But can we say that a team sport like soccer is better than jogging? One is a group activity; the other is simply an individual one. In my experience, both types of prayer (individual and group) are inspiring and sustaining. It is a joy to pray alone without distraction, but it is also very enriching to pray together in a group, where one hears a variety of voices.

Every major world religion prescribes prayers for the individual and the community. In the Bahá’í Faith, the individual may choose from among one of three daily “obligatory prayers,” the short, the medium and the long. Prayers are said in community during the 19 Day Feast, the Bahá’í worship service which is held every 19 days, the length of the Bahá’í month, and during holy days. During the first or devotional part of the Feast — the second and third parts are the consultative and social parts respectively — one individual reads the prayers and readings while the community listens reverently. Since there are no clerics in the Bahá’í Faith, these readers have no special status.

The same process occurs during our devotional meetings, one of our four core activities. (The others are study circles, children’s and junior youth classes). During these devotionals, which are open to the public, a variety of prayers from the world religions and other devotional writings, such as poems and meditations, are read. The playing of music complements the prayers and readings. Here, again, the prayers and readings are recited around the circle, while one person reads and the others listen.

Bahá’ís observe only one congregational prayer, meaning that one person leads the community in prayer while everyone stands. This is the prayer for the dead.

is legal counsel and acting executive director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

Although individual prayer does have a role in the Sikh faith, the importance of “sangat” or congregation is paramount.

Worship can have different forms in the Sikh faith. Every Sikh is to rise before dawn to meditate on naam or the name of God. There are also daily recitations from the Sikh scriptures and singing verses from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scripture). All these acts of worship can take place on an individual basis or in the congregation. However, Sikhs are encouraged to attend congregation as regularly as possible, if not every day.

Humans are social by nature. Whereas the prevailing belief in Indian spirituality was that one needed to escape and renounce the world to be spiritual, the Sikh Gurus rejected this approach and focused on the importance of community. They taught that Sikhs should pursue a life of spirituality while living their lives in the world and in their families.

The analogy of the lotus is an appropriate one: just as the lotus resides in water but rises above it, the spiritual individual lives in the world but transcends the material.

Prayer and worship in a congregation also provides important benefits such as routine, inspiration and commitment.

The Sikh faith places a great emphasis on humility and service. Practising these values is of course only possible in the company of others. Another example used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib to explain the importance of having the company of other spiritual individuals is that of the sandalwood tree. The sandalwood tree has a very strong and pleasant fragrance. Even the most bitter tree that resides nearby will take on some of its sweet scent. In the same way, the congregation filled with spiritual qualities will certainly have an effect on all those who are in their presence.

Rev. RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.

When I have the opportunity to instruct people in Buddhist practice, I usually conclude with a recommendation that, for most people, collective practice has more energy and strength than solitary ones. Fellow practitioners repeatedly confirm this from their experience. This is not to assert greater value to it nor deny the value of solitary practice. Indeed, there is much to be gained by a period of private effort. Further, not everyone has the availability of collective practice. It does suggest that, while all forms of practice have their respective merits, group practice is more efficacious than solitary, more of the time.

There is a saying in Buddhist practice — no one ever practises alone. No matter when, where or how we engage in our religious practice, someone somewhere is also practising. This is more than a variation on the theme of interconnectedness. This is a reminder that the ongoing activity of beings in all realms is the opening to Awareness. If we take practice forms as acts of engagement with one’s acknowledged Higher Power and if we can accept that the activity of the universe is that same act of engagement, then no one ever prays alone.

For Buddhists, prayer as a personal address, performing recitation of a verse or through some surrender to grace, for examples, is certainly different from a ritual offering or copying sacred texts. Different as act, but not in its motive or effect. What we might call private prayer is not any different from more public worship, except at some superficial level. What matters in all forms of religious activity is the intent, the sincerity or, as Buddhists might say, the “mind of practice.” In Buddhism we call this “mind of practice” bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is both the recognition of and the intention for actions that lead to the relief of suffering in the world.

is a member of the Ottawa Muslim community, the Christian-Muslim Dialogue and the Capital Region Interfaith Council.

God Almighty says in the Holy Koran that He created us to worship Him (51:56). Worshipping together and praying by oneself are not mutually exclusive.

The Islamic approach in this respect of worship consists of two steps. First, Islam gives us an overall general directive and then prescribes certain obligatory practices. For example, the command to “remember God with unceasing remembrance” (33:41) is supplemented by obligatory daily prayers (4:103). The general directive to “be conscious of God with all the consciousness due to Him” (3:102) is promoted by obligatory fasting for one month (2:183). The overall command is to share “what is beyond your needs” (2:219) is accompanied by the obligation to spend a specified portion of our savings in “regular charity” (22:78). Finally, to show our obedience and devotion to God, we are asked to undertake a journey once in our lives to the House of God in Mecca (3:97). These prescribed acts of worship establish our relationship with the rest of the creation.

This social aspect of worship is central to communal life. The Divine command is “Be steadfast in prayer; practise regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship) (2:43). The obligatory prayers offered in congregation, preferably in a mosque, have a far greater merit that those offered alone. Even when there are only two or three persons together at the time of the prayer, they are to form a congregation.

Again, while fasting is private in that only the fasting persons knows he or she is fasting, hundreds of millions of Muslims fast at the same time each year. And each year, millions of people from all corners of the world converge to one centre and transform into a single unit. And they chant the same answer to the call of Prophet Abraham: “Here, I am present, My Lord.”

KEVIN SMITH is on the board of directors for the Centre of Inquiry, Canada’s premier venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers.

If you looked up “prayer” in a humanist dictionary, if there were such a resource, it would be defined as “a one-way conversation with a supernatural entity.” We non-believers reject the notion that praying is necessary. It has never been shown to work, unless you call coincidence a scientific fact. I prefer meditation. It lights up the same calming bits of the brain without expectations of miracles.

I’m not against a person’s freedom to pray; members of my family do it on occasion.

Worshipping together, however, makes me uncomfortable, at least in the big box churches I’ve encountered while channel surfing on a lazy Sunday morning. It borders on fanaticism, hysteria even.

I doubt that God, if there is such a being, would appreciate the hyper-emotional preacher, knocking people onto the floor as they pontificate in a tongue-tied dialect. Prayer, if that’s what you do, should be a personal matter, between you and your god of choice.

Today, it’s a rarity that the church that prays together stays together. With the sharp decline of religiosity, it’s the community aspect that keeps these houses of worship from turning into boutique condos. Humans are social animals. We like to structure ourselves into organizations of like-minded people.

Successful churches have turned into social clubs where friendships are formed over potluck dinners or at summer camps.

Humanist groups present an alternative social scene to churches, with our own summer camps and potlucks. CFI Ottawa provides a community spirit where freethinkers attend lectures, support groups or go on learning excursions.

Humans don’t need to worship together. We just need to be together. It’s the ties that bind us.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

source: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/R...tter+than+praying+yourself/4933790/story.html


May 19, 2006
Need is to be constantly trying to link with Him, either in group or alone, whichever you prefer. Moreover, both methods are important. In group, some people may give you negative feedback by pointing out silly /minor mistakes you do.
In such an event, you are now more focussed on doing it correctly( as per norm?) rather than connecting with God.
In my view, both are integral part of connecting with God as long as distractions as pointed above do not hamper you from worshiping in group. In-fact, in the beginning you learn a lot in group.

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
Sikhism or Gurmatt as I prefer has an Individual and a Sangtee Congregational worship. The Nitnem is individual...while attending congregation in snagat for kirtan katha vichaar at the Gurdwara is sangtee. Major ceremonies like birth, marriage, death, anniversaries etc etc are always celelbrated in sangat....Guur nanak ji stated the Nitnem also in Dharamsaala/congregations as it was easier to adapt to a change in company...and Guru Ji also said Ghar ghar ander Dharamsaal..meaning INSIDE EACH HUMAN is the Dharamsaal/Home of the CREATOR...and thus each one should always look withina nd perform ardass prayers daily basis..later on Gurdawras sprang up as sangats got larger...
Muslims too ahve this Individual 5 namaz a day and the Mosque congregation on Jumma day..while Chrostians have chirch worship on Sundays and individual worship is not mandated..its on a as is basis..Correct me if i am wrong..



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