I’ve divided this out into 16 parts in order to keep each post to a reasonable length and allow me to really think about each part.
Traditional Catholic and Twelve Step Programs
by Sean Romer
as written for the Angelus magazine, September 2002
Though the exact format for conducting an A.A. meeting is left to the discretion of the groups, the following arrangement is the norm for speaker meetings.
1) The meeting is called to order by the chairman.
2)Â Members observe a moment of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer.
3) The chairman reads excerpts from the Big Book, and then introduces the speaker.
4) The speaker talks for about 45 minutes, describing a) his alcoholic drinking, b) how he attained sobriety in A.A., and c) how he remains sober in A.A.
5) The chairman makes closing remarks, passes the basket to collect money for rent, and observes the sobriety birthdays of members.
6) The meeting closes with the protestant Lord’s Prayer.
Meetings typically last for about one hour. Members often come early and stay late to chat with friends; some go out afterwards for a meal or coffee.
Some components of the meeting deserve further explanation.
GROUP PRAYERS IN A.A. MEETINGS
The two prayers known and used by most A.A. members during the meetings are the Serenity Prayer and the protestant Lord’s Prayer.
The popular form of the Serenity Prayer is:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The origins of the Serenity Prayer are not known. Possibilities include Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, pietist Friedrich Oetinger, rationalist and pantheist Baruch Spinoza, and the Roman philosopher Boethius.6 Though the origins of the prayer are uncertain, what is certain is that A.A. quickly popularized it, members observing that “Never had we seen so much A.A. in so few words.”7
The protestant Lord’s Prayer is too well known to be repeated here. Like the Serenity Prayer, there is nothing inherently un-Catholic about it. A stumbling block for Catholics, however, is the practice of standing, holding hands, and reciting this prayer in common with persons of other religions. A.A. members view this activity as a testimony to the common bond among members. Not only Protestants and Catholics, but Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and members of other religions join in with this group prayer. A.A. members who participate assert that this activity is not an endorsement of a particular religion per se, but is something that lets members feel as if they really belong.8 In short, the reasons are primarily emotional and psychological.
Such a naturalized approach to spiritual matters ought to be avoided by Catholics. Further, some chairmen become a bit too clever when they invite members to participate in the closing prayer. Some merely suggest a moment of silence for the alcoholic who still suffers; a more unusual invitation, though, begins, “Who drove us home when we couldn’t? ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven,…'” When confronted with such activity in A.A. meetings, Catholics are well-advised to simply stand back while the prayers, hand-holding, and other novelties take place.