Monday, January 14, 2013

St. Dominic's Nine Ways of Prayer

In a comment on the previous thread, a reader named Alium wrote this apt comment:
The outward forms of ritual develop to inculcate and reinforce attitudes and inclinations. As with all forms of stylised communication (consider the fine and applied arts) the effect is all the more powerful for being unspoken. It would be impertinent to suggest that a particular individual's piety would be impaired by the diminishment or removal of ritual traditionally associated with reception of communion; but it would be reasonable to suggest a general effect, and equally that we should look to reform general practice.
I think it is important to keep asking questions about the bodily actions in liturgy because prayer is recognized in Scripture as a body-soul activity. "Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord through the night," the Psalmist says. The great founder of the Dominican Order, St. Dominic, exemplifies the prayer of a unified person, body and soul, in his famous Nine Ways.

1. Bowing before the altar.

2. Prostrating himself on the floor with his face down.

3. Whipping his bare back with an iron chain.

4. Staring at the Crucifix while kneeling repeatedly.

5. Clasping, opening or spreading his hands.

6. Stretching arms out in the form of a cross.

7. Stretching or reaching straight up to heaven.

8. Sitting to read or to ponder readings.

9. Separating from others on the road and repeating the Sign of the Cross.
Here is the exposition of the Eighth Way, Sitting to read or to ponder readings:
The holy father Dominic also had another beautiful way of praying, full of devotion and grace. After the canonical hours and the grace which is said in common after meals the father would go off quickly to some place where he could be alone, in a cell or somewhere. Sober and alert and anointed with a spirit of devotion which he had drawn from the words of God which had been sung in choir or during the meal, he would settle himself down to read or pray, recollecting himself in himself and fixing himself in the presence of God. Sitting there quietly, he would open some book before him, arming himself first with the sign of the cross, and then he would read. And he would be moved in his mind as delightfully as if he heard the Lord speaking to him. As the Psalm says, ‘I will hear what the Lord God is saying in me, because he will speak peace to his people and upon his saints, and to those who turn to him with all their heart’ (Psalms 84:9). It was as if he were arguing with a friend; at one moment he would appear to be feeling impatient, nodding his head energetically, then he would seem to be listening quietly, then you would see him disputing and struggling, and laughing and weeping all at once, fixing then lowering his gaze, then again speaking quietly and beating his breast. If anyone was inquisitive enough to want to spy on him secretly, he would find that the holy father Dominic was like Moses, who went into the innermost desert and saw the burning bush and the Lord speaking and calling to him to humble himself (Exodus 3:1ff). The man of God had a prophetic way of passing over quickly from reading to prayer and from meditation to contemplation.

When he was reading like this on his own, he used to venerate the book and bow to it and sometimes kiss it, particularly if it was a book of the gospels or if he was reading the words which Christ had spoken with his own lips. And sometimes he used to hide his face and turn it aside, or he would bury his face in his hands or hide it a little in his scapular. And then he would also become anxious and full of yearning, and he would also rise a little, respectfully, and bow as if he were thanking some very special person for favors received. Then, quite refreshed and at peace in himself, he would continue reading his book.
More here.
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