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.

Three Questions about Communion in the Hand

  1. Does the practice promote eye contact? If so, what are the theological reasons for and against close eye contact between the communicant and the minister at the moment of Communion?
  2. Is there a increased likelihood that small particles will fall to the floor? If so, does this diminish devotion to the Blessed Sacrament? 
  3. Is the Eucharist something that one takes to oneself, or that one receives? Explain.

Virtuous Human Action

In the video posted just below of the Communion chant of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated by the Holy Father in the Sistine Chapel, a Dominican Father in black and white choir dress appears prominently in the background on the right beginning at the 1:40 mark. He is the Papal Theologian, Msgr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P.

I thought some of our readers might enjoy this talk he gave on Virtuous Human Action. I had the privilege of hearing this talk in another venue that year.

“Virtuous human action– an icon of God. Aquinas’s vision of Christian morality.” Fr. Wojciech Giertych, OP from DSPT on Vimeo.

Braille Resources and Gregorian Chant

I was incredibly fortunate this past week to have in my class at the Winter Intensive a music director who relies on Braille resources in her work. I must confess that until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me just how much we rely on the printed page and our eyes when we read music, teach, instruct, and conduct. I did my best to help this very patient student through the week, but I know there was much more I could have done.

How can we convey what we are trying to teach without the student being able to see the printed page, much less the board at the front of the room? I attempted to think about how I could rephrase questions in a way that would allow for details to be more easily visualized. When we were talking about the staff, the clefs, and some beginning Solfege, for example, instead of being able to look at a page in front of her, this student had to rely on what I was saying. Rather than merely asking what pitch we would be beginning on (which everyone else could look at and see), I would say something like…the do clef is on the top line. The first note is on the second line down. Now I am sure I didn’t do enough of this kind of thing…and anything I could even think of doing would fall short of adequately passing on the course material she had come for

Talking was good. Taking time to explain in breaks was good. Asking her to place her hand on mine while I was conducting was good. But it was not nearly enough.

As you can imagine, there are not a lot of resources out there when it comes to Gregorian Chant. I’ve gotten online and googled around, and I have come up with this book from a scholar working in the Netherlands. A quick scan through the book brings you up to date on the extreme challenges involved in transcribing Gregorian notation (not just square notes, but signs, etc.) into Braille. For anyone reading this post who wants to read the book in Braille, have a look at the preface. It includes an address to which you can write in order to obtain a Braille edition.

It frustrates me to think of how many wonderful musicians and faithful servants are out there working in schools and parishes, or would be working in schools and parishes, passing on their knowledge and love of the music of the Church, if more resources were available to make their job more satisfying.

By the end of the week, my student came up with what I think is a great idea…and I’m going to pursue it: puff paint! I’m going to print out a few pages of neumes; I guess I’ll start with the basic ones. I’ll enlarge them and do my best to trace over the neumes with puff paint. Will it work? I am also very lucky to have a schola member here at home who can tell me if what I come up with is helpful at all. Wish me a steady hand!

Spiked kool-aide of contemporary sounds?

I think we can safely credit Fr. Allan McDonald of St. Joseph’s in Macon, GA, with the best quote of the day. When speaking of the 20-30% of Catholics who attend Mass regularly today, he asks:

Do they like the spiked kool-aide of contemporary sounds that jar the spirit rather than lift it to God in a meditative, contemplative way? Just wondering?

Father McDonald reports on his blog, Southern Orders, on the events of the final day of the Winter Intensive. Thank you, Father, for your hospitality and that of all of your staff at St. Joseph’s!