St. Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer
Syndicated from Kathleen Pluth on January 14th, 2013
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, t. Dominic, exemplifies the prayer of a unified person, body and soul, in his famous Nine Ways.
The Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint
1. Bowing before the altar.
2. Prostrating himself on the floor
with his face down.
3. Whipping his bare back with an
4. Staring at the Crucifix while
5. Clasping, opening or spreading his
6. Stretching arms out in the form of
7. Stretching or reaching straight up
8. Sitting to read or to ponder
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:
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.
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
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