By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Dominican tradition.
St. Dominic, founder and namesake of the Dominicans, did not himself prescribe a specific manner of praying, although there is a short book entitled, Nine Ways of Prayer, that was written after his death. The book contains descriptions and pictures of Saint Dominic praying in various ways, such as lying prostrate on the ground, bowing in front of the altar, or genuflecting with his gaze fixed on the crucifix. In fact, previous texts speak of two kinds of prostrations and two kinds of genuflections that were used by Dominican friars. (246, 247)
Noted artist and Dominican monk, Fra Angelico’s frescos in Florence depict some of these bodily postures of prayer and are also part of the Dominican tradition. It is said that Fra Angelico, as he was dubbed (from Fra meaning “brother” and Angelico meaning “angelic”), never began a painting without a prayer.
In addition to its depictions of the saints praying, Dominican art was itself a form of prayer. Similar to praying with icons, the portraits of St. Dominic at prayer in the Nine Ways of Prayer and the different bodily gestures shown were “not only intended to draw what is described but to invite a reflection on the nature of prayer itself.” (248)
Dominican prayer is contemplative but not monastic. It is extroverted not introverted. According to Dominican scholar Thomas Aquinas, one of the mottos of the Dominican order is “contemplari et contemplata a liis tradere” (“to contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of one’s contemplation.”). (238) Thomas saw the order as a mixture of the contemplative life and a life of ministry, an integration of Martha and Mary. (239)
To contemplate literally means to live in a temple. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 tells us that we are God’s temple because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Our body really is our temple! Dominican Saint Catherine of Siena referred to this interior dwelling place of the soul as the “cell of self-knowledge.” It is here at the core of our being that we receive God’s grace, which then pours out into the external space, where we live and engage with the world.
One of St. Dominic’s greatest influences was St. Paul, particularly Paul’s instruction “to pray always” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). (246) Traditional forms of prayer, including the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary and Adoration have always been mainstays of Dominican life. In order to enable us to follow St. Paul’s directive, Dominican prayer is also inclusive of non-traditional ways of deepening one’s contemplative life. In modern times, Dominicans have even incorporated aspects of Eastern religions into their prayer life. (245)
To pray in the Dominican tradition is simply to pray. Unceasingly. Not self-conscious about a right way to pray. (249) Anyone can do it. Using any posture!
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