Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Saint Dominic Teaches Us To Pray ~ The First Prayer Posture

A contemporary of Francis of Assisi, Saint Dominic traveled over much of Europe, even criss-crossing the Alps on foot. Unlike Francis, he placed a great emphasis on the intellect (Francis would never have owned books) which enabled him to enter into great debates with so-called heretics. I'd say too that Dominic was well-connected. Today we'd call him a Vatican insider.

I discovered something of greater interest though when I came across the vocation website of the Irish Dominicans which lays out the nine prayer postures St. Dominic proposed to his young friars and nuns. What a gift to ALL of us!

I'd use the word prayer disposition or prayer attitude instead of posture. The posture gives expression to or holds the prayer. But while I might have the exterior posture down pat, if I'm without the inner disposition of prayer ~ I'm an empty cup. 

But do physical postures even matter in our prayer? I'd say yes. God didn't become an angel, but a human with a body. Have you noticed that Catholics are hemorrhaging out of the Church in many places and taking up yoga? People want to incorporate their bodies into their spiritual lives. Conversely, Catholic Christianity can be anti-body. So many people have been lost to the Church because of the excessive corporal (bodily) punishments inflicted when they were young. Some folks defend it ~ I don't.

I'll borrow the wonderful illustrative paintings of Dominic found on the website, adding my own thoughts. I expect the Irish Dominicans wouldn't mind. 

In the first prayer-disposition (or posture), Saint Dominic invites us simply to incline or bow. Americans complain about bending over. We curse the housework that requires it and glorify the machines and tools that solve the problem of having to bend. So we might not like Dominic's first prayer suggestion.

The older of us might remember the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar at the start of the old Mass: the priest and server bending way down and whispering, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Bending over is often associated with the things of love: bending over to smell a flower, to speak to a sick or elderly bed-ridden person, to kiss a child, to find something small, precious or important that has gotten lost.

Bending makes me less tall. I glance at the earth from which I came and to which I will return when my life is completed. Bending is the gesture that accompanies a humble prayer: God, you are God, not I. The word humble comes from the Latin hummus, which means good earth: I am down-to-earth about myself.

Surely presidents, senators, the kings and queens that remain, popes, cardinals, bishops, pastors, doctors, prime ministers, majority leaders, politicians - should all bend over now and again - like the priest at the altar. But we all could make a deep (profound) bow in our prayer, lest we forget and think ourselves to be entitled or more important than we are, so opinionated, so attentive to or full of ourselves. 

sustained bow, as slow and deep as I can manage: before the open Gospel Book, the crucifix, the icon of the Mother of God with her Son, or standing in and before the realized presence of God in any moment. Bending from the waist is a secret gesture. The best religious gestures are secret ones. 


  1. Is this why we bend now during the Creed now? It is more than just a bowing of our heads. We didn't do this before so it changed for some reason in the last few years.

  2. The whole church used to genuflect at the words of the Creed: "....and was made man." The words of the Incarnation. Then it was changed in the 60's to a bow. Of course, no one does it. Are we lazy or unbelieving, or weren't we taught? Bowing before what is awesome. Catholics of America - BEND OVER!

  3. We all bend at the waist when we say "the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man'. I don't know what happened in the 60's, but I don't remember doing this act of reverence until more recently. An act of humility before the Lord.

  4. Until the 60's the words were, " incarnatus est..." and the whole church would genuflect. Very impressive!

  5. I will remember to bow deeply to our crucified Lord next time I am in church. I look forward to the next eight days of this sequence. I know you will be teaching us great things.

  6. And a deep bow before receiving Holy Communion. This nodding of the head we do? What's that? I mean, can we spare it?

    I'm laughing a little as I read your comment here: I love these 9 day challenges. It's kind of fun for me.