Prayer: The First Pillar
For the past several months I’ve been writing about the saints I discovered as I returned to the Catholic Church. But I didn’t only discover saints; I also became a Lay Dominican, a lay member of the Order of Preachers.
As a Lay Dominican, I live (I try to live) according to the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic; and this rule, and Dominican life in general, is based on what Dominicans call the Four Pillars: Prayer, Study, Preaching, and Community.
But you don’t have to be a Dominican to appreciate Dominican spirituality; and since much of the writing about spirituality I see online is from Carmelite or Ignatian points of view, I thought I’d take a break from the saints for a few months and talk about the Four Pillars.
When I say “Dominican spirituality”, what do I mean? A “spirituality”, in Catholic terms, is a way of seeking God and living with Him in your day-to-day life. So Dominican spirituality is simply the way Dominicans seek to live with God. And more specifically, I mean the spirituality of this particular Dominican, as I’m still a very new Dominican and have much to learn.
The First Pillar is Prayer. Prayer is the basis of Dominican spirituality, as it must be the basis of any authentic Catholic spirituality, because spirituality is all about seeking God, and prayer is how we do that.
Prayer is also the foundation of all apostolic work (including raising a family). The purpose of the Order of Preachers is preaching, and it is said of St. Dominic that he always spoke of God or with God. How can you truly speak of Him if you don’t know Him? So prayer is essential.
The Rule dictates certain prayers that all Lay Dominicans must say every day.
First, we pray five decades of the Rosary every day. It is said that the Rosary was given to St. Dominic by our Blessed Mother Mary; and whether that’s the truth or a pious legend, the Rosary is pretty clearly a Dominican invention. I confess I struggle with the Rosary; I more often manage one or two decades each day than all five.
But I like the Rosary; a decade isn’t simply a recitation of ten Hail Marys, it is an opportunity to meditate on a mystery of the Gospel. When I’m tired and meditation is hard, I have the structure of the Hail Mary to carry me along. I’m still praying, and I’m asking Mary to help. At other times, the spoken prayers set my mind free to roam, thinking about the mystery and how it relates to all manner of things. But sitting still long enough to say it is hard for me.
Next, we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and specifically the offices of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. Many Lay Dominicans also add the Office of Readings. The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is the ancient prayer of the Church. It is based on the psalms, and has its roots in the liturgies of the Temple in Jerusalem and the prayers that Jesus would have prayed as a young man.
I love the Divine Office. It hits all of the necessary points: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. It is different every day, but the same in structure. It leads me into the psalms, which were Jesus’ own prayer. Even if you don’t quite get it, even if you’re in a hurry, it sinks in.
And like the Rosary, the Divine Office gives me words when I’m tired—it allows me to rest in Christ as I pray, instead of doing it on my own strength. When you’ve prayed one of the hours, you know you’ve prayed, even when you’re tired, even when your mind was scattered, even when you’re in the midst of spiritual dryness. You’ve spent time with Christ, praying with Christ, praying to the Father. And you’ve spent time with the scriptures, God’s word. If you’re looking to improve your walk with Christ, I strongly recommend trying the Divine Office.
Next, we are expected to attend daily Mass, if possible. This is the hardest for me, as I have a full-time job and a family, and there are no early morning Masses near my home. I can’t do daily Mass without it being a burden on my family, and especially on my wife, Jane; and my vocation as husband and father takes priority over my vocation as a Lay Dominican. So I only rarely attend daily Mass, though I try to make the feast days of my patron saints: St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Thomas Aquinas.
But of course, prayer isn’t simply a matter of saying rote words. We should try to remain in God’s presence all day long, and the easiest way to do that is to speak to Him familiarly through the day. The best way to start that, in my experience, is to make it a point of asking His blessing on the jokers I meet on the freeway as I drive to and from work, and to try to say thank you for all of the small blessings I receive as I notice them. You don’t need to use fancy words, and you don’t need to use a lot of words. If “Help!” is what you can manage, you can be assured that God knows what you need help with.
The Second Pillar is study; and as we’ll see, study is also a form of prayer, at least for Dominicans.
What kinds of prayer do you find helpful?
Copyright 2013 Will Duquette