Nine Ways of Prayer: The Devotion of Our Holy Father Dominic

Each evening at the end of Compline (Night Prayer), the brethren process out of the chapel and down the corridor to an icon of Our Lady, all the while chanting the Dominican version of the “Salve Regina,” an ancient hymn to Mary:
When we finish, we turn around and process to the opposite end while chanting the “O Lumen,” a hymn in honor of St. Dominic; on this end, an image of Our Holy Father:

I pass through this particular corridor several times a day on my way to and from my cell. I am embarrassed to say that I am usually so preoccupied with other matters that I forget to look around. It seems odd to call a corridor a sacred place, yet when I consider the great reverence with which the brethren chant these two hymns, it becomes apparent how moving of a place it really is.

On the brick wall of the corridor are wood carved images of “The Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic.” These carvings, a gift from the Dominican Friars in the Philippines, are an artistic interpretation of a document of the same name written by Bl. Jordan of Saxony – the second Master of the Order. These ways of prayer were actual practices of Saint Dominic – kneeling, bowing, prostrating, etc. Bl. Jordan tells us that there is something about “the way of praying in which the soul uses the members of the body to rise more devoutly to God, so that the soul, as it causes the body to move, is in turn moved by the body […]”

G.K. Chesterton is frequently quoted as having said that “Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas saved us from spirituality, a dreadful doom.” Chesterton is right: the temptation of many (including Christians) throughout the ages has been to emphasize the spiritual over the material – the heresy of Gnosticism when taken to extremes. Our bodies are sacred, “temples of the Holy Spirit,” as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, and our material bodies are elevated and perfected because the Eternal Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, and chose to dwell among us.

This, I believe, is why Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer are so valuable: they remind us that God created us as embodied beings, and that we can use these bodies to glorify our Father. Over the next few weeks I am going to share with you some of my own reflections on Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer. “The Blessed Dominic,” Jordan tells us, “used to pray like this.” May we also be enriched through the prayer and intercession of St. Dominic.