"Un Ti Morceau"

"A Little Something," mini-lessons and reflections by our pastor, Father Paul Counce


Published July 24, 2016 by Fr. Paul Counce

Postures for prayer have been the subjects of the last couple of morceaux. Communication with God can take place in many ways (such as kneeling, standing, and sitting, and even while walking and driving). The last couple of times we focused on some expressive gestures used in prayer, such as folded or open hands.

There’s one extremely rare “official” prayer-posture in the Church that I actually recommend for occasional private prayer as well. This is the prostration, that is, lying completely face-down in a position of humility and submission. It also can express mortification and penitence, since it is such a bold gesture it connotes utter sorrow for sin.

While practiced more often in the early centuries of the Church’s life, prostration now is likely best known as the initial moment of prayer of the clergy and other ministers in the Solemn Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday. The death of the Lord Jesus is the supremely sad moment of the Church’s liturgical year, and it is not surprising that our worship that day expresses this supreme sorrow in this most striking bodily posture.

Yet attentive Catholics will also recall that prostration is used at other times in our shared prayer. Those who are about to be ordained or to make their solemn profession in a religious order first prostrate themselves before the altar to symbolize their complete submission to the rule of God and the Church over them from now on. In some religious institutes the prostration is accomplished with a “cruciform” gesture, that is, with arms extended in imitation of Jesus’ own posture when He submitted Himself to death on the cross.

As I said above, I actually do suggest that, very occasionally, the prostration can be adopted by almost anyone in their private prayer. Many Catholics take occasional days of retreat or recollection, and in the course of this more special prayer-time can spend significant time calling to mind their sinfulness and repenting of this. A period of prostrate prayer can be a significant aid to this kind of penitential practice, especially as a conclusion to it. Of course, one has to be strong and limber enough to kneel and lie down, and then to get back up! And I recommend choosing the place wisely if you don’t want to be interrupted: the floor of one’s own room or a very private prayer-chapel is a much better place than the Cathedral!

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