Monday, February 04, 2008

Posture and prayer

Specifically, the Divine Office.

I get to say the Office sporadically through the week largely because of my fatherly and doctorly duties (feeding the rabbit, walking the dog, getting the kids to school and bed, doting on Mrs P, clinic, ward rounds etc etc -not necessarily in that order...). I have a nostalgia for it from a time when I thought I had a monastic vocation as a student and did the rounds of the Benedictine monasteries of England (the big choice was Downside vs. Ampleforth). While visiting as a kind of monastic groupie I grew to love the sung, monastic Office. Of course the substance of it but even down to the fine detail - the silent walk through cloisters and corridors, the rustle of habits and cowls and the squeak of Doc Martens on marble in the semi-darkness, the light filtering through the east window, the silence before the Office started.

I also saw the value of posture in prayer. It was a shock to discover the range of movement that took place in the Office and it became instinctive in choir to imitate the movements of the monks: crossing oneself (or one's lips if the Invitatory psalm was used); making a profound bow at the doxology - standing or sitting; turning east at the Benedictus and the Magnificat; kneeling, standing, sitting.

It was fine to make these gestures as an integral part of prayer when I was a single man and especially when I was a student praying the Office alone, but now I have to adjust this depending on where I say the Office. If in my study I can still make these changes of posture and bows, but feel self-conscious if I make them in the hospital chapel or St Mungo's where others may be around. There is a Muslim pharmacist who makes his salaat in the chapel - more of that another time - who has no such self-consciousness: the gesture and posture is integral to the prayer.

So I'm seeking help readers who say the Office - what do you do? One occasionally sees priests or religious walking about saying the Office (in church, for example). The General Instruction Of The Liturgy Of The Hours is pretty minimalist - cross yourself at the beginning and end of the Office and at the Magnificat, Benedictus and Nunc Dimittis ; stand or sit for the psalms etc. Little else.

There are some interesting pieces by Fr Ray Blake and Fr John Hardon SJ.

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Blogger liturgy said...

I am delighted to have fallen over this blog. I have a passion for Carthusians featured here.
etc on my liturgy and spirituality site:
Thank you for your discussion of the Liturgy of the Hours.
I will be developing that section in 2008 at
and very much appreciate the comments you are making.



4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting post; thank you!

I follow a quasi-monastic routine at home, i.e. I cross my lips, myself, bow at the right time, everything except standing (And even then I sometimes do that). If I have to say the Office on the bus or at work, then I am more reserved, but really I feel bad if I'm in a position where I have to say the Office then.

On the bus - I know this is shameful - I don't make any postural changes, but think about them. At work, I do everything, but stand, as at home.

I only know one Priest I have ever seen pray the Office... how do you spot them? ;-p

8:23 AM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

They tend to be walking about Church with a breviary, Mark ;-)

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very traditional Churches you have oot West... ;-p

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh it's that Anglican again - he never bothered coming back to reply to my reply to his plug of his own site on our blog!

11:44 AM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Now, now, children. Play nice.

1:36 PM  
Blogger la mamma said...

I just say it, Mr. Paulinus, with crossing and that's about it. I'm going to leave you a Lenten treat over at my blog, so pop over and pick it up soon (twin1 on my lap needs a new nappy, so not very soon)...

2:22 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Sorry, I'd like to help with the nappy but I think I've forgotten how to do it and I suspect my nappy-changing days are over (but you never know, do you...)

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I know, but the word spirichewality comes up and I am attacked by spewality. I fought it back the last time :-)

On the whole I stand all the way through, or kneel (and stand for the gospel canticles, hymn etc). Unless I am on the bus! (Then I don't even cross myself)(sap, I know)

3:44 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Surely crossing oneself on a bus would be OK in Polonia? You might get a punch in the gob in Glesga, however.

3:53 PM  
Blogger liturgy said...

Sorry, "berenike" that I missed a comment on your blog.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Berenike: spewality? The 'flu?

6:37 PM  
Blogger la mamma said...

No, Paulinus, you never know - that's the Joy of Catholicism (though NFP's worked perfectly for us, so I mustn't joke really). Glad you liked your celery. Have you considered taking it up as an ornamental vegetable a la Peter Davidson's Doctor?

8:14 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Even the rabbit won't eat the stuff, Mamma.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Gregor Kollmorgen said...

I do what seems to be the consensus here:
When at home or alone in my office, I (mostly) sit and stand accordingly. I am not aware that you are supposed at the "novus ordo" liturgia horarum at all; however, I still kneel at some traditional points (e.g. first verse of "Ave maris stella", at the "venite, adoremus et procidamus" of the invitatorium etc.). I do the bows at the Gloria Patri, and when the Holy Names are mentioned, but like at Mass, only a profound bow of the head, not a bow of the body.
When on the train I remain in the posture I'm in (sitting - if lucky - or standing) and only do slight bows. I always however cross myself at the "Deus in adjutorium", at the Beneictus/Magnificat, and at the final "Dominus nos benedicat". Sure people sometimes give you strange looks - so what? Our own Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg (Yes, we have a Blessed in Berlin) used to loudly say "Laudetur Jesus Christus" (in German, of course)upon entering an underground car in the 1920s. What I also always do is at least whisper the final oratio - when I first began to say (parts of) the office as a kid, I had a little people's edition, and in the introduction it was strongly recommended to at least say aloud the final oratio, to express that praying the Office is always not a mere private prayer, but a participation in the public prayer of the Church. Made sense to me.
However, I think this is all "lay enthusiasm". All the priests I know simply read their breviary silently without any gestures, or at the most with a sign of the Cross here or there. And that was standard even before the liturgical reforms.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Gregor thanks - that's a very sensible attitude.

4:02 PM  
Blogger marcella said...

Thank you for that interesting blog, Paulinus, and the stills from that gorgeous film, Into Great Silence (got it).
I have only recently 'graduated' to the Divine Office after a few years with Morning and Evening Prayer. I love it, and I want to get the most out of doing it. I've just been sitting reading it till now, and never considered the role of posture. I think it might aid my concentration, so I will pay attention to this from now on.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...


That's very kind of you. For clarity I should say I don't say the full set of hours. I use Daily Prayer which has all the offices but The Office of Readings.

In time, in time....

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My children and I pray Morning Prayer and Night Prayer together (I pray the other Hours but they don't generally participate on a regular basis) and we stand for the entire thing, making a bow and the Sign of the Cross at all the appropriate times. We also face East while praying, since we do it at our icon corner (we're Byzantine Catholic). And thanks for the plug in your blogroll!

12:57 PM  
Anonymous CAL said...

Beautiful images. I recently watched "Into Great Silence" about the Carthusians. Fantastic, stunning film. Interesting to see that, for the monks, it appeared that all their lives were a posture of prayer---whether working at chopping wood or gardening, or doing the Offices.

8:50 PM  

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