Topic: Prayer

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Painting the Things of Christ

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"To paint the things of Christ, one must live with Christ” -Fra Angelico

Several years ago, a young man who had come on a “Come and See” weekend to look at our province asked me, “Where does holiness arise from in your Order?”  It is a natural question to ask when one thinks of the distinct charisms and spiritualities which animate the beatiful array of religious orders and congregations within the Church.  The Jesuits have the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius; Carmelites ascend Mt. Carmel through different stages of the interior life; Benedictine spirituality centers around the rhythm of prayer and work, ora et labora, where through personal lectio divina, communal liturgical prayer, and following the Rule of St. Benedict, the monks are led to sanctify every thought, word, and action as they seek total union with God.  Defining “Dominican Spirituality” as such, however, has always posed somewhat of a problem.<--break->  Dominicans do not really have “methods” of prayer that each friar follows in the same way, or specific tracks or plans to follow regarding our spiritual growth.  Moreover, we are both contemplative and active friars; we perpetually stand on a threshold between the monastic-like structure of our common life which sets the conditions for our contemplation, and the outward-looking urgent demands of preaching the gospel for the salvation of souls.


My first thought, then, in response to the young man’s question, “Where does holiness arise from in your Order?” was “Well...from the Holy Spirit, where else?”  This simple answer, of course, should not obscure the fact that the Holy Spirit is about His work in all the charisms of the Church’s congregations and orders.  But it does say something unique about Dominican life.     


“Dominican Spirituality” is, in one sense, hard to define precisely because it is so broad.  It gives a great deal of freedom for individuals to grow in whatever direction the Holy Spirit leads, developing their unique gifts and putting them at the service of the Church and the gospel.  We have the “four pillars” of our life which give an idea of our central ideals: prayer, study, preaching, common life.  Our central mission is to “preach for the salvation of souls.”  The grace, intellectual training, and zeal for this mission arise out of the conditions of our common life, structured as it is by common prayer, personal prayer, theological study, and the fraternity and charity developed in community.  But if we had to choose one simple way of describing Dominican Spirituality, I believe we could do no better than begin with a phrase of Blessed Fra Angelico, the celebrated 14th century Dominican artist: “to paint the things of Christ one must live with Christ.”


St. Dominic’s life, Fra Angelico’s life, and the lives of the whole bright panoply of Dominican saints through the centuries, each shine forth with the Holy Spirit’s presence arising from that individual’s life with Christ.  For Fra Angelico, this came through what John Paul II called “translating the eloquence of the word of God into color,” as in him “art became prayer.”  For St. Martin de Porres, it was through taking on the humblest of tasks in his community, and constant attendance to the poor and sick.  For Thomas Aquinas, it came through issuing forth the vast and wondrously articulated theology of the Summa Theologica (among many other works).  And at the font of this Dominican family is St. Dominic himself, known for never speaking a word unless “to God or about God.”

St. Dominic himself, perhaps, is the best example of the way the Holy Spirit comes to life within the Dominican charism and spirituality. This “athlete of Christ,” as Dante called him, was well-read and intellectually trained, devoted to his brethren, and exceedingly devoted to the mission of preaching; but above all, his whole life emerged from a passionate, intimate, continual immersion in prayer to and with Jesus Christ.  The “Nine Ways of Prayer” give an intimate portrait of our Holy Father using a variety of bodily postures, vocal and mental prayer, meditation on the scriptures, penitential practices, and books that incite contemplation, to maintain this deep and affectionate initmacy with his Savior.  The “Nine Ways” are an example of how St. Dominic himself was led in prayer, but they were not adopted in a kind of rigorous or absolutely prescribed way for all Dominicans to follow: as the Holy Spirit led, so Dominic followed, and this alone would he fundamentally desire each of the brethren to do.


Fra Angelico, in fact, has a well-known fresco that depicts St. Dominic in prayer, which is also a good image for pinpointing Dominican spirituality: Dominic is seated in a calm posture with a book in his lap, one hand ready to turn the page of the book, the other positioned pensively below his chin, signifying a certain meditative but absorbed and thoughtful silence.  This image, though often presented alone, is part of a larger fresco called “The Mocking of Christ,” where Our Lord is seated in a chair behind and above St. Dominic, blindfolded, receiving blows, spitting, and slaps from mysteriously placed hands, heads, and sticks.  The Blessed Virgin weeps for her Son on the left side of the scene.  Through the Sacred Scriptures, St. Dominic is encountering the Lord in this image, the Blessed Virgin mysteriously present with him; he is “living with Christ” in a most intimate way, a way that allows the Holy Spirit to shape his most interior thoughts and affections, which then forms the foundation of his whole spiritual life.

  “Where does holiness arise within the Dominican Order?”  From living with Christ, as our Holy Father Dominic did.  And from this intimate, affectionate, deep, and constant union with Jesus, structured by common life, prayer, study, and the mission of preaching; from this foundation the Lord of the Harvest raises up souls after his own heart to save their own souls and bear much fruit for the Gospel.  Each Dominican’s life, then, whether serving the poor, preaching missions, painting frescoes, or crafting mystical theology, becomes a kind of brushstroke of the Divine Artist, so that He may set forth the Beauty of His Son in the clearest, most marvelous light possible to the people of every age.  St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. Fra Angelico, and all Dominican Saints, Pray for us!

Br. Boniface Willard, O.P.'s picture

Prayer of Jeremiah

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Every year, the Dominicans continue to celebrate a modified form of Tenebrae, or the Office of Dark. The heart of this office is the Lamentations of Jeremiah, poems which mourn the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem.

On the last day, at the end of the Lamentations, is sung the great Prayer of Jeremiah taken from Jeremiah 5. It is a plea to God asking him to relent in his anger and to have mercy on his people. And yet, while it is expressive of sorrow and sadness, it is nonetheless an expression of hope and trust in the Lord.
On Good Friday and through the morning of Holy Saturday, the Church mourns for the death of the Lord, who is dead and buried. The tabernacle stands empty, its doors wide open. And yet there is hope and trust that what the Lord has promised will come to pass, not only on Easter, but for each of us when we are called forth from this life: the hope that we might pass from death to life eternal.

It is this spirit of both sorrow and joy that permeates the liturgies of these days, and that will finally give way to unmitigated joy. In the meantime, in the Prayer of Jeremiah, we hear still the echo of his sorrow and our own sorrow out of which joy and hope will arise.

Br. Richard Maher, O.P.'s picture

Charismatic Congress

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This past weekend I attended the “Evangelization and Healing” congress held at the parish of St. Raphael. The conference was sponsored by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Briefly stated, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) refers to the movement within the Church that has sought a renewal of the gifts bestowed on the Apostles by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (namely healing and speaking in tongues) that were practiced widely in the early Church. CCR prayer groups are characterized by a focus on the Holy Spirit through the channeling of these gifts as well as by ecstatic prayer, faith sharing, and singing.

My first encounter with the CCR occurred about six years ago during my grandmother’s long battle with cancer. I would often accompany her to Sunday Mass and, after Mass one week, we were invited to a “Mass of Healing.” Although unfamiliar with the manifestations of these charismatic gifts, I was most moved and humbled by the piety of those seeking physical and spiritual healing in their lives. The excitement of the prayer and the dedication of those participating in the service were rousing, even for one who was not prepared to submit entirely to the experience. In the following years, I regularly attended a charismatic prayer group as I incorporated myself into the faith sharing, the vibrant worship, and the rousing testimonies offered by the lay men and women who spoke at the weekly meetings. I attribute my vocation in part to the spiritual awakening that I experienced as a result of participating in these prayer groups.

Saturday’s experience was certainly one of energy, excitement, and deep prayer. Speakers included lay men and women who testified to the healing effect God has had on their lives. Among the featured speakers was Fr. Jose Corral, coordinator for the CCR in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Different music groups were present to aid in the worship, and the day was closed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour. During this time, the faithful in attendance were specifically asked to pray for the sick and infirm people in their community.

Br. Boniface Willard, O.P.'s picture

Holy Week - Part 2

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Tenebrae at St. Albert’s

From the Latin word for “darkness,” Tenebrae is the term given to the liturgical office of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday as they were observed prior to the reform of Holy Week by Pope Pius XII in 1955. Dominicans have continued to pray a modified version of Tenebrae each year as a particular tradition of our Order.

The practice of Tenebrae has roots as early as the 7th century, when those celebrating the Office would do so in almost complete darkness, the only light coming from a large candelabra, called a hearse. While the number of candles on the hearse has varied, today there are usually fifteen tapers.

Although there have been many changes, the contemporary Office of Tenebrae has many traces of the ancient rite. In the contemporary rite, the Office contains five psalms and one canticle. However, there is no introductory verse or Invitatory, and the “Glory to…” after each psalm and canticle is omitted. After each psalm or canticle, a set of candles is extinguished – symbolizing the Apostle’s desertion of Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Olives – until there is only one left, the so-called Christ candle. During the singing of the Benedictus, this last candle is – in accord with our Dominican tradition – likewise extinguished, symbolizing Christ’s death and burial.

The psalms are separated by three lessons taken from the Book of Lamentations, a collection of poems which grieve over the Babylonian destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the ruin of the people of Israel in 587 BC. By describing the horrible situation which they now endure, the poems exhort the Israelites to mourn for having turned away from God to worship foreign, pagan gods. Each stanza begins with a Hebrew letter. When the Hebrew alphabet is used this way, it is meant to express completeness or fullness; here, the complete and full desolation of Israel. The great “Prayer of Jeremiah,” which ends Tenebrae on Saturday, is a plea to God to relent in punishment and rescue the people, despite what they have done.

One cannot take part in these prayers without being impressed by their simple dignity and majesty. Today, we can make these psalms and lamentations our own. As we pray them, we can seek pardon for our sins, as well as the sins of the whole world. We can reflect on any of the ways in which we have turned away from being “the image and likeness of God.”

If you are in the Bay Area and would care to join us, Tenebrae will be at 6:30am on Holy Thursday, and 7:30am on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Br. Michael Augustine Amabisco, O.P.'s picture


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Experiences of everyday religious life put to poetry.
Dominiku #1-On Praying the Rosary
Kneeling while I pray
Wet tears flowing from my eyes
Beads under my knee
Dominiku #2-On Prayer and Architecture
Now prayer is over
Unseen force pulls me back in
Habit caught in door
Dominiku #3-Doing Laundry
Garb is line drying
Angel floats on windy day
Capuce on the loose
(N.B. A capuce is the hooded portion of the Dominican habit.)