Nine Ways of Prayer
was written by an anonymous Bolognese author, sometime between A.D.
1260 and A.D. 1288, whose source of information was, among other
followers of St. Dominic, Sister Cecilia of Bologna's Monastery of St.
Agnes. Sister Cecilia had been given the habit by St. Dominic himself.
"The Nine Ways of Prayer" has been sometimes printed as a supplement to
"The Life of St. Dominic" by Theodoric of Apoldia, though they aren't
an actual part of that work.
The Nine Ways
of St. Dominic
like Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory, Hilary, Isidore, John Chrysostom,
John Damascene, Bernard, and other saintly Greek and Latin doctors have
discoursed on prayer at great length. They have encouraged and
described it, pointed out its necessity and value, explained the
method, the dispositions which are required, and the impediments which
stand in its way. In learned books, the glorious and venerable doctor,
Brother Thomas Aquinas, and Albert, of the Order of Preachers, as well
as William in his treatise on the virtues, have considered admirably
and in a holy, devout, and beautiful manner that form of prayer in
which the soul makes use of the members of the body to raise itself
more devoutly to God. In this way the soul, in moving the body, is
moved by it. At times it becomes rapt in ecstasy as was Saint Paul, or
is caught up in a rapture of the spirit like the prophet David. Saint
Dominic often prayed in this way, and it is fitting that we say
something of his method.
Certainly many saints of both the Old and New Testament are known to
have prayed like this at times. Such a method serves to enkindle
devotion by the alternate action of soul upon body and body upon soul.
Prayer of this kind would cause Saint Dominic to be bathed in tears,
and would arouse the fervor of his holy will to such intensity that his
bodily members could not be restrained from manifesting his devotion by
certain signs. As a result, the spirit of the supplicant was sometimes
raised up during its entreaties, petitions, and thanksgivings.
The following, then, are the special modes of prayer, besides those
very devout and customary forms, which Saint Dominic used during the
celebration of Mass and the praying of the psalmody. In choir or along
the road, he was often seen lifted suddenly out of himself and raised
up with God and the angels.
The First Way of Prayer
first way of prayer was to humble himself before the altar as if
Christ, signified by the altar, were truly and personally present and
not in symbol alone. He would say with Judith: "O Lord, God, the prayer
of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee [Judith 9:16]. "It
was through humility that the Canaanite woman and the prodigal son
obtained what they desired; as for me, "I am not worthy that Thou
shouldst come under my roof" [Matthew 8:8] for "I have been humbled
before you exceedingly, O Lord [Psalm 118:107]."
In this way our holy father, standing erect, bowed his head and humbly
considering Christ, his Head, compared his lowliness with the
excellence of Christ. He then gave himself completely in showing his
veneration. The brethren were taught to do this whenever they passed
before the humiliation of the Crucified One in order that Christ, so
greatly humbled for us, might see us humbled before his majesty. And he
commanded the friars to humble themselves in this way before the entire
Trinity whenever they chanted solemnly: "Glory be to the Father, and to
the Son, and to the Holy Spirit." In this manner of profoundly
inclining his head, as shown in the drawing, Saint Dominic began his
The Second Way of Prayer
used to pray by throwing himself outstretched upon the ground, lying on
his face. He would feel great remorse in his heart and call to mind
those words of the Gospel, saying sometimes in a voice loud enough to
be heard: "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner." [Luke 18:13] With
devotion and reverence he repeated that verse of David: "I am he that
has sinned, I have done wickedly." [II Kings 24:17]. Then he would weep
and groan vehemently and say: "I am not worthy to see the heights of
heaven because of the greatness of my iniquity, for I have aroused thy
anger and done what is evil in thy sight." From the psalm: "Deus
auribus nostris audivimus" he said fervently and devoutly: "For our
soul is cast down to the dust, our belly is flat on the earth!" [Psalm
43:25]. To this he would add: "My soul is prostrate in the dust;
quicken Thou me according to Thy word" [Psalm 118:25].
Wishing to teach the brethren to pray reverently, he would sometimes
say to them: When those devout Magi entered the dwelling they found the
child with Mary, his mother, and falling down they worshipped him.
There is no doubt that we too have found the God-Man with Mary, his
handmaid. "Come, let us adore and fall down in prostration before God,
and let us weep before God, and let us weep before the Lord that made
us" [Psalm 94:61]. He would also exhort the young men, and say to them:
If you cannot weep for your own sins because you have none, remember
that there are many sinners who can be disposed for mercy and charity.
It was for these that the prophets lamented; and when Jesus saw them,
he wept bitterly. The holy David also wept as he said: "I beheld the
transgressors and began to grieve" [Psalm 118:158].
The Third Way of Prayer
At the end of
the prayer which has just been described, Saint Dominic would rise from
the ground and give himself the discipline with an iron chain, saying,
"Thy discipline has corrected me unto the end" [Psalm 17:36]. This is
why the Order decreed, in memory of his example, that all the brethren
should receive the discipline with wooden switches upon their shoulders
as they were bowing down in worship and reciting the psalm "Miserere"
[Psalm 50] or "De Profundis" [Psalm 129] after Compline on ferial
days. This is performed for their own faults or for those of others
whose alms they receive and rely upon. No matter how sinless he may be,
no one is to desist from this holy example which is shown in the
The Fourth Way of Prayer
Saint Dominic would remain before the altar or in the chapter room with
his gaze fixed on the Crucified One, looking upon Him with perfect
attention. He genuflected frequently, again and again. He would
continue sometimes from after Compline until midnight, now rising, now
kneeling again, like the apostle Saint James, or the leper of the
gospel who said on bended knee: "Lord, if Thou wilt, thou canst make me
clean" [Matthew. 8:2]. He was like Saint Stephen who knelt and called
out with a loud cry: "Lord, do not lay this sin against them" [Acts
7:60]. Thus there was formed in our holy father, Saint Dominic, a great
confidence in God's mercy towards himself, all sinners, and for the
perseverance of the younger brethren whom he sent forth to preach to
souls. Sometimes he could not even restrain his voice, and the friars
would hear him murmuring: "Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be
not Thou silent to me: lest if thou be silent to me, I become like them
that go down into the pit" [Psalm 27:1] and comparable phrases from the
At other times, however, he spoke within himself and his voice could
not be heard. He would remain in genuflection for a long while, rapt in
spirit; on occasion, while in this position, it appeared from his face
that his mind had penetrated heaven and soon he reflected an intense
joy as he wiped away the flowing tears. He was in a stage of longing
and anticipation like a thirsty man who has reached a spring, and like
a traveler who is at last approaching his homeland. Then he would
become more absorbed and ardent as he moved in an agile manner but with
great grace, now arising, now genuflecting. He was so accustomed to
bend his knees to God in this way that when he traveled, in the inns
after a weary journey, or along the wayside while his companions rested
or slept, he would return to these genuflections, his own intimate and
personal form of worship. This way of prayer he taught his brethren
more by example than by words.
The Fifth Way of Prayer
When he was in
the convent, our holy father Dominic would sometimes remain before the
altar, standing erect without supporting himself or leaning upon
anything. Often his hands would be extended before his breast in the
manner of an open book; he would stand with great reverence and
devotion as if reading in the very presence of God. Deep in prayer, he
appeared to be meditating upon the words of God, and he seemed to
repeat them to himself in a sweet voice. He regularly prayed in this
way for it was Our Lord's manner as Saint Luke tells us: ". . .
according to his custom he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and
began to read" [Luke 4:16]. The psalmist also tells us that "Phinees
stood up and prayed, and the slaughter ceased" [Psalm 105:30].
He would sometimes join his hands, clasping them firmly together before
eyes filled with tears and restrain himself. At other times he would
raise his hands to his shoulders as the priest does at Mass. He
appeared then to be listening carefully as if to hear something spoken
from the altar. If one had seen his great devotion as he stood erect
and prayed, he would certainly have thought that he was observing a
prophet, first speaking with an angel or with God himself, then
listening, then silently thinking of those things which had been
revealed to him.
On a journey he would secretly steal away at the time for prayer and,
standing, would immediately raise his mind to heaven. One would then
have heard him speaking sweetly and with supreme delight some loving
words from his heart and from the riches of Holy Scripture which he
seemed to draw from the fountains of the Savior. The friars were very
much moved by the sight of their father and master praying in this
manner. Thus, having become more fervent, they were instructed in the
way of reverent and constant prayer: "Behold as the eyes of servants
are on the hands of their masters, as the eyes of the handmaid are on
the hands of her mistress . . ." [Psalm 122:2].
The Sixth Way of Prayer
Our holy father,
Saint Dominic, was also seen to pray standing erect with his hands and
arms outstretched forcefully in the form of a cross. He prayed in this
way when God, through his supplications, raised to life the boy
Napoleon in the sacristy of the Church of Saint Sixtus in Rome, and
when he was raised from the ground at the celebration of Mass, as the
good and holy Sister Cecilia, who was present with many other people
and saw him, narrates. He was like Elias who stretched himself out and
lay upon the widow's son when he raised him to life.
In a similar manner he prayed near Toulouse when he delivered the group
of English pilgrims from danger of drowning in the river. Our Lord
prayed thus while hanging on the cross, that is, with his hands and
arms extended and "with a loud cry and tears ... he was heard because
of his reverent submission" [Hebrews 5:7].
Nor did the holy man Dominic resort to this manner of praying unless he
was inspired by God to know that something great and marvelous was to
come about through the power of his prayer. Although he did not forbid
the brethren to pray in this way, neither did he encourage them to do
so. We do not know what he said when he stood with his hands and arms
extended in the form of a cross and raised the boy to life. Perhaps it
was those words of Elias: "O Lord, my God, let the soul of this child,
I beseech thee, return into his body" [III Kings 17:21]. He certainly
followed the prophet's exterior manner in his prayers on that occasion.
The friars and sisters, however, as well as the nobles and cardinals,
and all others present were so struck by this most unusual and
astonishing way of prayer that they failed to remember the words he
spoke. Afterwards, they did not feel free to ask Dominic about these
matters because this holy and remarkable man inspired in them a great
sense of awe and reverence by reason of the miracle.
In a grave and mature manner, he would slowly pronounce the words in
the Psalter which mention this way of prayer. He used to say
attentively: "O Lord, the God of my salvation: I have cried in the day
and in the night before Thee," as far as that verse "All the day I have
cried to Thee, O Lord: I stretched out my hands to Thee" [Psalm
87:2-10]. Then he would add: "Hear, O Lord, my prayer give ear to my
supplication in Thy truth . . ." He would continue the prayer to these
words: "I stretched forth my hands to Thee . . . Hear me speedily, O
Lord" [Psalm 142:1-7].
This example of our father's prayer would help devout souls to
appreciate more easily his great zeal and wisdom in praying thus. This
is true whether, in doing so, he wished to move God in some wonderful
manner through his prayer or whether he felt through some interior
inspiration that God was to move him to seek some singular grace for
himself or his neighbor. He then shone with the spiritual insight of
David, the ardor of Elias, the charity of Christ, and with a profound
devotion, as the drawing serves to indicate.
The Seventh Way of Prayer
he was often seen to reach towards heaven like an arrow which has been
shot from a taut bow straight upwards into the sky. He would stand with
hands outstretched above his head and joined together, or at times
slightly separated as if about to receive something from heaven. One
would believe that he was receiving an increase of grace and in this
rapture of spirit was asking God for the gifts of the Holy Spirit for
the Order he had founded.
He seemed to seek for himself and his brethren something of that
transcendent joy which is found in living the beatitudes, praying that
each would consider himself truly blessed in extreme poverty, in bitter
mourning, in cruel persecutions, in a great hunger and thirst for
justice, in anxious mercy towards all. His entreaty was that his
children would find their delight in observing the commandments and in
the perfect practice of the evangelical counsels. Enraptured, the holy
father then appeared to have entered into the Holy of Holies and the
Third Heaven. After prayer of this kind he truly seemed to be a
prophet, whether in correcting the faulty, in directing others, or in
Our holy father did not remain at prayer of this type very long but
gradually regained full possession of his faculties. He looked during
that time like a person coming from a great distance or like a stranger
in this world, as could easily be discerned from his countenance and
manner. The brethren would then hear him praying aloud and saying as
the prophet: "Hear, O Lord, the voice of my supplication which I pray
to Thee, when I lift up my hands to Thy holy temple" [Psalm 27:2].
Through his words and holy example he constantly taught the friars to
pray in this way, often repeating those phrases from the psalms:
"Behold, now bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord ... in the
nights lift up your hands to the holy places, and bless ye the Lord"
[Psalm 133:1-3], "I have cried to Thee, O Lord, hear me; hearken to my
voice when I cry to Thee. Let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy
sight; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" [Psalm
140:1-2]. The drawing shows us this mode of prayer so that we may
better understand it.
The Eighth Way of Prayer
Saint Dominic, had yet another manner of praying at once beautiful,
devout, and pleasing, which he practiced after the canonical hours and
the thanksgiving following meals. He was then zealous and filled with
the spirit of devotion which he drew from the divine words which had
been sung in the choir or refectory. Our father quickly withdrew to
some solitary place, to his cell or elsewhere, and recollected himself
in the presence of God. He would sit quietly, and after the sign of the
cross, begin to read from a book opened before him. His spirit would
then be sweetly aroused as if he heard Our Lord speaking, as we are
told in the psalms: "I will hear what the Lord God will speak to me.
[Psalm 84:9]. As if disputing with a companion he would first appear
somewhat impatient in his thought and words. At the next moment he
would become a quiet listener, then again seem to discuss and contend.
He seemed almost to laugh and weep at the same time, and then,
attentively and submissively, would murmur to himself and strike his
Should some curious person have desired to watch our holy father
Dominic, he would have appeared to him like Moses who went into the
desert, to Horeb, the sacred mountain of God, and there beheld the
burning bush and heard the Lord speaking to him as he was bowed down in
the divine presence. This holy custom of our father seems, as it were,
to resemble the prophetic mountain of the Lord inasmuch as he quickly
passed upwards from reading to prayer, from prayer to meditation, and
from meditation to contemplation.
When he read alone in this solitary fashion, Dominic used to venerate
the book, bow to it, and kiss it. This was especially true if he was
reading the Gospels and when he had been reading the very words which
had come from the mouth of Christ. At other times he would hide his
face and cover it with his cappa, or bury his face in his hands and
veil it slightly with the capuce. Then he would weep, all fervent and
filled with holy desires. Following this, as if to render thanks to
some person of great excellence for benefits received, he would
reverently rise and incline his head for a short time. Wholly refreshed
and, in great interior peace, he then returned to his book.
The Ninth Way of Prayer
Saint Dominic, observed this mode of prayer while traveling from one
country to another, especially when he passed through some deserted
region. He then delighted in giving himself completely to meditation,
disposing for contemplation, and he would say to his companion on the
journey: It is written in Osee "I will lead her (my spouse) into the
wilderness and I will speak to her ear" [Osee 2:14]. Parting from his
companion, he would go on ahead or, more frequently, follow at some
distance. Thus withdrawn, he would walk and pray; in his meditation he
was inflamed and the fire of charity was enkindled. While he prayed it
appeared as if he were brushing dust or bothersome flies from his face
when he repeatedly fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross.
The brethren thought that it was while praying in this way that the
saint obtained his extensive penetration of Sacred Scripture and
profound understanding of the divine words, the power to preach so
fervently and courageously, and that intimate acquaintance with the
Holy Spirit by which he came to know the hidden things of God.