Wednesday, October 21, 2015

From a Longer Letter on Prayer

Certainly mental prayer and physical attitudes help or hinder prayer. We are trying to make love to God. The suitor who does nothing but moan, cadge and talk about himself is unlikely to be successful. “O my God! O my gout!” is not the best mental attitude in which to pray. The mind must be alert and fixed on the Beloved. Incidentally, “recollection” is not synonymous with “depression.” On the contrary, the more alert the mind the quicker it will become recollected. And this alertness and attention to the Beloved should find physical expression. Hence one should smile but keep one’s eyes shut.

Clearly the best positions for the body are to kneel or sit. Walter Hilton, if I remember correctly, was a great believer in sitting. Standing is a different matter. Not only is it uncomfortable after a little while but it is difficult to know what to do with the hands—the most expressive members of our body. To hold the arms out cruciform is one solution. To hold them out in front of one with elbows slightly bent and palms upwards, shoulder-high, in the attitude of begging, is another. These positions, however, require space and are blush-making in public. You will notice, incidentally, that the priest in the old Mass stood most of the time. Yes, but the movements of his hands were very carefully regulated. This was completely right. Also, he had his back to the congregation so as to allow him liberty in his facial expression.

It is obviously a minor point, but this is one of the details which make the New Ordo unprayable. The faithful are supposed to stand in a circle or semicircle around the Table. They are obliged to cling, as though drowning, to the chair in front or their arms droop at their sides or are crossed belligerently on their chest. Neither they nor the priest have liberty of facial expression. Since they are all staring at each other, only one expression is possible: that of total boredom. It proves beyond doubt that the authors of the New Order were liturgists but not men of prayer.

Concerning prayers of petition, it is quite easy to see the spirit in which they should be made. How horrid are children who always say “giv’me”; how charming are those who ask, “May I leave the table?” You can analyse the difference yourself.

— Byran Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 171–172.