Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 44, Prostration

Last week we observed in Chapter 43 of The Rule of St. Benedict that monks late to the Divine Office were to stand apart from the rest and, afterward, perform a public act of penance for their tardiness. What sort of penance? Chapter 44 of The Rule of St. Benedict describes it:
1Anyone excommunicated for serious faults from the oratory and from the table is to prostrate himself in silence at the oratory entrance at the end of the celebration of the Work of God. 2He should lie face down at the feet of all as they leave the oratory, 3and let him do this until the abbot judges he has made satisfaction. 4Next, at the bidding of the abbot, he is to prostrate himself at the abbot's feet, then at the feet of all that they may pray for him.
As I mentioned last week, there is much within The Rule that sounds medieval. For example, this prostration business.

And again, I don't want to defend The Rule in this regard. But I would like to say what I find interesting about the act of prostration.

First, to be clear, I don't want to talk about a prostration demanded by an authority figure. I'm simply speaking to what the physical act of prostration is supposed to spiritually signify. Laying face down signals humility and submission. And again, I don't like authority figures demanding that others adopt this posture.

Here's the only thing I'd like to say. I've never adopted this posture. Never. I've knelt and bowed my head, but I've never lain face down on the ground in an act of humility.

I know contemplatives adopt this posture when they pray, and I can imagine why they do. At the end of the day we are embodied creatures, and the posture of our body not only reflects the heart, it shapes and leads the heart. As the body goes, so we go.

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4 thoughts on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 44, Prostration”

  1. I love the humility in prostration within the Catholic church. I remember the first time I heard about it I thought, "That would be embarrassing.." And then my immediate next thought was, "Oh... how humble." and I was kind of in awe at the lowliness and submission these people were displaying.

    "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

  2. Some may consider this an exceptionable situation, but when you lose a child and find yourself prostrate, face flat on the floor covered with saliva and tears, it is because sometimes a bowed head and folded hands cannot totally surrender.

  3. Speaking of postures of submission, I've recently been thinking about the shift from receiving the Eucharist on the tongue, and receiving it in the hands, that happened with Vatican II. Although the ordinary form is still supposedly to receive it on the tongue, the only people who I've seen do it are ultra-conservative Franciscan friars. The complex psychological dynamics of this shift would be a great topic for an essay.

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