Friday, May 30, 2014

The Little Oratory (Sophia Institute Press)

There is not one among us who couldn't stand to pray more and pray better. That is why thousands of books have been written on the subject of prayer. The Little Oratory is one of the latest ones to be released, and it is billed as a beginners guide to prayer in the home. But what exactly is an oratory? If it wasn't for the definition in the first chapter, I would had to have
Googled the word to know that it means a sacred space for prayer and private worship. Before telling us how to build this little oratory, the book first expounds on the Christian life and the importance of family life in the home.

The authors then give advice on how to order and organize the house, room by room. For example, the master bedroom is meant to be ordered and neat. It is okay to have a crib in it, but all the items for the baby including diapers and toys must be in a certain place, and not strewn about. That's nice in a magazine, but not always practical. I do agree with the authors when they say that the living room or den need not be centered around the television, and I also agree that shelves provide great assistance no matter what room of the house. We then begin the chapter of making and placing the home altar. Included in the chapter on "Making the Little Oratory at Home" is tips for linens, candles, prayerbooks, etc. All of these tips are fine, but I disagree with their section on iconography. The author's equate iconography to just another form of art and put it on equal ground with Western art, like Michaelangelo. Iconography is more than art, and it is not even about creating "beautiful art." Icons are prayer and designed to aid in worship. That is why they have specific rules when being written. They should also never be framed, as suggested by the authors. So yes icons are better than Western art and different than Western art.

The next few chapters deal with praying and reading Scripture. We are given an overview of the Liturgical Year and each individual season in one chapter. In the next chapter, the reader receives a crash course on praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Included in this chapter are the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as versions one can use online or buy. Unfortunately, there is no instruction on how to actually pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and this is not a prayer rule you can just pick up and figure out on your own. It's a bit complicated, and I would recommend the book The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours if you are serious about learning how to pray it. Chapter 7, "Devotion," details each month of the year and the special devotion associated with each, i.e., May being devoted to Mary. Chapter 8 discusses praying the Rosary and the value of it.

There are some closing chapters, which include difficulties you may encounter as well as encouragement to not only transform your home life, but to transform the world. The book then contains eight appendices. Some of them I found very helpful like "Devotion to Mary" and "The Sacred Heart." However, I found the appendix on the "Jesus Prayer" a bit troublesome. The authors were correct in what the prayer is and how the prayer is prayed, but they don't demonstrate knowledge otherwise in this prayer. There is a passing clause about people praying this prayer a set number of times, under guidance of a spiritual elder. However, they flippantly mention the breathing exercises associated with this prayer. This prayer can be very dangerous without supervision from a spiritual elder, especially when trying to adapt the breathing and postures that are associated with it.

Overall, I am very conflicted by this book. I found myself disagreeing with as much as I agreed with. There are parts that are absolutely brilliant and parts that I absolutely object to. So I guess I would recommend you to read this book carefully. You do not have to adopt everything mentioned in this book. If you find a section troubling or if something seems impractical to you, discuss it with your spiritual advisor.

This book was provided to me for free by Sophia Institute Press.