Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: The Little Oratory

The Little Oratory: A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home by David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler

This book is a rich resource for every Catholic. It is not just a list of prayers to say and things to buy. The authors, both converts to the Catholic faith, speak of their own experiences in developing a life of prayer:
This book focuses on uniting the two [love of God and love of neighbor] by extending the Eucharistic worship into the heart of the home in the "little oratory," which becomes the visible sign of everything else. The little oratory--prayer table, icon corner, or even dining room table--isn't only a physical place; it's a way of thinking that simplifies everything...If we get this right, it orders the rest and brings peace.
The oratory can be quite simple, but it must always be beautiful.
Because the family is where the child is first formed in what constitutes the beautiful which in turn relates to the good and the true, it is no exaggeration to say that the images we choose for our prayer in the home can have a profound effect on the culture and, ultimately, on the good of others.
The authors proceed to share some ways we can educate ourselves to beauty. The chapter on the items for the little oratory is full of details, the smallest of which can contribute to creating Beauty in our homes (even if, in the beginning, it is only the little corner set aside for prayer that is beautiful). The authors include eight color plates of sacred art ready to be cut out and framed for your oratory. Find a bit of table or wall and you are ready to go.

Our family has had a little prayer table for a few years now. Reading this book helped me think a bit about what is working for us and what might need some changing. More than anything, I was swept away by the discussion on the Liturgy of the Hours.
In essence, the Liturgy of the Hours is the marking of certain times of day by the singing of the psalms and canticles, hymns and Scripture readings, and readings from the works of the Church Fathers. It can be thought of as an extension of the Eucharistic celebration throughout the day, and its purpose is to sanctify the whole range of human activity--and make it graceful.
We have had some exposure to the Divine Office over the years, but the thought of introducing it even in part for my own prayer life or that of our family has always overwhelmed me. Reading about it in The Little Oratory, though, has made me think incorporating some of these daily prayers is not only possible, but potentially the most important change I could make in my own prayer life (even if I start with just one).
If your experience is like ours, when you start praying with your Breviary, you'll feel a change. Each day seems to get better. Things seem to go more smoothly; or if they go wrong, there's a sense of what to do about it. Even if there is something you can't change about your life, you can accept it more peacefully.
It's easy to think this book, which might very well contain all that is essential in a Catholic prayer life, would be overwhelming. In the introduction, the authors talk about how learning of more prayers or novenas or ways to pray the Rosary led mainly to "an increasing sense of guilt, as the list of prayers we were failing to say lengthened." In The Little Oratory, therefore, there are many reminders that we must tailor our prayer to our current lives, that prayer is a source of peace and truth and goodness and should not cause anxiety. Though there is much in the book we do not do as a family, I felt a refreshing lightening while reading the book.
You needn't continually seek novel ways of praying as an indication of progress. Once you reach a balance that is right for you--that is, the one that God intends for you--just keep on doing it. Be happy in knowing that, by God's grace, you're going forward on the pilgrimage to heaven. The power to move forward comes from your willingness to cooperate with God's grace to be transformed supernaturally.
If you'd like to read a little before investing in the book, you can find David Clayton online here and Leila Marie Lawler online here. (I find Like Mother, Like Daughter particularly inspiring in creating a life of beauty and rest and common sense in homes overflowing with young energy.) I recently listened to Leila as a guest on a Fountains of Carrots podcast. If you have any qualms about feeling overwhelmed by the book, listen to the podcast. I believe she will set your mind at ease.

If you are seeking a first book on Catholic prayer, read this book. If you have read many books on prayer but are still feeling befuddled or inadequate, read this book. The first few steps are there for the beginner, but there is also a richness and depth that serves a life-long faithful Catholic. I have read a few books over the past few years on prayer as I struggle to sense it's purpose in my life. In many ways, this book has answered my unformed questions better than any other. There are few books that would make better gifts for adults entering the church.

The Amazon links above are affiliate links, but I purchased my copy from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts (for whom I am not an affiliate), a wonderful resource for all Catholics, though the inventory includes a wide variety of wonderful homeschooling books as well. This review is my objective opinion.


  1. I got this through ILL and lightly read through it.

    I started praying Morning Prayer regularly with four or five older women at my then job 13ish years ago. They kindly gave me a breviary and I have used it faithfully (aside from a several years hiatus with Magniticat) to say morning prayer. I have used it for night prayer and evening prayer as well but not nearly as regularly. I can not imagine my life without this beautiful prayer and the rhythm it brings to my daily life. Holler if you would like an in person tutorial. I don't claim to be an expert but I know the ropes well enough.

    1. Thank you, Monica! My husband has read various prayers of the office off and on for years and we have a whole set of books. I just need to make the time and I feel like it would be so good for me. I'm glad to hear how wonderful it has been for you.

  2. It would be a great Lenten "resolution". In fact, last Lent was when I "broke up" (haha) with Magnificat and jumped back into the Liturgy of the Hours. And gladly it was one of those Lenten practices that actually stuck!



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