In The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home, David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler show how easy it is to set up a small sacred space in the home and pray there. This personal expression of faith is a wonderful response to God’s desire to be always with us. While God remains with us even without a dedicated prayer space at home, such a special place can remind us of our faithful God, help us be present and open to God, and foster prayer in our families.
This is an unusual book in several ways. First, The Little Oratory is full of details about how to create a dedicated prayer space in the home. Chapters Two and Three address how to educate oneself in beauty, principles of design, organizing every room in the home, materials for setting up a prayer table, how to launder cloths that might be used, types of images, candles and other objects, and care of those items. From the beginning the authors give enough information to offset the inevitable questions that might arise from a reader open to the idea of setting up a little oratory in the home but thinking it might be difficult.
Secondly, in the back of the book are eight full-color icon pages, perforated for removal and framing. What a bonus! No family who wants to create a home prayer space needs to spend much if any money.
It is unusual for a book aimed at family use, even one aiming to foster prayer, to encourage praying the Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Office. The authors explain how to pray the Hours with a breviary and suggest how to adopt that practice gradually. The book does a fine job of describing the Christian way of looking at the hours of the day and the days of the week, as well as the liturgical seasons and feasts.
One chapter shows how to get closer to God’s Word. The authors explain lectio divina (literally “holy reading”); meditation; oratio (conversational prayer with God); and contemplative prayer. Another chapter delves into devotions and one addresses praying the rosary.
All the how-to ideas and practical advice have a larger aim: transforming the world by transforming the home. When we center ourselves in Christ, we take Him with us everywhere—not by being pietistic, but because our close relationship with Jesus affects all other relationships. Being close to Christ will likely make us want to carry Him into other places in subtle ways. So we can read about influencing the workplace culture, expressing family hospitality, introducing the Liturgy of the Hours in our parish, and supporting priests.
Early in the book the authors advocate for the Latin Mass in the Roman rite, saying that the assembly “can read a translation while (the priest) speaks.” That is their interpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. But others understand the document to urge preservation of Latin through occasional use and in multicultural liturgies. Unless Mass is in the vernacular, it is doubtful we can follow the document’s insistence upon full, active, and conscious participation.
Later in the book the authors address who should lead prayer in the home. The authors claim that the husband and father has “natural and scriptural headship” while the wife and mother’s role is to encourage her husband and, if he does not pray, be a witness of private prayer. While male headship understood in this way is one strand of Catholic tradition, it is not the only or even the dominant view of marriage. Given the degree of detail in other areas of the book, the undeveloped point of view here is regretful.
Articles about topics as diverse as devotion to the Sacred Heart, patterns in liturgy, and a guide for singing comprise eight appendices. Following those articles is a descriptive list of resources.
David Clayton is an artist, teacher, writer, and broadcaster. He is a relocated Englishman who is artist-in-residence and lecturer at Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Leila Marie Lawler is a wife, mother, and grandmother who has created a website with advice on daily life. Deirdre M. Folley has illustrated the book.