Lying on the Floor

Why do people lie on the ground while praying? What does this gesture symbolise?


It’s called prostration, the act of lying face first on the floor. Not only does this happen quite frequently in the Bible (…and he fell upon his face) but it is also part of ordination, I believe, from this excerpt by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops:

"5. Why does the ordinand lie prostrate during the ordination?

It symbolizes his unworthiness for the office to be assumed and his dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian community."

Going from there, I think we get an idea of why a person may do that in their private prayers.

Indeed it is to me the most touching part of the Ordination Mass…men about to become priests of Jesus Christ prostrating on the floor as the Litany of the Saints is chanted, the intercession of the entire Church Triumphant being invoked on their behalf…See here, 0:42:35 with commentary by Fr. Calvin Goodwin, FSSP.

Sometimes the people who fell on their face in the Old Testament were not doing so in order to worship but were ducking, hitting the deck because God was about to throw some lightening bolts at the people of Israel. This is especially true of Moses.

…and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face; (Numers 16:3-4)

Moses was like, “Oh crud! DUCK!!!” because God was about to hurl hailstones at the people or drop volkswagons on them or something.


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In the Eastern Catholic Churches we (ordained and lay) make prostrations called metanias, often (just like stick figure 5):

With an ageing church, prostration presents its own problems - not in getting down, but in getting up again. My Parish Priest can now only kneel at the beginning of the Good Friday liturgy.

Years ago, we had an elderly and rather saintly retired priest staying in the Parish. He always prostrated himself on Good Friday and I was assigned the task of “helping” him back to his feet. Over the years this developed into having to lift him bodily off the ground, then lowering him gently onto his feet.

Prostration is the second of the Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic, who relatedly used to pray in this position up to tears, and references to Psalms 43:25, 94:6 and 118:25 in association with the practice.

Psalm 43:25:

Our pride is bowed in the dust; prostrate, we cannot lift ourselves from the ground.

Psalm 94:6:

Come in, then, fall we down in worship, bowing the knee before God who made us.

Psalm 118:25:

Deep lies my soul in the dust, restore life to me, as thou hast promised.

I used to borrow the church key to go into the church for private adoration (before we had an adoration chapel). Sometimes I would prostrate myself before the tabernacle (I was not, of course, in the sanctuary). It was a tremendously humbling and prayerful position. I wish my arthritic knees would allow me to do this again but I just cannot.

Wow. That is beautiful.

Prostrating is one of the most beautiful parts of the ordination mass, IMO. It is an act of submission and humility to the will of God. Without humility or obedience, we wouldn’t be here today.

Deacon prostraring during ordination.

Paulists make final promises.

Carmelite nun prostrating in the Sign of the Cross during Final Vows.

When one was prostrate before a king or ruler, he was helpless to defend himself with a sword. It showed that he was at the mercy of the king, as are we to the King of Kings.

Its a sign of total submission to the will of God.

It’s known as prostration and it’s used in ordinations and prayer as a way to submit to the will of the Father.

It’s good to read about the 9 Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic and many of the other responses…

Prayer of Saint Ephraim

O Lord and Master of my life,
Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
of meekness,
of patience,
and of love.

Yea, O Lord and King,
grant that I may perceive
my own transgressions,
and judge not my brother,
for blessed art Thou
unto ages of ages.

It’s traditional to make a prostration after each of the three verses.*