THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
A TREATISE ON ASCETICAL AND MYSTICAL THEOLOGY
by the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S., D.D.
The Prayer of Beginners1
#643. We have already explained (n. 499-521) the nature and the efficacy of
prayer. After beginners have been reminded of these notions, they must: (1)
be instructed as to the necessity and the conditions of prayer; (2) they
must be gradually introduced to the practice of such spiritual exercises as
befit them; (3) they must be taught mental prayer.
Article I. --Prayer in general: Necessity of Prayer, Conditions of Prayer
Article II. --Principal Spiritual Exercises
Article III.--Mental Prayer: General Notions, Advantages and Necessity, The
Mental Prayer of Beginners, The Principal Methods
n1. ST. THOM., IIa IIae, q. 83 and his Commentators; SUAREZ, "De
Religione," Tr. IV, lib. I, "De Oratione;" ALVAREZ DE PAZ, t. III, lib. I;
TH. DE VALLGORNERA, q. II, disp. V; "Summa theol. mysticae," Ia Pars,
Tract. I, discursus III; L DEGRANADA, "Traite de l'Oraison et de la
Meditation;" ST. ALPHONSUS DE LIGUORI, "Prayer;" P. MONSABRE, "La Priere;"
P. RAMIERE, "L'Apostolat de la priere;" ST FRANCIS DE SALES, "Devout Life,"
Part II; "Spiritual Combat," C. 44-52; RODRIGUEZ, "Christian Perfection" I
Treat. 5; GROU, "How to Pray;" MESCHLER, "Three Fundamental Principles of
the Spiritual Life," I; HEDLEY, "Retreat," XXI.
ARTICLE 1. NECESSITY AND CONDITIONS OF PRAYER
1. Necessity of Prayer
#644. What we have said regarding the twofold end of prayer, worship and
petition (n. 503-509), shows us clearly its necessity. It is evident that
as creatures and as Christians we are bound to glorify God through
adoration, thanksgiving and love; that as sinners we must offer Him
reparation (n. 506). Here it is question of prayer chiefly as petition and
of its absolute necessity as a means of salvation and perfection.
#645. The necessity of prayer is based on the necessity of actual grace. It
is a truth of faith that without such grace we are utterly incapable of
obtaining salvation and, still more of attaining perfection (n. 126). Of
ourselves, no matter how we use our freedom, we can do nothing positive
that would prepare us for conversion to God, nor can we persevere for any
length of time, much less until death: "Without me you can do nothing...
Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of
ourselves... For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to
accomplish."1 Now, barring the first grace, which is gratuitously given us
since it is itself the principle of prayer, it remains ever true that
prayer is the normal, the efficacious and the universal means through which
God wills that we obtain all actual graces. This is the reason why Our Lord
insists so frequently upon the necessity of prayer: "Ask, and it shall be
given you: seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.
For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to
him that knocketh it shall be opened. "2 Almost all commentators add that
it is as if He said: "Unless you ask, you shall not receive, unless you
seek, you shall not find." On this necessity of prayer Our Lord constantly
insists, especially when it is question of resisting temptation: "Watch ye
and pray that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing
but the flesh is weak." 3 St. Thomas asserts that confidence not based on
prayer is presumption, for God, Who is not in justice bound to grant us His
grace, has not pledged Himself to give it except through prayer. God,
assuredly does know our spiritual needs without our exposing them to Him,
yet He wills that prayer be the spring that sets in motion His loving
mercy, so that we may acknowledge Him as the Author of the gifts He bestows
n1. "John," XV, 5; "II Cor.," III, 5; "Phil.," II 13
n2. "Matth.," VII, 7-8.
n3. "Matth.," XXVI, 41.
n4. "Sum. theot.," IIa IIae, q. 83, a. I, ad 3.
#646. This is likewise the way in which tradition has understood the
teaching of Our Lord. The Council of Trent, making its own the teaching of
St. Augustine, tells us that God does not command the impossible, for He
commands us to do what we can and to ask His help for what we cannot do,
His grace helping us to ask for it.1 This manifestly implies that there are
thing which without prayer are impossible. Such is the conclusion the Roman
Catechism draws: " Prayer is the indispensable instrument given us by God
in order to obtain what we desire: there are things, in fact, impossible to
obtain without the aid of prayer.2
n1. Sess. VI, ch. II.
n2. "Catech. Trident.," P. VI, c. I, n. 3.
#647. Advice to the spiritual Director. This truth must be emphasized with
beginners. Many, unknown to themselves, are saturated with Pelagianism or
Semi-pelagianism, and imagine that by sheer strength of will they can
accomplish all things. Soon, however, experience brings them to the
realization that their best resolves often fall short despite their
efforts. The spiritual director should at such times remind them that it is
only through grace and through prayer that they can succeed This personal
experience will go far to strengthen their convictions on the necessity of
II. Essential Conditions of Prayer
#648. Having already proved the necessity of actual grace for all the acts
bearing on salvation (n. 126), we must infer its necessity for prayer. St.
Paul clearly states this necessity: "Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our
infirmity. For, we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the
Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings."1 We may add that
this grace is offered to all, even to sinners; hence, all are able to pray.
Although the state of grace is not necessary in order to pray, it increases
the value of prayer, since it makes us the friends of God and the living
members of Jesus Christ.
We shall now inquire into the requisite conditions of prayer (1) on the
part of the object of prayer, and (2) on the part of the one who prays.
n1. "Rom.," VIII, 26.
I. Conditions on the Part of the Object
#649. The most important condition regarding the object of prayer is to ask
for those things only which lead unto life everlasting: for supernatural
graces in the first place, and then, for temporal goods, in the measure in
which they are conducive to salvation. This rule was laid down by Our Lord
Himself: "Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and his justice: and
all these things shall be added unto you."1 We have said (n. 307-308), that
man's happiness as well as his perfection consists in the possession of
God, and as a consequence in the possession of the means necessary to that
end. We must, then, ask for nothing that is not in harmony with it.
(1) Temporal goods in themselves are far too inferior, too inadequate to
satisfy our heart's aspirations, and bring us true happiness; they cannot,
therefore, be the chief object of our prayers. However, since in order to
live and to secure our salvation we need some temporal goods, we are
allowed to ask for our daily bread, the bread for the body as well as for
the soul, subordinating the former to the latter. It happens at times that
this or that particular good, wealth for instance--desirable in our
estimation--would prove a danger to our salvation. Hence, we may not ask
for such, except in subordination to the goods that are eternal.
n1. "Matth.," VI, 33.
#650. (2) Even when it is question of such or such particular grace, we
must not ask for it, except in conformity with the will of God. God in His
infinite Wisdom knows better than we do what is suitable for each soul in
accordance with its condition and degree of perfection. As St. Francis de
Sales rightly remarks, we must desire our salvation after God's own way,
and hence we must desire such graces as He dispenses to us and cling to
them with a firm purpose, for our will must harmonize with His.1 When it is
question of particular graces, like one or other form of prayer, such and
such consolations or trials, etc... we must not make any unqualified
request, but rather refer all to the good pleasure of God.2 God dispenses
His graces, giving consolation or aridity, peace or struggle, according to
the designs of His Wisdom and the needs of our soul. We have, therefore,
but to leave in His Hands the choice of the graces which will prove most
beneficial to us. True, we are permitted to express a wish, but in humble
submission to the will of Our Heavenly Father. He will always answer our
prayer if we ask as we should. If at times He gives us, in place of what we
ask, something greater and better, far from complaining we should bless and
n1. "The Love of God," Book VIII, ch. IV.
n2. The reason why our petitions are not answered, says BOURDALOUE, is
because we make use of prayer "in order to ask for whimsical, needless
graces--graces according to our taste and fancy... We pray and ask for the
grace of penance, the grace of sanctification--graces for the future, not
for the present--graces that would do away with all difficulties, that
would leave no room for effort, leave no obstacles to overcome--miraculous
graces that would carry us as they did St. Paul, not those that would
merely help us to walk.graces which would alter the whole order of
Providence, and revolutionize the whole scheme of salvation." Lent. Sermon
on prayer for Thursday of the 1st Week.
n3. In "Le Saint Abandon," P. III, of DOM V. LEHODEY, most apt details are
given on the subject.
II. Conditions on the Part of the Subject
The most essential conditions to ensure the efficacy of our prayers are:
humility, confidence and attention, or at least the earnest effort to be
#651. (1) The need of humility flows from the very nature of prayer. Since
grace is a free gift of God to which we have no right whatever, we are as
St. Augustine says, but beggars in relation to God, and we must implore of
His mercy what we cannot demand as a right. It was thus that Abraham
prayed, considering himself but dust and ashes in presence of the Divine
Majesty: "I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes."1 Thus did
Daniel pray when he asked for the deliverance of the Jewish people, relying
not on his merits and virtues, but on God's overflowing mercies: " It is
not for our justifications that we present our prayers before thy face, but
for the multitude of thy tender mercies."2 Thus prayed the publican, who
was also heard: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner," 3 whilst the proud
Pharisee saw his prayer rejected. Jesus Himself gives us the reason: "Every
one that exalteth himself shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself
shall be exalted. "4 His Disciples understood this well. St. James insists
that: "God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble."5 This is
mere justice: the proud man attributes to himself the efficacy of his
prayer, whilst the humble man attributes it to God. Now, can we expect that
God will hear us to the detriment of His own glory, in order to flatter our
vain complacency? The humble soul, on the contrary, sincerely acknowledges
that all it has is from God, and hence God in hearkening to his prayer
procures His own glory as well as the welfare of him who prays.
n1. "Gen.," XVIII, 27.
n2. "Dan., IX, 18.
n3. "Luke, XVIII, 13.
n4. "Luke," XVIII, 14.
n5. "James, IV, 6.
#652. (2) Humility in turn begets confidence, a confidence based, not upon
our merits but upon the goodness of God and upon the merits of Jesus
a) Faith teaches us that God is merciful and that because He is merciful,
He turns to us with greater love the more we acknowledge our miseries, for
misery appeals to mercy. To call upon Him with confidence is in reality to
honor Him, to proclaim Him as the source of all gifts, and as desiring
nothing so much as to bestow them upon us. In the Scriptures He affirms
again and again that He hearkens to those who hope in Him: "Because he
hoped in me I will deliver him... He shall cry to me and I will hear him."1
Our Lord invites us to pray with confidence, and in order to inspire us to
do so He resorts not only to the most pressing exhortations, but to the
most touching parables After having affirmed that he who asks receives, He
adds "What man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask bread, will
he reach him a stone?..If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts
to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good
things to them that ask him."2 At the Last Supper He comes back to the same
thought: "Amen, amen, I say to you.. whatsoever you shall ask the Father in
my name, that will I do: that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If
you shall ask me anything in my name, that I will do3 ... In that day you
shall ask in my name; and I say not to you that I will ask the Father for
you. For the Father himself loveth you, because you have loved me."4 To
lack a whole-hearted trust in prayer would amount to mistrusting God and
His promises, to underrating the merits of Jesus Christ and His all-
n1. "Ps." XC, 14-15. Those who recite the Divine Office know that the
predominant sentiment expressed by the Psalms is that of trust in God.
n2. "Matth.," VII, 7-11.
n3. "John," XIV, 12, 13, 14.
n4. "John," XVI, 26-27.
#653. b) It is true that God at times appears to turn a deaf ear to our
prayer. This He does in order that we may more fully fathom the depths of
our wretchedness and realize better the value of .grace. But on the other
hand, He shows us in His treatment of the Canaanean woman, that even when
He seems to repel us, He is well-pleased at the sweet insistence of our
repeated requests. Behold, a woman of Canaan comes and asks Jesus to
deliver her daughter vexed with a devil. But the Master answers her not a
word. She beseeches the Disciples and cries after them, so that they come
and ask the Lord to send her away. Christ turns to the woman and answers
that He was not sent but to the children of the house of Israel. Undaunted,
the poor woman worships Him, saying: " Lord, help me. " Jesus replies, with
seeming harshness, that it is not meet to take the children's bread and
cast it to the dogs.--"Yea, Lord," she says, "for the whelps also eat of
the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters."--Conquered by such a
humble, unfaltering trust, Jesus grants her request: " And her daughter was
cured from that hour. "1 Could the Lord do more to make us understand that
no matter what ill success seems to attend our prayers, we can be sure that
they will be answered if we persevere in humble confidence.
n1. "Matth.," XV, 24-28.
#654. (3) To this persevering confidence we must join attention, or at
least the serious effort to realize and to mean what we say to God.
Involuntary distractions do not constitute an obstacle to prayer as long as
we strive to overcome them or reduce their number, for by these very
efforts our soul keeps on its course toward God. They constitute indeed a
loss though not a sin, but this loss may be made good in a measure by our
efforts to pray attentively. On the contrary, voluntary distractions, those
we freely and deliberately entertain, or which we but faintly repel, or the
causes of which we are unwilling to suppress, are venial sins, since they
constitute a lack of due respect towards God. Prayer is an audience which
our Creator is kind enough to grant us; a conversation we hold with Our
Heavenly Father, wherein we beg Him to vouchsafe to hearken to our words
and heed our request: "Give ear, O Lord to my words.... Hearken to the
voice of my prayer."1 Through voluntary distractions we do no less than
refuse to make a serious effort to understand what we say and to be
attentive to the divine voice; and this, at the very moment we ask the
Almighty to hear us and to speak to us! Do we not deserve the reproach Our
Lord cast upon the Pharisees: "This people honoreth me with their lips: but
their heart is far from me?"2 Does this not constitute a glaring
inconsistency as well as a lack of religion?
n1. "Ps." V, 2-3.
n2. "Matth.," XV, 8.
#655. We must, then, strive seriously to repel promptly and firmly the
distractions that present themselves to our mind; we must readily humble
ourselves when they occur and unite again our prayer with the perfect
prayer of Jesus. We must, likewise, reduce the number of such distractions
by a vigorous fight against their causes: habitual dissipation of mind, the
habit of day-dreaming, the preoccupations and attachments that absorb the
mind and the heart. We must also accustom ourselves little by little to
recall frequently to mind God's presence, by offering up to Him our
actions, as well as ardent ejaculatory prayers. Once we have taken these
means, there is no cause for worry concerning such involuntary distractions
as run through our minds or disturb our imagination. These are but trials,
not faults, and once we have learned to profit by them, they but increase
our merits and the value of our prayers.
656. The attention we can bring to bear upon our prayers may be of a
threefold kind. 1) When we apply ourselves to the correct pronunciation of
the words we give verbal attention which presupposes an effort to think of
what we say. 2) If we try to understand the meaning of the words, our
attention is called literal or intellectual. 3)Should the soul,
disregarding the literal meaning, rise toward God to worship Him, bless
Him, unite itself to Him, or to enter into the spirit of the mystery it
considers, attention becomes spiritual or mystical. This last is hardly
adapted to beginners, but rather to advanced souls. The first two should be
recommended to those who begin to relish prayer.
ART. II. THE EXERCISES OF PIETY OF BEGINNERS
#657 . Prayer is one of the great means of salvation Hence, the spiritual
director should gradually initiate beginners into the practice of such
spiritual exercises as form the framework of an earnest Christian life,
taking account of their age, their vocation, the duties of their state
their character, supernatural attractions, and the progress they have made.
#658. (1) The objective in view is to train souls gradually in the habitual
practice of prayer in such a way that their whole life becomes in a measure
a life of prayer (n. 522) It is evident that much time and prolonged
efforts are required to approach this ideal, which is not within the reach
of beginners, but which the spiritual director must know for the better
guidance of his penitents.
#659. (2) Besides morning and night prayers, which good Christians do not
fail to say, the following are the chief spiritual exercises that render
our lives a constant prayer:
A) The morning meditation, of which we shall soon treat, Holy Mass and
Communion show us the ideal we are to pursue, and help us realize it (n.
524). There are persons, however, who are prevented by their duties of
state from assisting daily at the Holy Sacrifice. They should make up for
this by a spiritual communion to be made either at the end of meditation or
even whilst engaged in manual labor. At ail events, they must be taught how
to profit from attendance at Holy Mass and the reception of Holy Communion.
The Director does this by adapting to their capacity what we have said in
n. 271-289. They must also be taught to follow intelligently the liturgical
services of Sundays and Holy days. The sacred Liturgy well understood is
one of the great helps to perfection.
#660. B) Besides the oft-renewed offering of their actions to God, they
must be advised to recite during the course of the day some ejaculatory
prayers, to do some devout reading suited to their state of soul on such
fundamental truths as the end of man, sin, mortification, confession, and
the examinations of conscience, adding thereto the lives of Saints who were
noted for the practice of the virtue of penance. Such reading will be a
light to the mind, a stimulus to the will, and a great help to mental
prayer. The recitation of some decades of the beads, with meditation upon
the mysteries of the Rosary, will be productive of an increased devotion to
the Blessed Virgin and will strengthen the habit of union with Our Lord. A
visit to the Blessed Sacrament, varying in duration according to their
occupations, will re-animate within them the spirit of piety. For these
visits they may use with profit the "Following of Christ," especially the
Fourth Book, and "Visits to the Blessed Sacrament" by St. Alphonsus
#661. C) In the evening, a serious examination of conscience, followed by
the particular examen, will help beginners to note their failings, to
foresee the remedies and to muster the strength of will needed to renew
their purpose of amendment, thus preventing them from falling into
indifference or lukewarmness. Here one must recall what we have said anent
the examinations of conscience (460-476), and regarding confession (n. 262-
269), and remember that the examination of beginners must bear chiefly upon
deliberate venial sins. Such watchfulness is the best means of avoiding
mortal sin and of repairing any grave sin committed in an unguarded moment.
#662. (3) Advice to the spiritual director. A) The director should see to
it that his penitents do not burden themselves with too many spiritual
exercises that might hinder the fulfillment of their duties of state or be
detrimental to true devotion. Less prayers and more attention is
preferable. Our Lord Himself gives us this advice: "And when you are
praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much
speaking they may be heard. Be not you therefore like them: for your Father
knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask him."1 After speaking these
words He taught His Disciples that short and all-embracing prayer which
embodies all our possible requests, the Our Father (n. 515-516), There are
beginners who readily imagine that they grow in piety as they multiply
their vocal prayers. A great service will be rendered them by recalling
this teaching of the Master, and by showing them that a short attentive
prayer is of greater worth than one lasting twice as long, and filled with
more or less willful distractions. To help them fix their attention, the
spiritual director should remind them that a few seconds spent in placing
themselves in the presence of God and in uniting themselves with Our Lord
will do much to make their prayers truly effective.
n1. "Matth.," VI, 7-a
#663. B) To help them avoid the routine that is liable to creep into the
repetition of the same formulas of vocal prayer, it is well to give them a
method, at once easy and simple, of holding their attention. For instance,
in the recitation of the Rosary they may meditate on the Mysteries with the
twofold purpose in view of honoring the Blessed Virgin and of drawing unto
themselves the particular virtue corresponding to each Mystery. This
practice will be found very profitable; it will make the recitation of the
Rosary a short meditation. But in this case it is well to recall that,
generally speaking, we cannot at the same time pay attention both to the
literal sense of the Hail Mary and to the meaning of the Mystery and that
therefore either one suffices.
ART. III. THE MENTAL PRAYER OF BEGINNERS1
We shall explain: (1) Some general notions concerning meditation; (2) Its
advantages and necessity; (3) The distinguishing characteristics of
meditation--the mental prayer of beginners; (4) The chief methods of
n1. JOAN MAUBURNUS, "Rosetum exercitiorum spiritualium et sacrarum
meditationum;" GARCIA DE CISNEROS, "Exercitatorio de la vida espiritual":
ST. IGNATIUS "Spiritual Exercises;" and "Commentators;" also la
"Bibliotheque des exercices de St. Ignace,", published under the direction
of FATHER WATRICANT; RODRIGUEZ "Practice of Christian Perfection," V.
Treatise, On Prayer ; L. DE GRANADA, "Traite de l'oraison et de la
meditation;" A. MASSOULIE, "Traite' de la veritable oraison;" ST. PETER OF
ALCANTARA, "La oracion y meditacion:" ST. FRANCIS DE SALES "Devout Life,"
Part I, ch. I-IX, BRANCATI DE LAUREA, "De oratione christiana;" CRASSET, "A
Key to Meditation" SCARAMELLI, op. cit., I. Treatise, art. 5;
COURBON"Familiar Instructions on Mental and Affective Prayer;" V.
LIBERMANN, "Ecrits spirit.," p. 82-I47, FABER, "Growth in Holiness," ch.
XV, R. DE MAUMIGNY, "Pratique de l'oraison mentale," t. I; DOM LEHODEY,
"The Ways of Mental Prayer," P. I and II; LETOURNEAU, "La Methode d oraison
mentale de S.-Sulpice;" CLARE, S. J., "Science of the Spiritual Life."
I. General Notions
#664. (1) Definition and Essential Elements of Mental prayer. We have said
(n. 510,) that there are two kinds of prayer: vocal prayer, expressed by
word or by gesture, and mental prayer which takes place wholly within the
The latter is defined as a silent elevation and application of our mind and
heart to God in order to offer Him our homages and to promote His glory by
our advancement in virtue.
It comprises five elements:1) The religious duties rendered to God, or to
Our Lord Jesus Christ, or to the Saints; 2) considerations bearing upon God
and our personal relations with Him, in order to deepen and strengthen our
convictions; 3) examination of conscience, in order to determine how we
stand in relation to the subject of meditation; 4) prayer of petition by
which we ask of God the graces necessary for exercising ourselves more
perfectly in this or that particular virtue; 5) resolutions to do better in
the future. These various acts need not follow in the order just described,
nor must they all, of necessity, have a place in every meditation.
Moreover, mental prayer must be prolonged over a notable period of time to
deserve the name of meditation and to be distinguished from mere
As souls advance in perfection and acquire convictions which are easily
renewed, they gradually devote less time to considerations and
examinations, and give more to affections and petitions. These in turn
become more and more simple, and at times mental prayer consists in a
simple and loving gaze upon God.--This we shall explain later.
#665. The Origin of Mental Prayer. We must carefully distinguish between
mental prayer in itself and methodical mental prayer.
A) Meditation, or mental prayer, has always been practiced in one form or
another. The books of the Prophets, the Psalms, the Sapiential Books are
all full of meditations to nourish the devotion of the Chosen People. Our
Lord, by insisting on the worship of God in spirit and truth, by spending
whole nights in prayer, by the long prayer He offered at Gethsemane and
upon Calvary, prepared the way for those saintly souls who through all ages
to come would withdraw to the inner sanctuary of their hearts, therein to
pray in secret to their God. Meditation or mental prayer, even in its
highest forms, such as contemplation, is explicitly treated in the writings
of Cassian and St. John Climacus, not to speak of the works of the Fathers.
It may be said that St. Bernard's treatise "De Consideratione" is in
reality a treatise on the necessity of reflection and of meditation. The
School of St. Victor lays emphasis on meditation in order to arrive at
contemplation,1 and we know how strongly St. Thomas recommended it as a
means of growing in the love of God and of giving ourselves to Him.2
n1. Cfr. HUGH OF S. VICTOR, "De modo dicendi et meditandi; De Meditando seu
meditandi artificio," P, L. CLXXVI, 877-880, 993-998.
n2. "Sum. theol.," IIa IIae, q. 82, a 3.
#666. B) Meditation as a methodical prayer dates from the XV Century. We
find it explained in the "Rosetum of John Mauburnus1 and in the Benedictine
writers of the same epoch. St. Ignatius in the "Spiritual Exercises" gives
several methods of meditating, at once precise and varied. St. Theresa
gives by far the best description of the different kinds of mental prayer.
Her disciples have sketched the rules of systematic meditation.2 St.
Francis de Sales does not fail to trace a method of mental prayer for
Philothea, and the French School of the XVII Century soon had its own
method, perfected by Father Olier and Father Tronson, called today the
method of St. Sulpice.
n1. H. WATRIGANT, "La Meditation methodique, Rev. d'Ascetique et de Myst.,"
Jan. 1923, p. 13-29.
n2. V.P. JEAN DE JESUS MARIE, "Instruction des novices," 3e Partie, chap.
#667. Meditation and Mental Prayer. The terms meditation and mental prayer
are often interchanged. When differentiated, the former is applied to that
form of mental prayer wherein considerations and reasonings predominate and
which, owing to this, is called discursive meditation. The latter name is
chiefly applied to those forms of mental prayer wherein pious affections or
acts of the will are predominant. Discursive meditation itself, however,
already contains affections, and affective prayer is ordinarily preceded or
accompanied by some considerations, excepting the case when the soul is
seized by the light of contemplation.
#668. The kind of prayer generally suited to beginners is discursive
meditation. They need it in order to acquire convictions or to strengthen
them. There are, however, some souls who from the outset give considerable
place to affections. But all must be taught that the best part of-mental
prayer lies in the acts of the will.
II. The Advantages and the Necessity of Mental Prayer
1. The Advantages
#669. Meditation, as we have described it, is most helpful for the
attainment of salvation and perfection.
(1) It detaches us from sin and its causes.--When we sin, it is through
thoughtlessness and lack of will-power. This twofold defect, however, is
corrected by meditation.
a) It enlightens us as to the malice of sin and its fearful consequences,
by showing it to us in the light of God, of eternity, and of what Jesus
Christ did in order to atone for it. " It is meditation, " says Fr.
Crasset,1 "that leads us in spirit into the hallowed solitudes wherein we
find God alone--in peace, in calm, in silence, in recollection. The same it
is that in spirit makes us descend to hell, therein to see our place; that
brings us before the grave to see our last abode; that takes us up to
Heaven to see our throne of glory; that carries us to the Valley of
Josaphat to see Our Judge; to Bethlehem to see Our Savior; to Mount Thabor
to see Our Love and to Calvary to see Our Model. "Meditation, likewise,
detaches us from the world and its false pleasures. It reminds us of the
instability of worldly goods, the anxiety they bring, the void, the ennui
in which they plunge the soul. It forearms us against a false and corrupt
world and makes us realize that God alone can constitute our bliss. Above
all it detaches us from our pride and from our sensuality, by placing us
before God Who is the fullness of being, and before our nothingness; by
making us understand that sensual pleasure reduces us to the level of the
brute, whilst godly joys ennoble us and make us soar unto God.
b) Meditation strengthens our will, not merely by providing us with strong
convictions, as we have just said, but also by gradually healing our
languor, our cowardice, and our fickleness. God's grace alone, our own
efforts helping, can cure such infirmities. Now, meditation makes us ask
for this grace all the more insistently, as it brings home to us through
reflection our helplessness; whilst the acts of sorrow, of contrition that
we perform, the firm purpose of amendment we conceive during meditation,
together with the resolutions we take, already constitute an active co-
operation with grace.
n1. "Instructions sur l'Oraison Methode d'oraison," ch. I, p. 253-254. Read
the whole passage--Engl. transl. A Key to meditation, p. 85-95.
#670. (2) Meditation makes us also practice all the great Christian
virtues. I) It enlightens our faith by bringing before our eyes the eternal
truths; it sustains our hope by giving us access to God to obtain His help;
it enkindles our love by exposing to our view the beauty and the goodness
of God. 2) It makes us prudent by supplying us with considerations to be
taken into account before we act; it makes us Just by having us conform our
will to that of God; it renders us strong by making us share in God's own
power; and temperate by cooling the ardor of our passions. There is no
Christian virtue which we cannot acquire by daily meditation. Through it we
hold fast to the truth, and truth, freeing us from our vices, makes us
practice virtue: "You shall know the truth: and the truth shall make you
n1. "John," VIII, 32.
#671. (3) Meditation therefore initiates our union with God, nay more, our
transformation into Him. It is, in fact, a conversation with God which from
day to day becomes more intimate, more tender, and longer, since it
continues the day long, even in the midst of our activities, n. 522. By
virtue of daily intercourse with the Author of all perfection, we drink of
His fullness, and are permeated by it, like the sponge by the water. We are
transformed like the iron in the furnace that kindles, softens, and assumes
the properties of living fire.
II. The Necessity of Mental Prayer
#672. (1) For the Laity. A) Systematic meditation is a highly effective
means of sanctification; however, it is not necessary for the salvation of
most Christians. What is necessary is prayer by which we render homage to
God and obtain grace. Evidently, this cannot be done without attention on
the part of the mind and desire on the part of the heart. No doubt, to
prayer must be joined the consideration of the great Christian truths and
of the great Christian duties, together with self-examination. But we
accomplish all these without the practice of systematic meditation, by
simply listening to the religious instruction given in Church, by pious
reading, and by the examination of conscience.
#673. B) Meditation, however, is most useful and most profitable to all for
salvation and perfection; to beginners, as well as to more advanced souls.
It may be even said that it is the most effective means of assuring one's
salvation (n. 669). This is the teaching of St. Alphonsus, who gives the
following reason, that whilst habitually practicing the other exercises of
piety, like the Rosary, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, fasting,
etc.... one may, unfortunately, still continue to live in mortal sin,
whilst the habitual practice of mental prayer cannot suffer one to remain
long in such a state. One either relinquishes mental prayer or relinquishes
sin.1 How could we day by day go into the presence of God, the source of
all holiness, while conscious of mortal sin, and not determine, with the
help of grace, to break with sin and to seek in the Tribunal of Penance
that pardon the supreme need of which we recognize? But, if we have no
appointed time and no practical method for the consideration of the great
religious truths, we allow ourselves to be carried away by dissipation of
mind and the example of the world, until we lapse into sin and live in sin.
n1. "Praxis Confessarii," n. 122.
#674. (2) The Moral Necessity Or Mental Prayer for Diocesan Priests. We do
not speak here of those Regulars, who in the devout and prolonged
recitation of the Divine Office, in their readings and in the prayers they
offer may find the equivalent of mental prayer. Nevertheless, we call
attention to the fact that even in the Orders where the Office is recited
in choir, the rule prescribes at least a half-hour of mental prayer,
because meditation is the soul of all vocal prayers and insures their
fervent recitation. It should also be said that religious congregations
dating from the XVI century insist even more upon mental prayer, and that
the New Code directs superiors to see that all religious, unless they have
a legitimate excuse, devote a certain amount of time each day to this
But speaking of diocesan priests, absorbed in the activities of the
ministry, we say that the habitual exercise of mental prayer at an
appointed time is morally necessary to their perseverance and to their
sanctification. Their duties are many and heavy, and they are at times
subjected to serious temptations, even while exercising their ministry.
Now, in order to resist these temptations and to fulfill all their duties
with fidelity and in a supernatural way, they need deep convictions and
choice graces, which as every one must admit are obtained through daily
n1. Can. 595.
#675. A) Nor let it be urged that the offering of the Holy Sacrifice and
the recitation of the Divine Office replace mental prayer. It is true that
the Mass and the Breviary, attentively and devoutly said, are effective
means of perseverance and progress in the spiritual life; yet, experience
shows that priests absorbed in their ministerial work do not, as a matter
of fact, acquit themselves well of these important duties, unless they
develop in daily meditation the spirit of prayer and of interior
recollection. If a priest disregards this holy exercise, how can he,
encompassed and pressed by labors, find the time to recollect himself and
renew his sense of the supernatural? If he fails in this, distracting
thoughts invade his soul, even whilst he is engaged in the holiest
occupations; his convictions weaken, his energy dwindles, his negligences
and his failings grow, and lukewarmness ensues. Should a serious,
persistent, and besetting temptation make its appearance, the strong
convictions needed to repel the enemy are no longer clear to his mind, and
he runs the risk of falling.1 "If I meditate," says Dom Chautard, "I am as
it were clothed in steel armor, and impervious to the shafts of the enemy.
Without mental prayer, I shall surely be their target." The devout, learned
and prudent Father Desurmont, one of the most experienced retreat-masters
for priests, declares that "for the priest in the world, it is either
meditation or a very great risk of damnation." Cardinal Lavigerie writes in
the same strain: "For an apostolic laborer, there is no alternative between
holiness, if not acquired, at least desired and pursued (especially through
daily meditation) and progressive perversion."2
n1. Let us ponder the following words of a priest reproduced by DOM
CHAUTARD: "It is my over-eagerness that has brought on my fall! My
excessive devotion to the active life and my love for the same filled me
with great joy at my success, and this together with the deceit of Satan
led me to be so absorbed in laboring for others, as to neglect my own
spiritual wants, prayer and meditation; and then when temptation came, I
yielded in the weakness caused me by my lack of spiritual nourishment."
"The True Apostolate," p. 67. All that this excellent writer says about the
need of an interior life, applies to mental prayer which is one of the most
effective means to foster this life.
n2. "L'ame de tout apostolat," p. 179-180. Engl. Transl. "The True
Apostolate," p. 143-144.
#676. B) For the priest, it does not suffice to avoid sin. In order to
fulfill the duties of glorifying God and saving souls he must be habitually
united to Jesus Christ the Great High Priest, through Whom alone he can
give glory to God and save men. Yet, how can the priest unite himself to
Christ in the midst of the occupations and preoccupations of his ministry,
if he does not set apart sufficient time to think leisurely and lovingly on
that Divine Model, to draw unto himself through prayer His spirit, His
dispositions, and His grace? Through this union the priest's energies are
multiplied, his confidence increased, the fruitfulness of his ministry
assured, for it is not he who speaks, but Jesus Who speaks through his
lips: "God as it were exhorting by us";1 it is not he who acts; he is but
an instrument in God's hands. Because he strives to imitate the virtues of
our Lord, his example wins souls even more than his words. If he gives up
meditation, he loses the spirit of recollection and of prayer and he is but
"sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal."2
n1. "II Cor.," V, 20.
n2. "I Cor.," XIII, I.
#677. Hence, Pope Pius X, of holy memory, has proclaimed in clear terms the
necessity of meditation for the priest: "It is of the first importance that
a certain time should be allotted every day for meditation on the things of
eternity. No priest can omit this without being guilty of serious
negligence, to the detriment of his soul."1 The New Code bids Bishops to
see that priests devote each day a certain time to the exercise of mental
prayer,2 and that students in seminaries do likewise.3 Are not such
prescriptions equivalent to a proclamation of the moral necessity of
meditation for ecclesiastics?
To advise priests absorbed in the parochial ministry to omit meditation so
as to say their Mass and Office more devoutly is nothing less than a total
ignorance of psychology. Experience shows that, when mental prayer is
absent, the devout recitation of the Office becomes well-nigh impossible;
it is said at odd moments with many attendant interruptions, and with the
mind filled with the thoughts of other things. It is, in fact, the morning
meditation that guarantees the devout celebration of the Holy Sacrifice and
that enables a priest to recollect himself before beginning his Office and
to make its recitation a real prayer.
n1. "Exhortation to the Clergy," Aug. 4, 1908.
n2. "Can." 125, 2.
n3. "Can. 1367, I.
#678. What we say of the priest, can be said also to a certain extent of
those devoted men and women who dedicate part of their time to works of
zeal. If they want their apostolate to be fruitful, it must be vivified by
the spirit of recollection and by prayer. Let it not be urged that the time
consecrated to this exercise is taken from works of zeal. It would be to
approach closely to the error of Pelagius to imagine that action is more
necessary than grace and prayer, whereas in reality works of zeal are all
the more fruitful, as they are inspired by a life of greater interior
recollection, which is in turn nourished by mental prayer.
III. General Characteristics of the Meditation of Beginners
We have already said that the mental prayer of beginners is chiefly a
discursive prayer, wherein, though the affections have their place,
reasoning predominates. We now explain: (1) the ordinary subjects of their
meditation, and (2) the obstacles they meet.
I. The Subjects upon which Beginners Meditate
#679. They must, in general, meditate upon whatever is calculated to
inspire them with a growing horror for sin, upon the causes of their own
faults, upon mortification that removes such causes, upon the principal
duties of their state, upon fidelity to grace and its abuse, upon Jesus
Christ, a model for penitent sinners.
#680. (1) In order to acquire a growing horror for sin, they must meditate:
a) on the end of man and of the Christian, and hence upon the creation of
man, his elevation to the supernatural state, his fall and his redemption
(n. 59-87); upon the rights of God as Creator, Sanctifier, and Redeemer;
upon such of the divine attributes as would inspire them with a horror for
sin, for instance, God's immensity, whereby He is present to all creatures
and especially to the soul in the state of grace, upon His holiness whereby
He is bound to hate sin; upon His justice which punishes it; upon His mercy
that moves Him to forgive it. All these truths tend to make us flee from
sin, the one obstacle to the attainment of our end, the one enemy of God,
the destroyer of that supernatural life given to us by God as the great
proof of His love for us, and restored to us by the Redeemer at the price
of His Blood.
b) Upon sin: its origin, punishment, malice, and frightful consequences, n.
711-735; upon the causes leading to sin: the world, the flesh, and the
devil, n. 193-227.
c) Upon the means of expiating and preventing sin: penance, n. 705, and the
mortification of our different faculties, of our evil tendencies, and
chiefly of the seven capital vices. From our meditations on these points we
shall draw the conclusion that there is no safety as long as we have not
uprooted or at least controlled all these disordered inclinations.
#681. (2) Beginners must also choose for the subject of meditation all the
positive duties of the Christian: 1) General duties of religion toward God,
of charity toward the neighbor, of mistrust of self on account of our
helplessness and wretchedness. What will impress beginners most will be the
external acts of these virtues; but this will be a preparation for the more
perfect practice of the same virtues in the illuminative way. -- 2)
Particular duties, according to age, condition, sex, state of life. The
fulfillment of these duties will prove to be the best kind of penance.
#682. 30 Since grace plays an all-important role in the Christian life,
beginners must be gradually instructed in this doctrine. The spiritual
director, then, will explain to them in a familiar and easy way the
doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in our souls, of our
incorporation into Christ, of habitual grace, of the virtues and of the
seven gifts. At first, no doubt, they will grasp but the mere elements of
these great truths, but even the little they will understand will not fail
to exert a powerful influence on their spiritual formation and their
spiritual progress. It is when we think of what God has done and
incessantly does for us, that we are prompted to further generosity in His
service. We should not forget that St. Paul and St. John preached these
truths to pagan neophytes who were but beginners in the spiritual life.
#683. (4) Then it will be easy and practical to propose Jesus as the model
for true penitents: Jesus condemning Himself to a life of poverty, of
obedience and of toil that He might be unto us an example; Jesus, doing
penance for us in the desert, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in His cruel
passion; Jesus dying for us upon the Cross. This series of meditations,
presented to us by the Church in the yearly cycle of the liturgy, will have
the advantage of making us practice penance in union with Jesus with
greater generosity, with a greater love, and hence with greater efficacy.
II. The Obstacles Encountered by Beginners
The special difficulties encountered by beginners in meditation arise from
their inexperience, their lack of generosity, and chiefly from the many
distractions to which they are subject.
#684. A) On account of their inexperience they are liable to turn their
mental prayer into a sort of philosophical or theological thesis, or into a
kind of sermon to themselves This is not, indeed, a complete loss of time,
since even this kind of meditation makes them give thought to the great
truths of religion and strengthens their convictions. They would, however,
derive greater profit if they proceeded in a more practical and in a more
This a spiritual director must teach them. He should point out to them: a)
that considerations, if they are to bear practical fruit, must be made more
personal, be applied to themselves and be followed by an examination in
order to see to what extent the truths on which they meditate influence
their lives, and what must be done in order to live by these truths during
the course of the day; b) that the most important part of meditation is
found in the acts of the will: acts of adoration, thanksgiving and love
toward God; acts of humility, of sorrow, of firm purpose of amendment; acts
of petition to obtain the grace of correcting their faults; and finally,
firm and frequently repeated resolutions of doing better throughout the
#685. B) Their lack of generosity exposes them to discouragement when they
are no longer upheld by the sensible consolations God graciously bestowed
on them at the outset in order to draw them unto Himself. Obstacles and the
first spells of aridity dishearten them, and thinking themselves abandoned
by God, they drift into carelessness. Hence, they must be made to see that
what God asks is effort and not success, that perseverance in prayer,
despite difficulties, is so much the richer in merit, and that God having
proved Himself so generous towards them, to turn back when effort is
required, would be an act of cowardice. These directions should be tempered
by the mildness with which they are given and by paternal words of comfort.
#686. C) The greatest obstacle, however, comes from distractions. Since in
the first stages of the spiritual life, our imagination, our feelings and
our attachments are far from being mastered, worldly and oftentimes
dangerous fancies, useless thoughts and the divers emotional movements of
the heart invade the soul at the very time of meditation. The help of the
spiritual director is here of capital importance.
a) He should first of all remind them of the distinction between willful
distractions and those that are not, bidding his penitents to concern
themselves merely with the former in order to diminish their number. To
succeed in this: 1) they must repel such distractions promptly, vigorously
and persistently, as soon as they become aware of them. Even if these
distractions are many and grievous, they are not culpable unless they are
voluntary; the effort made to repel them is a meritorious act. Should they
recur a hundred times and be a hundred times repulsed, the meditation will
be excellent and worth far more than one made with fewer distractions but
with little effort.
#687. 2) They must humbly acknowledge their weakness, explicitly unite
themselves to Our Lord, and offer to God His worship and His prayers. If
need be, a book may be used, the better to fix the attention.
b) It is not enough to drive off distractions. In order to reduce their
number, we must attack their causes. Many of them proceed from a lack of
preparation or from an habitual dissipation of mind. 1) Beginners thus
troubled with distractions should, therefore, be urged to prepare their
meditation more carefully on the night before, not by merely reading the
points, but by trying to see how the subject of the meditation is of
practical advantage to them personally, and by thinking about it before
falling asleep, instead of letting their mind become a prey to useless or
unwholesome reveries. 2) Above all, beginners must be taught the means of
controlling the imagination and the memory. In proportion as the soul grows
in the practice of habitual recollection and detachment, distractions
become less numerous.
n1. Distractions are voluntary in themselves when they are deliberately
willed, or when, aware that our mind wanders, we do nothing to prevent its
vagaries. They are voluntary in their cause, when we foresee that such or
such all-absorbing reading or occupation will be a source of distractions,
and none the less we indulge in it.
VI. The Principal Methods of Mental Prayer
#688. Since mental prayer is a difficult art, the Saints have ever been
eager to offer counsel on the means of succeeding therein. One finds
excellent advice in Cassian, St. John Climacus and other spiritual writers.
It was not, however, until the XV Century that methods properly so called
were elaborated, which have since guided souls in the ways of mental
Because at first sight these methods appear rather intricate, it is well,
before introducing beginners to their use, to prepare them by what may be
called meditative reading. They should be told to read some devout works,
like the First Book of the "Following of Christ," the "Spiritual Combat" or
some work containing brief, solid meditations; and they should be taught to
follow up this reading by asking themselves the following questions: (1) Am
I thoroughly convinced that what I have just read is useful and necessary
to the welfare of my soul? How can I strengthen this conviction? (2) Have I
up to the present exercised myself in such an important practice? (3) What
must I do today in order to improve? If an earnest prayer is added asking
for the grace that one may carry out the resolutions taken, all the
essential elements of a real meditation will be contained in such reading.
I. Points Common to all Methods of Mental Prayer
We find in all the various methods certain common traits which are
manifestly the most essential; hence, attention must be called to them.
#689. (1) There is always a remote, a proximate, and an immediate
a) The remote preparation is nothing more than the effort to make our daily
life harmonize with prayer. It comprises three things: 1) the mortification
of the senses and of the passions; 2) habitual recollection; 3)humility.
These are, in fact, excellent dispositions for a good meditation. At the
beginning they are imperfect; still, they suffice to enable us to meditate
with some profit, and later on they will become more and more perfect in
proportion as progress is made in mental prayer.
b) The proximate or, as others call it, the less remote preparation,
includes three principal acts: 1) to select the subject of meditation on
the preceding evening; 2) to revolve it in our mind in the morning upon
awakening, and to excite in our heart corresponding sentiments; 3) to
approach meditation with earnestness, confidence, and humility, desiring to
give glory to God and to improve our life. In this way the soul is placed
in the best dispositions to enter into conversation with God.
c) The immediate preparation, which is in reality the beginning of
meditation itself, consists in placing ourselves in the presence of God Who
is present everywhere especially within our heart, in acknowledging
ourselves unworthy and incapable of meditating, and in imploring the aid of
the Holy Ghost that He supply our insufficiency.
#690. (2) Within the body of the meditation, the different methods likewise
contain more or less explicitly the same fundamental acts:
a) Acts of worship rendering to the Majesty of God the religious homage due
b) Considerations, to convince ourselves of the necessity or the great
importance of the virtue we want to acquire, so that we may all the more
earnestly pray for the grace of practicing it, and firmly determine to make
efforts necessary to co-operate with grace.
c) Self-examinations, to see our failings in this regard and survey the
progress yet to be made.
d) Prayers or petitions, asking for the grace of growing in the said virtue
and of using the means conducive thereto.
e) Resolutions, whereby we determine from that very moment to practice that
#691. (3) The conclusion, which brings the meditation to a close, includes:
1) an act of thanksgiving for the favors received; 2) a review of the
manner in which we have made our meditation with the view to improve
thereon the following day; 3) a final prayer asking the blessing of Our
Heavenly Father; 4) the selection of some impressive thought or some
telling maxim, which will during the day recall to our mind the ruling idea
of our meditation.
The different methods are reduced to two principal types called
respectively the method of St. Ignatius and the method of St. Sulpice.
II. The Method of St. Ignatius1
#692. In the "Spiritual Exercises" St. Ignatius presents several methods of
mental prayer, according to the subjects meditated upon and the results
desired. The one best adapted to beginners is the one called the exercise
of the three faculties, so named because it consists in the exercise of the
memory, the understanding and the will, the three chief faculties of the
soul. It is explained in the First Week of the Exercises in connection with
the meditation on sin.
n1. "Spiritual Exercises," 1st Week, 1st Exercise; (Translation by Father
Rickaby, S. J.); See CLARE, S. J. "The Science of the Spiritual Life;"
CRASSET, "A Key to Meditation:" FABER. "Growth in Holiness," C. XV,
#693. (1) The Beginning of the Meditation. It begins by a preparatory
prayer in which we beg of God that our intentions and all our actions be
solely directed to the service and honor of the Divine Majesty.
Two preludes follow: a) the first, which is the composition of place, has
for its purpose to center the imagination and fasten the attention upon the
subject of the meditation, the more easily to banish distractions. I) If
the object falls under the senses, for instance if it is one of the
mysteries of Our Lord, it is presented to the mind as vividly as possible,
not like an event having taken place in the distant past, but as if one
were actually witnessing the facts and taking part In them. 2) If the
object does not fall under the senses, e. g. sin, "the composition of place
will consist in picturing and considering my soul imprisoned in this mortal
body, and myself, that is, my body and my soul, in this vale of tears,
exiled, as it were, midst animals devoid of reason"; in other words, one
considers sin in some of its effects in order to conceive a horror for it.
b) The second prelude consists in asking God what we want and desire, for
example, shame and confusion at the sight of our sins. As can be seen, the
practical purpose of the meditation--the resolution --is clearly pointed
out from the very outset: In all things look to the end.
#694. (2) The Body of the Meditation. This consists in the application of
the three faculties of the soul, the memory, the understanding, and the
will, to each point of the meditation. Each faculty is in turn applied to
each point, unless one point furnishes adequate matter for the meditation.
It is not necessary in every meditation to make all the acts; it is good to
dwell upon the affections and sentiments which the subject suggests.
a) The exercise of the memory is performed by recalling the first point of
the meditation, not in detail, but as a whole; thus, says St. Ignatius:
"This exercise of the memory as regards the sin of the Angels consists in
calling to mind how they were created in a state of innocence; how they
refused to employ their freedom in rendering their Creator and Master the
homage and obedience due to Him; how pride, taking possession of them, they
passed from the state of grace to a state of reprobation, and were cast
from Heaven into Hell."
b) The exercise of the understanding consists in reflecting in detail upon
the same subject. St. Ignatius proceeds no further, but Father Roothaan
supplements his teaching by explaining that the office of the understanding
is to make reflections upon the truths the memory has proposed, to make
application thereof to the soul and the soul's needs, to draw therefrom
practical conclusions, to weigh the motives for resolutions, to consider
how we have heretofore conformed our conduct to the truths upon which we
meditate, and how we must conduct ourselves with regard to them in the
e) The will has two duties to fulfill: to conceive devout affections and to
form good resolutions. 1) The affections, indeed, must find a place in all
parts of the meditation, at least they must occur very frequently, since it
is these that make the meditation a real prayer; but it is chiefly toward
the end of the meditation that they are to be multiplied. One must not be
concerned about the manner of expressing them; the simpler the manner, the
better they are. When some good sentiment spontaneously lays hold of us, it
is well to entertain it as long as we can and until our devotion is
satisfied. 2) The resolutions should be practical, designed to improve our
life, and therefore particular, accommodated to our present condition, and
capable of being carried out that very day; they must be based upon solid
motives. They must be humble and therefore accompanied by prayers to obtain
the grace of carrying them into execution.
#695. (3) The Conclusion. This comprises three things: a summary view of
the various resolutions already taken; devout colloquies with God the
Father, Our Lord, the Blessed virgin or some Saint; and lastly, the review
of the meditation, or the examination upon the way we have made it, in
order to note its imperfections and to seek a remedy for them.
To give a clearer understanding of the method, we add the following
synoptic table of the preludes, of the body of the prayer, and of the
(1) A rapid recall of the truth to be considered
(2) The composition of place through the imagination
(3) The petition for a special grace in harmony with the subject
II. Body of the Meditation. Exercise of:
(1) The Memory by :
1) A representation of the subject as a whole together with the chief
(2) The Understanding by asking:
1) What should I consider in this subject?
2) What practical conclusions should I draw from it?
3) What are my motives in drawing these conclusions ?
4) How have I heretofore lived up to this?
5) What must I do in the future the better to conform my life thereto?
6) What obstacles must I remove?
7) What means must I employ?
(3) The Will by:
1) Affections produced during the entire course of the meditation,
especially at the end
2) Resolutions taken at the end of each point: practical, personal, sound,
humble, full of trust
(1) Colloquies: with God, Jesus Christ, the Blessed virgin, the Saints
1) How have I made this meditation?
2) Wherein and why have I failed, or succeeded?
3) What practical conclusions have I drawn ? What requests have I made?
What resolutions have I formed? What lights have I received?
4) Choice of a thought as a reminder of the meditation.
#696. Advantages of this method. As may be readily observed, this method is
highly psychological and highly practical. a) It lays hold of all the
faculties, the imagination included; applies them one after the other to
the subject of meditation, and thus introduces an element of variety that
makes it possible to consider a truth under its different aspects, to
revolve it in our mind so as to assimilate it, to form convictions, and
above all to draw therefrom practical conclusions for the present day.
b) Whilst this method lays emphasis upon the important part played by the
will, which acts only after lengthy consideration of the motives, it does
not minimize the role of grace, since one begs for it from the very outset,
and again in the colloquies at the conclusion.
c) It is most suitable to beginners, for it states precisely, to the
minutest details, what must be done from the preparation to the conclusion
and thus prevents the faculties from wandering. Besides, it does not
presuppose a deep knowledge of dogma, but only the contents of the
Catechism, and hence adapts itself easily to the laity.
d) When simplified, this method is just as well suited to the most advanced
souls; in fact, if one limits it to the main outline traced by St.
Ignatius, it can be easily transformed into an affective prayer, which
allows a wide scope to the inspirations of grace. The important thing is to
know how to make an intelligent use of it under the wise guidance of an
experienced spiritual director.
e) It has at times been criticized on the score that it does not give due
prominence to Our Lord Jesus Christ. True, in the exercise of the three
faculties Our Lord's place is but incidental; but St. Ignatius has given us
other methods, in particular, that of the contemplation of Mysteries and
the application of the senses wherein Our Lord becomes the central object
of the meditation.1
There is nothing to hinder beginners from employing one or the other. The
objection, therefore, has no foundation if the Ignatian methods are
n1. We shall explain these methods when we treat of the illuminative way.
G. LETOURNEAU, "La methode d'oraison mentale du S. Sulpice," Paris, 1903,
especially p. 321-332; FABER, "Growth in Holiness," C. XV,
I I I. The Method of St. Sulpice1
#697. A) Origin. This method, coming after several others, has been
influenced by them as to the details; but its underlying idea and broad
lines originated with Cardinal de Berulle, Father de Condren, and Father
Olier, whilst the supplementary details are the work of Father Tronson.
a) The underlying thought is that of union with the Incarnate Word in order
to render through Him the religious homage due to God and to reproduce in
ourselves the virtues of Jesus Christ.
b) The three essential acts are: 1) Adoration, wherein we consider one of
the attributes or one of the perfections of God, or else some virtue of Our
Lord as the model of that virtue we are to practice. Then we offer to God
or to Our Lord, or to God through Our Lord, our religious homage in the
form of adoration, admiration, praise, thanksgiving, love, joy or
compassion. By thus paying our duties to the Author of grace we render Him
propitious to our prayers. 2) Communion, whereby through prayer, we draw
unto ourselves the perfection or the virtue which we have adored and
admired in God or in Jesus Christ. 3) Co-operation, wherein under the
influence of grace we determine to practice that virtue by forming at least
one resolution which we strive to put into practice that very day.
This is the broad outline found in Cardinal de Berulle, Father de Condren
and Father Olier. As found in these writers it is rather a method of
affective prayer, cf. n. 994-997.
n1. G. LETOURNEAU, "La Methode d'oraison mentale du Sem. de S. Sulpice,"
Paris, 1903, especially p. 321-332; FABER, "Growth in Holiness, C. XV.
#698. B) The additions of Father Tronson. It is evident that this meager
outline, sufficient to souls already advanced, would prove inadequate for
beginners. This was readily perceived at the Seminary of St. Sulpice, and
whilst preserving the spirit and the essential elements of the original
method, Father Tronson added to the second point, the communion, the
considerations and self-examinations so indispensable to those that begin
to meditate. Thus, once convinced of the importance or necessity of a
virtue and realizing their lack of it, they ask for it with more
earnestness, humility and perseverance. In this method, then, prayer is
stressed even for beginners as the chief element of meditation. Hence, the
name given to the third point-- Co-operation--to remind us that our good
purposes are more the effect of grace than of our own volitions, but that
on the other hand grace works nothing in us without our co-operation, and
that all the day long we are to work with Jesus Christ in striving to
reproduce that virtue which has been the subject of our meditation.
#699. C) A Summary Of the Method. The following table will give an adequate
idea of the method. We omit the remote preparation which is the same as the
one explained in n. 689.
Proximate or Less Remote
(1) To choose the subject of the meditation the night before and determine
what we are to consider in Our Lord; to foresee in particular, the
considerations and requests we are to make and the resolutions we are to
(2) To remain henceforth in great recollection and keep in our mind the
subject of the meditation whilst going to sleep.
(3) Upon rising in the morning, to avail ourselves of the first free time
to make our meditation.
(1) To place ourselves in the presence of God, present everywhere and
especially in our heart.
(2) To humble ourselves before God at the sight of our sins. Contrition.
Recitation of the "Confiteor." Act of union with Our Lord.
(3) To acknowledge ourselves incapable of praying as we ought. Invocation
of the Holy Ghost: recitation of the "Veni, Sancte Spiritus."
II. Body of the Meditation
1st point, Adoration; Jesus before our Eyes
(1) To consider the subject of our meditations in God, in Our Lord or in
one of the Saints: His sentiments, words, actions.
(2) To offer our homage: adoration, admiration, praise, thanksgiving, love,
joy or compassion.
2nd point, Communion: Jesus in our heart
(1) To convince ourselves of the necessity or importance of the virtue
through motives of faith, through reasoning or through a detailed
(2) To reflect on our conduct with sorrow for the past, confusion for the
present, and desire for the future.
(3) To beseech God to grant us the virtue upon which we are meditating. (It
is chiefly through this prayer that we participate in the virtues of Our
Lord).--To beg also of God whatever else we need, to pray for the needs of
the Church, and of all those for whom we are bound to pray.
3rd point, Co-operation: Jesus in our hands
(1) To form a resolution: particular, present, efficacious, humble. (2)
To renew the resolution relative to our particular examination.
(1) To thank God for the many graces He has bestowed upon us during the
course of our meditation.
(2) To beg His pardon for our faults and negligences during this holy
(3) To beseech Him to bless our resolutions, the present day, our life, our
(4) To select some striking thought that impressed us during our meditation
in order to remember it during the day and thus recall our resolutions.
(5) To place ourselves and the fruit of our meditation in the hands of the
Sub tuum praesidium
#700. D) Characteristics of this method. a) The method is based upon the
doctrine of our incorporation into Christ (n. 142-149), and upon the
resultant obligation of reproducing in ourselves His interior dispositions
and His virtues. To succeed therein we must, as Father Olier puts it, have
Jesus before our eyes, in order to gaze upon Him as our model and offer Him
our homage--adoration; we must have Him in our heart, drawing unto us
through prayer His sentiments and His virtues--communion, we must have Him
in our hands, sharing with Him in the work of reproducing His virtues --co-
operation. An intimate union with Jesus, then, is the soul of this method.
b) It places the duty of religion (reverence and love towards God) before
that of petition. God comes first! The God it places before us is not an
abstract, philosophical concept, but a concrete, personal God, the living
God of the Gospels, the Most Blessed Trinity living in us.
c) In asserting the need both of grace and of our cooperation, it lays the
emphasis upon grace and hence upon prayer, whilst at the same time it
demands the energetic and persevering effort of the will, of specific,
pertinent, oft-renewed resolutions on the keeping of which we examine
ourselves at the end of the day.
#701. d) It is a method of affective prayer supported by considerations. It
begins with religious sentiments in the first point; the considerations in
the second are designed to elicit from the heart acts of faith in the
supernatural truths on which we meditate, acts of hope in the Divine mercy,
acts of love towards God's infinite goodness; the self-examinations are
accompanied by sorrow for the past, confusion for the present, and a firm
purpose of amendment for the future; the aim of all these acts being to
prepare a humble, confident and persevering prayer. In order to prolong
this petition, the method furnishes various motives, explained at length,
and further suggests a prayer for the whole Church and for certain souls in
particular. The resolutions are to be made with distrust of self, absolute
confidence in Jesus Christ, and accompanied by a prayer that we may be
enabled to put them into effect. Lastly, the conclusion is but a series of
acts of gratitude, of humility and further petitions. Thus we avoid giving
a too philosophical turn to our reasoning and to our considerations, and
prepare the way for affective prayer and for prayer of simplicity; for the
method tells us that it is not necessary always to perform all these acts,
or in the order prescribed, but that we should rather abandon ourselves to
the affections that God excites in us, and repeat frequently those to which
we feel particularity attracted by the Holy Ghost. No doubt, beginners as a
rule give more time to reasoning than to other acts, yet they are
constantly reminded by the method that affections are preferable, and thus
they gradually give to them a larger place in their meditation.
e) This method is especially suited to priests and seminarians. It
continually reminds them that being other Christs by virtue of their
character and their powers, they should be so likewise in their
dispositions and virtues, and that all their perfection consists in causing
Jesus to live and to grow in their souls.
#702. These two methods, then, have their respective excellence according
to the special object they have in view. The same may be said of all the
other methods, which more or less approach one of these two types.1 It is
well that there are many of them, so that each one may with the advice of
his director choose, according to his own supernatural attractions, the
method that suits him best.
As Father Poulain2 says, these methods are like the numerous rules of
rhetoric and logic; beginners must be taught these, but once they have been
so schooled in them that they possess their spirit and their elements, they
need but follow the broad lines of the method, and then, without ceasing to
be active, they give greater heed to the movements of the Holy Ghost.
n1. We make special mention of the method of St. Francis de Sales, "Devout
Life," II Part. ch. II-VII; of that of the Discalced Carmelites,
"Instruction des Novices" by V.P. J. de Jesus-Marie, III Part. ch. II;
Aurelianus a SS. Sacramento, "Cursus Spirituel" by Dom Lehodey, 1910, sect.
V, ch. IV; of that of the Dominicans "Instruction des Novices," by Fr.
n2. "Etudes," 20 mars 1898, p. 782, note 2.
CONCLUSION: THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER FOR THE PURIFICATION OF THE SOUL
#703. From what we have just said, we may easily infer how helpful and how
necessary mental prayer is for the purification of the soul. a) In the
prayer of worship, we offer God the homage due to Him: we admire, praise
and bless His infinite perfections--His holiness, His justice, His
goodness, His loving mercy. He in turn lovingly stoops down to forgive us,
to inspire us with a deep horror of sin which offends Him, and to protect
us against fresh faults. b) In meditation, we form, under the influence of
divine light and of our own reflections, strong convictions on the malice
of sin, on its frightful consequences in this life and in the life to come,
on the means of expiating it and avoiding it in the future. Our heart is
then filled with sentiments of shame, of humiliation, of love of God, of
hatred of sin, together with purpose of amendment, and thus our faults are
washed away more and more in penitential tears and in the Blood of Christ.
Our will is fortified against the slightest surrenders, and we embrace
generously the practice of penance and self-denial. c) In the prayer of
petition, supported by the infinite merits of Christ, we are the recipients
of abundant graces to practice humility, penance, trust and love; these
graces complete the cleansing of our soul, strengthen it against
temptation, and ground it in virtue, chiefly in the virtues of penance and
mortification, which complete the work of prayer.
704. Advice to spiritual directors. Mental prayer cannot be too strongly
urged upon those who want to advance in the way of perfection. Spiritual
directors should instruct them in its practice as early as possible. They
should, likewise, have their penitents give an account of the difficulties
they encounter in this exercise, in order to help them to overcome them, to
show them how they can improve their method of meditation, and above all
how they may avail themselves of this exercise to correct their faults,
practice the contrary virtues, and gradually acquire the spirit of prayer,
which, along with penance, will effect the transformation of their souls.