Catholics divide personal prayer into 2 broad categories – vocal and mental. Vocal prayer includes prayers written for recitation. Mental prayer is prayer in one’s own words. (Mental prayer can also be subdivided into meditation and contemplation. The Catechism calls vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation the 3 expressions of personal prayer.)
St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “Mental prayer, in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him Who we know loves us.” St. Thérèse of Lisieux likewise wrote, “With me prayer is an uplifting of the heart; a glance towards heaven; a cry of gratitude and love, uttered equally in sorrow and in joy.”
Catholics are generally comfortable with vocal prayer, but mental prayer can leave us at a loss. How can you spend 20 minutes or more in prayer without a pre-written text? How can you keep your prayer from becoming mere rambling?
St. Teresa strives to make mental prayer simple and accessible to all. Since each soul is unique, each person’s prayer is unique as well. There is no one-size-fits-all model. The method of mental prayer takes 2nd place to the attitude of the heart. Still, for beginners especially, a general format to follow is helpful.
If you don’t know how to pray, try this
This method is taken primarily from St. Frances de Sales, but also incorporates other authors’ suggestions. Feel free to adapt it to your own situation and temperament.
– Preparation. Place yourself in God’s presence. Think about His omnipotence or His residence in your heart. Quiet your soul and set aside distractions.
– Meditation. This is the key to the conversation. Read a short passage from Scripture or another spiritual book. Or, if you have a vivid imagination, visualize an event from the Gospels. You could even gaze at a holy picture. Although many subjects are suitable for meditation, you should most often focus on Christ. As a general rule, the saints and Catechism recommend that when possible we meditate on the Gospels. This is how we get to know Jesus and are inspired to speak with Him. It also helps you to continue growing in virtue, as you compare your life with Christ’s teaching. Reflect on the passage. You may find it helpful to ask who, what, where, and why. How does your subject affect you? What is the Holy Spirit saying to you through it?
– Conversation. This is the goal of your mental prayer and should make up 20 minutes or more of a half-hour prayer time. Speak to God from your heart about your subject. Thank and adore Him, asking His help in acquiring virtues you have thought about or overcoming related temptations. Examine your conscience. Think of concrete ways you can change your life, and make resolutions. Offer other petitions that are on your heart. If you run out of things to say, return briefly to your meditation for more inspiration.
– Conclusion. Thank God for the time you have spent with Him and the insights you have gained. Consider how to improve your prayer next time. You could add a heartfelt Our Father or Hail Mary or invoke the saints to whom you are devoted or who are connected with your subject. Ask them to help you keep your resolutions, to bring you back to prayer tomorrow, and to maintain a prayerful attitude all day.
Remember, as the Catechism says, “[A] method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance with the Holy Spirit, along the way of prayer: Jesus Christ” (#2707).
Share with us: How do you practice mental prayer?